Tips for Selecting Fruit & Nut Trees

2 Women Selecting a Tree from a Nursery

You’ll want to consider a variety of things as you choose a tree or mix of trees that can bring you years of future enjoyment. Here are some factors to consider:

Climate

Brrr! Baby, it’s cold outside.

At least it should be to some extent in the winter to allow temperate fruit trees to go dormant, and that way they can flower and bear fruit the next season. You’ll want to know your climate zone and number of “chill” hours to guide your selection.

Ahh! You want to be a bit of a Goldilocks in your tree selection – you want to get it just right. To do so means you’ll want to consider your location, the size of tree or trees you want and that will work well, and how to facilitate pollination for them.

Location

While you want to know your climate zone, it’s also important to understand the microclimate of your planting area. Microclimates are small pockets of climate variations that differ from the surrounding climate. Factors such as wind, slope, thermal mass and proximity to sun can cause very localized climate changes. Read more about microclimates at Climate Zones & Chill Hours.

Tree Size

Tree Sizes & Growth Habits

The space you have available will  guide your choice of fruit trees. If you have acres, lucky you! But if not, don’t let that deter you. If you have only a sunny deck or balcony, you can choose from our Urban Skyscrapers line of trees that have an upright growth habit and do well in small spaces. In general, fruit trees fall into one of four categories of size.

Diagram comparing Dwarf, Upright, Semi-Dwarf and Standard Tree Sizes
  • Upright Growers These unique trees have a compact, narrow growth habit – perfect for planting in small yards or growing in containers on balconies and patios. And there’s nothing small about the fruit they bear. You’ll enjoy full size and flavor from these varieties, although your harvest will be smaller. The smaller size of the tree makes it easier for you to keep the tree pruned.
  • Dwarf – These are small trees for small spaces, needing only about a 6’- to 12’ diameter plot. They bear fruit that’s normal sized, but since the tree is smaller, there’s less of a yield than with a larger tree. Their smaller size makes it easier for you to pick the fruit and prune the tree. You could be picking in three to five years, though dwarf trees won’t give you as many years of harvest as their larger counterparts.
  • Semi-dwarf – Not too big, not too small, semi-dwarf trees need a plot about 15’ in diameter. They’ll grow to about 10’ to 16’ tall, and give you hundreds of fruit each season, though you might see a year now and then when they take a break. You’ll want to prune semi-dwarf trees annually to keep them well shaped.
  • Standard – Standard trees are the size from generations ago, reaching to heights of 25’ to 30’ or taller. They take many years to get this large, but they start bearing fruit in three to five years. Standards are stately, but due to their size they can be more difficult to prune and harvest.

Pollination

The birds and the bees

Closeup of Bee on a Flower

Your fruit trees may bloom beautifully in the spring, but that doesn’t guarantee you’ll have fruit in the fall. Pollination is usually needed. Some fruit trees are self-pollinating or self-fertile, but even these varieties produce more fruit with pollination. Here are few keys to successful pollination:

  • Plant two or more varieties of the same tree nearby.
  • Attract bees to your yard by planting a variety of flowers.
  • Avoid using insecticides, which can kill beneficial bugs as well as pests.
  • Pollinate your trees yourself. Just shake a branch from one tree amidst the branches of another and you’ll be mimicking the work of bees.

Harvest Size & Timing

Yum! Can’t wait for the perfectly ripe harvest?

Just how much crop can you handle? The timing and amount of fruit produced by each variety you choose is an important selection factor. You’ll want to choose varieties for their ripening times, and with the right mix you can enjoy a rolling harvest from spring to fall. Learn more about when different varieties ripen from the Tomorrow’s Harvest Ripening Chart (PDF).

You’ll also want to consider the amount of fruit you can actually use. Certainly, right-off-the-tree taste is a primary reason to grow your own, and you can also share your crop with friends. Plus, you can do your own home processing to enjoy the flavors later.