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'An apple tree in full blossom is like a message, sent fresh from heaven to earth, of purity and beauty.'

~ Henry Ward Beecher ~

Fruit Trees 101

Home gardening has increased in popularity in recent years. Maybe people are worried about food safety or are feeling the pinches of the recession. Maybe we want to relieve the memories of spending time with our grandma in the garden or make new memories of our own with our loved ones. If there is even a small amount of available space, consider adding a fruit tree or two. Just imagine the fun you will have picking a fresh bowl of cherries or a juicy peach from trees in your own garden.

Here are four things to consider when you plan to plant fruit trees.


You may think that if you only have a small yard you don’t have the space to grow an orchard, but that is not necessarily true. There are dwarf varieties of many fruit trees available that take up much less space than the full sized varieties, as little as 5-8’ diameter and semi-dwarf trees need 10-15’ in diameter to grow well. Semi-dwarf trees sometimes produce as much as a standard sized tree.

There are specific techniques that can help you grow fruit trees in the most unlikely spaces. In traditional, walled gardens fruit trees are espaliered so that they will grow against walls, taking up a minimal amount of space. The North Carolina State University Agricultural Extension provides a useful list of varieties that lend themselves to espaliering, as well as some good information on the technique.

Summer pruning helps keep small trees small. Some dwarf varieties can even be grown in containers. A limited amount of space doesn’t mean you can’t have homegrown fruit!


We’ve all become so accustomed to the foods that are commonly available in grocery stores that when most people think of an orchard they think, “Apples, pears, cherries.” Of course, apples, pears and cherries are wonderful fruits and certainly worth growing, but there are lots of other possibilities for your orchard that you don’t see in grocery stores often. Figs and pawpaws don’t ship well but sure are tasty and can be frozen or preserved.

There are all sorts of lesser-know varieties of more common fruits as well. Most people are familiar with Gala and Rome apples but what about Ballarat or Kidds Orange Red?  The same is true of cherries; there are currently over 1000 varieties of cherries being grown worldwide with the vast majority of them being sweet cherries. Pears and peaches are available in a mind-boggling number of varieties as well.

You should also carefully consider the timing of  your harvest. Ideally you want a steady stream of fruit. With the huge selection of different fruits and varieties available you should be able to begin harvesting in the spring and continue into the late fall or even early winter. While having everything ripe at the same time would make for an awesome fruit salad, it would also make for a ridiculous amount of work.


You cannot harvest fruit if your blossoms don’t get pollinated, and you won’t have to learn the art of bee keeping to see that it happens, either. The key to pollination is to learn about the plants you’ve selected. In many cases you should plant two trees, and often the two should be different varieties of the same type.

Planting flowers that bloom throughout the season near your orchard is another way to encourage pollination. The flowers attract bees, butterflies and other insects and nature takes its course.

Possible Problems

As with any kind of gardening there are potential problems for backyard orchard keepers. Birds love fruit as much as people do, and it can be a challenge to keep them from cleaning your branches just as you are ready to harvest. There are all kinds of methods to deter birds: nets, chimes, bells, even “cannons” that make a loud noise on a timed schedule. Be aware of the danger to your fruit and take steps to protect it early.

Lack of sunlight is another common problem. When you choose the location of your orchard make sure it will get at least 8 hours of sunlight per day. Fruit trees that are partially shaded may do well, but it will probably take them longer to begin producing. Fruit trees that are fully shaded may never produce.

Pests and diseases are common in fruit trees as they are with all plants. The types that is most likely to damage your orchard depend entirely on where you live, the varieties you have chosen and timing. If you suspect some sort of pest or disease is preventing a bountiful fruit harvest you should call your local county extension office to see if they are aware of any common problems in your area.


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