Apple Tree full of red and green apples

8 Basic Fruit Tree Growing Tips

Ready to start growing your own fruit? With these basic fruit tree growing tips, you’ll grow delicious, juicy fruit at home.

Freshly picked fruit has to be one of the best ways to enjoy homegrown food! 

Biting into a crisp apple or a juicy peach is heaven. 

But many beginner gardeners shy away from planting fruit trees as they think they are a lot of work.

The good thing with fruit trees is that they are perennial, which means you can harvest from them for years and even decades! They just require a bit of care in initially planting them and then some regular maintenance to keep them producing well year to year.

Let’s dive into the fruit tree growing tips!

Picking The Right Fruit Tree

Peach tree against the side of a white house wall

There is an ancient Chinese saying that goes like this:

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

So if you’re lucky and you have mature fruit trees in your backyard like I have, then you can skip to the Watering section unless you want to plant more trees.

The first key step is to pick the right tree for the right location. Many first-time growers will buy just any tree, not realizing how big the mature tree will be!

If you have a small urban backyard, consider growing dwarf varieties. These will produce the same size fruit, although you will have smaller harvests. But the tree at least won’t take over your whole yard!

You can also get grafted trees that actually have more than one fruit on the tree. These can work in a small area but generally having just one variety on a tree is better. We had a peach tree with an apricot tree grafted to it and it was okay, but then I killed it one summer when it didn’t get enough water!

Also keep in mind your climate. If you’re buying from a local nursery, they will sell trees that can survive your climate, especially if you have very cold winters or very hot summers. But if you’re buying online through mail order, be careful that the tree is suitable for your region.

And pick varieties that meet your needs. If you’re planning on doing a lot of baking, you’ll want apples that are better for baking and won’t fall apart. Or if you want to make applesauce, a transparent apple works best as they fall apart and are generally not good for regular eating or baking.

Keep in mind too that some varieties require more than one plant for cross-pollination. If you only have room for one tree, then finding a variety that is self-pollinating is better. Your nursery can advise on this.

And finally if you’re planting more than one tree of a particular type (let’s say apple), try and pick varieties that will ripen at different times. Then you can stagger the harvest time so as not to be overwhelmed!

Check out this article for some more tips on picking the right fruit tree.

Picking The Right Time And Spot To Plant Your Fruit Tree

red apples on an apple tree

Usually fruit trees are bought in large gallon (4 litre) or 5 gallon (20 litre) containers from a nursery or garden centre. Some also come in burlap bags. And some might be shipped to you bare root.

Plan to buy the trees just before you plant them. Otherwise you’ll have to keep them well watered while in their pots or burlap. Even bare rooted trees can’t dry out completely.

You want to pick a time when you have the most moisture in your soil, so that you don’t have to water as much, as newly planted trees require a lot of water to establish themselves. More on that in the next section. Best time to plant is either in fall if your winters are fairly mild or in the spring if your winters are very cold.

Once you have your tree, you’ll need to pick a spot. Ideally pick a spot that is not always water-logged after a heavy rain. You do need a well-drained spot.

Watch out though for any drainage and water pipes as well as other utilities such as electrical cables or gas lines. You first of all don’t want to damage them when digging a hole for your tree. But also keep in mind the roots of your tree may damage the lines. This is especially the case if you have clay drainage tiles around your house.

The other key requirement is that your tree doesn’t shade your veggie garden or other parts of your garden that require full sun. Often the best location is to the north (in the Northern Hemisphere) of anything you don’t want to shade. 

But if you do want to grow greens or other veggies that don’t do well in full sun all day, you can strategically place your trees to partially shade the beds where your greens will be grown in.

Also consider the wild animals in your neighbourhood. If you have deer, they love eating the young leaf shoots in spring and can decimate a tree! They also might snack on your apples. SO avoid planting your tree in a spot where deer can access.

If you already have a veggie garden, you’ve probably tried to protect your backyard with fencing, so that’s the better location for your trees than your front yard.

Planting A Fruit Tree The Right Way

Now that you’ve picked the spot and have the tree, let’s get it in the ground.

Trees need breathing room. So get out the shovel and remove any sod, grass and weeds in a circle of about 2-3 feet where you’ll plant the tree so it doesn’t have any competition for water and nutrients.

If you have any mature bushes or other plants, now is the time to move them elsewhere.

Don’t both roto-tilling the whole area. That’s just going to bring up weed seeds and destroy your soil’s structure. Instead dig a hole that’s twice the size of the root ball. Generally that’s going to be about a 2-3 ft (60-90cm) diameter circle.

In terms of depth, most advice says to dig a hole deeper than the root ball. Why? So that you can amend the hole and make the soil you’re planting in very rich.

Don’t do that! That’s a mistake as that doesn’t encourage the tree’s roots to spread into the surrounding native soil. 

The hole can be simply as deep as the root ball. And that’s another misconception. Most advice says to plant it at the same depth as it was in the nursery container. However it’s common for the tree to be planted at the wrong depth in the container!

So look for the trunk flare where the trunk starts to widen. That’s usually the right level of where you want soil to come up to.

And sometimes you might find an old darker ring where the very young tree was planted at the correct depth before it was moved to a bigger container.

Once you have the hole dug, as I mentioned above, don’t amend it with anything! Just plop the tree in, rotate it so it has the right orientation and then backfill with soil. Be sure to tamp down the soil well to avoid air pockets. And water it in well.

You might also want to stake the tree. Until the roots have had a chance to spread and stabilize the tree, it’s going to be like an unsteady toddler. A gust of wind could knock it down.

Don’t skimp on stakes. Use 2×2 or thicker non-treated wood stakes and make sure to knock them at least 2-3 ft (60-90cm) into the ground. Then use tree strapping to loosely secure the tree to the stakes.

Don’t use rope or wire as these can cut into the bark and damage the tree permanently. You want them loose enough to allow the tree to gently sway in the wind so it can develop strong roots. And remove them after one growing season once the roots have established.

Learn more about planting a fruit tree in this article: 7 Important Fruit Tree Planting Tips You Need To Follow

Watering Your Newly Planted Fruit Tree

watering a newly planted fruit tree with a metal watering can

This is the most important of these fruit tree growing tips, especially for when your trees are still young.

The biggest mistake most first-time tree planters do is to not water enough. A young tree needs enough water to establish itself, especially if the ground is naturally dry most of the year.

It needs enough water for the first year. And it can be quite time-consuming to keep watering it. So that’s where watering bladders or bags come in and can make it much easier. Here are some you can buy online:

If you forego the bladders then set yourself a reminder to water at least 1-2 inches (2.5-5cm) of water a week. But watch the weather forecast and be prepared to water more if needed during very dry and hot weather.

You can tell if the soil is damp enough by pushing a stake or other piece of wood or metal inside the tree’s drip line to see if the soil is damp for at least a foot (30cm) or more.

As your tree matures it won’t need as much water anymore. However during droughts, be sure it does get some water. If you’re watering the rest of your garden with a sprinkler or other watering system, make sure to extend or adjust the system to reach the tree as well.

Homemade Fertilizer For Fruit Trees

using a rake to spread fertilizer around a fruit tree

In keeping with the idea of not amending the planting hole, you also shouldn’t fertilize your tree in it’s first year. But once it’s established itself, you can then mulch the tree with your own homemade fertilizer blend. I’d recommend fertilizing it in fall after the main growing season.

Mix up the following in either in a wheelbarrow, a large bucket/trug or even just on a tarp.

  • 1 shovelful compost – either your own or store-bought
  • 1 bag mushroom manure – you can substitute more compost instead
  • 1 cup of dolomite lime – can buy this at a nursery or garden centre
  • 1 cup of rock phosphate – again at a nursery, garden centre or a feed supplier
  • 1 cup organic all-purpose granular fertilizer – I buy this in a large bag at my local feed store as I also use it when growing vegetables

Cleanup around the tree first then apply the mix in a 2 inch (5cm) thick layer. Keep it away from the trunk at least 4-6” (10-15cm) to avoid rotting the trunk.

You can also use leaves as a mulch around the tree to help conserve moisture and to add even more organic materials to the soil.

Check out my popular video where I go through the process of fertilizing one of my trees:

Fruit Tree Pest Protection

In the past, some pretty harsh synthetic chemical pesticides were used even by homeowners to kill pests that love fruit trees.

But as an organic grower and especially if you have kids and pets, spraying these non-organic pesticides is dangerous! I remember my dad when I was growing up always having to cover up our bird bath, keep the cats inside and he had to change his clothes and have a shower.

Instead nowadays we have organic alternatives that are generally safer. 

Horticultural oil and lime sulphur mixes are one such alternative that helps eradicate aphids, mealybug, thrips, whiteflies, adelgids, caterpillar eggs, leafhoppers, scale and mites.

You need to apply it on a day with no wind and no rain in the forecast for at least a day.

Tree banding is another method to stop the winter moth from laying eggs in your fruit trees that later hatch and then the caterpillars go wild, eating up your tree!

Tanglefoot is a popular brand here in Canada and in fall you simply put a band of a crepe paper-like product around the trunk, apply the tanglefoot and capture those moths on their way up the tree.

However it looks like it’s only available in Canada, not in the US. There is a band you can buy on Amazon that works the opposite way – it’s too slippery for the insects to climb up the trunk of the tree. From the reviews it seems to work well.

Check out how I install the Tanglefoot band in this video:

And keep an eye on your trees, especially in early spring. Look for any tent caterpillar nests on the branches. They show up as spider-web like nets that contain the baby tent caterpillars. If you see a nest the best way is to cut out the branch that it’s attached to and drown them in a bucket of water.

For the bigger pests such as beavers, mice and rats you have to be careful as these could gnaw on your tree trunk. You can protect the trunk with a wire mesh wrapped around the base.

And I already mentioned deer. Ideally you want to keep them out of your backyard or at least surround your tree(s) with a deer fence that is high enough to exclude them.

Pruning Fruit Trees For Better Harvests

green garden pruners on a wood log

Pruning is another reason many home growers simply don’t want to have fruit trees. There seems to be a mystery around pruning and fear that you’ll make a mistake.

But really it’s easy if you keep in mind the three D’s. 

Diseased, damaged and dead. These types of branches are the first ones you’ll want to prune out and these can be done any time of year. 

And then there is pruning for air movement. You want your tree to have enough room for air to move freely through the centre of the tree to avoid fungal diseases and such.

So once a year evaluate your tree and prune out any branches that are growing inwards or crossing over from one side to the other.

You can also prune for height and width. Keep in mind that this can affect fruit production so you don’t want to overdo it. Again having picked the right type of tree is key, so that you don’t have to prune it heavily to keep it’s size.

There are also methods of pruning such as cordon and espalier that I won’t go into detail here as these require special pruning techniques.

And the best time to prune? That depends on the type of tree. Generally stone fruit such as peaches, plums, apricots and cherries should be pruned in summer so the pruned spots can dry before fall and winter to avoid disease.

Other fruit such as apples, pears and figs should be pruned in the dormant season, which is usually fall, although pruning too early in the fall can encourage new growth that will be killed off in winter. I usually wait until the new year in January.

Learn more about pruning fruit trees here: How to Prune Fruit Trees To Improve Your Harvest Next Summer

Fruit Harvesting Tips

bucket of ripe peaches

Of course the fruits of your labour’s to plant and care for your trees is: fruit!

You have to be ready for the fruit harvest. Often there is a short window of time when the fruit will ripen and if you have more than one tree, you may have even more ripening all at the same time.

Not only to harvest but also to deal with the harvest. If you’re planning on making jams, jellies, applesauce, etc. you’ll need to have time to do that or a very large fridge or freezer or cold storage where you can store them until you can deal with them.

And picking from mature trees is not as easy as picking a head of lettuce. You can use three-legged orchard ladders to pick. But it’s safer if you can stay on the ground.

So using a fruit picker is definitely safer as it keeps you on solid ground. It’s basically a cloth bag attached to a long pole with a special metal mouth on the bag that captures the stem of the fruit and lets you snap it off. 

I do sometimes have to use the picker in conjunction with my orchard ladder as I have a very tall plum tree. But for the smaller trees I can pick by hand or just using the picker.

And have some buckets handy for the fruit.

Learn more about harvesting fruit including a handy chart of when to harvest in this article: Harvesting Fruit 101: Time To Enjoy The Amazing Abundance

So are there some fruit trees in your future? I hope these fruit tree growing tips have given you some idea of what’s involved and while it may seem much at first, once you get started it’s quite doable even with a busy family life.

The end result is well worth it!

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