Best Fruit Trees to Plant & Grow
Fruit trees often form the backbone of a permaculture growing system. They allow us to take advantage of vertical space, often providing ecosystem services like shade as well as abundant edible yields.
Planting fruit trees can be an excellent choice. These are certainly elements to place on your property that can fulfill many functions. Not only can they provide you with delicious fruits to eat, they can also provide a range of other services and yields.
Why Grow Fruit Trees?
Fruit trees provide a yield of fruit that can be an abundant food source. These fruits can also potentially also be used in a wide range of other ways within your home.
Apples, for example, can also be used to make apple cider vinegar which is not only good on salads and a healthy supplement for your diet and the diet of pets and livestock but which can also be used to clean your hair and your home. They can provide pectin to help other fruit jams set.
Other fruits (lemons and other citrus fruits, for example) can also be used in a culinary context, or in natural beauty regime or home cleaning products.
Beyond their fruits, however, fruit trees can also have a lot more to offer. For example, they:
- Sequester carbon.
- Enrich the soil and help maintain fertility (deciduous fruit trees dropping their leaves).
- Create shade that can be beneficial to other plants growing below.
- Provide visual appeal (especially while in blossom and in fruit).
- Can also provide yields of wood for crafting, fuel etc.. (Pruned, natural branches).
The many functions of fruit trees can make them excellent choices for different permaculture schemes. Of course, it is important to decide where to grow fruit trees, and to choose the right species for the site and the project in question.
Where To Grow Fruit Trees
Before you start to consider which specific fruit trees you might like to grow, it is important to give some thought to where they will be grown, and how they will fit holistically into your overall scheme for your property.
Fruit trees might be grown:
- As standard, stand-alone trees, as trained specimens, or even as pot plants in a garden.
- In a forest garden, or agroforestry scheme.
- (Native species) in a woodland or reforestation/ afforestation project.
Determining the context and deciding on your goals will be essential in choosing the right fruit trees for any project, and will help you to think holistically, come up with a good design, and avoid any costly mistakes.
Choosing Fruit Trees for Permaculture Projects
Once you have decided where you will grow fruit trees and in what sort of project, you can begin to hone in on the details and find the right fruit trees for you.
When choosing fruit trees for permaculture projects you should:
- Select a fruit tree suited to the climate, micro-climate and soil where you live.
- Decide what you want fruit trees to provide.
- Think about rootstock and scion on grafted species.
- Determine whether fruit trees are self-fertile or need a pollination partner or partners.
- Consider when the fruits will be harvested.
Choosing a Fruit Tree for a Particular Site
The first and most important considerations of course, are the climate where you live, the microclimate on a particular site, and the soil in which the tree or trees will grow. You need to consider things like sunlight and shade, wind and water.
Most fruit trees will prefer a site with plenty of sun and a relatively sheltered position. But different species can vary dramatically in their tolerance of shade, and in their needs when it comes to water and fertility. They also vary in their temperature tolerances and hardiness.
It can be helpful to begin to narrow down your choices by looking at fruit trees suited to your climate type.
Fruit Trees you Might Consider Growing
For cooler temperate climates:
- Apples. (USDA hardiness zones 3-8)
- American plums (USDA hardiness zones 3-8)
- Cherries. ( USDA hardiness zones 3-7)
- Amelanchier ssp. (various). (USDA hardiness zones 3-9 (depending on variety))
- Sea buckthorn (Willow-leaved) (USDA hardiness zones 3-7)
- Pears. (USDA hardiness zones 4-8)
- European plums, gages and damsons. ( USDA hardiness zones 4-9)
- American persimmon (USDA hardiness zones 4-8)
- Peaches, apricots and nectarines. (USDA hardiness zones 5-9)
- Quince. (USDA hardiness zones 5-9)
- Medlar. (USDA hardiness zones 5-8)
- Mulberries. (Black, white and red) (USDA hardiness zones 4-10)
- Jujube ( (USDA hardiness zones 5-10)
- Papaw. (USDA hardiness zones 5-8)
- Cornus ssp. (various). (e.g. Cornus kousa - USDA hardiness zones 5-8)
- Crataeagus ssp. (various) (e.g. Crataegus arnoldiana – USDA hardiness zones 5-9)
For warmer temperate/ mediterranean climates, some of the above plus:
- Figs. (USDA hardiness zones 6-10)
- Arbutus unedo. (USDA hardiness zones 7-11)
- Date plum (USDA hardiness zones 7-9)
- Persimmon (Japanese) (USDA hardiness zones 7-10)
- Olives. (USDA hardiness zones 8-10)
- Citrus. (lemons, oranges etc..) ( (USDA hardiness zones 8-11)
- Feijoa (USDA hardiness zones 8-11)
- Pomegranates. (USDA hardiness zones 8-12)
For subtropical and tropical regions, some of the above plus:
- Date (USDA hardiness zones 8-12)
- Guava. (USDA hardiness zones 9-12)
- Ice-cream bean. (USDA hardiness zones 9-12)
- Papaya. (USDA hardiness zones 10-12)
- Lychee. (USDA hardiness zones 10-12)
- Mango. (USDA hardiness zones 10-12)
- Jackfruit/ breadfruit/ jacknut. (USDA hardiness zones 10-12)
- Sapote (USDA hardiness zones 10-12)
- Starfruit. (USDA hardiness zones 10-12)
- Tamarind. (USDA hardiness zones 10-12)
- Custard apple/ sweetsop/ soursop. (USDA hardiness zones 10-12)
- Rambutan. (USDA hardiness zones 10-12)
- Mangosteen. (USDA hardiness zones 11-12)
Of course, this is far from a complete list, and while you may be limited in the fruit trees that will grow where you live, often you will be able to find trees that will suit your environment.
It is important to remember, however, that hardiness zone and plant hardiness are only one factor to look at when choosing fruit trees for a project.
You also need to consider the summer temperatures where you live, and heat tolerance. Those in warmer climate need to consider the chill hours required for fruit trees. And you also need to look at the other needs of each fruit tree to determine whether or not you can provide the conditions they need on a particular site.
Once you have chosen a species of fruit tree, you can look at specific named varieties and their characteristics in order to make the best choices for your particular project.
Considering What Fruit Trees Can Provide
Another of the important things to consider when choosing fruit trees is what fruits are provided, what you can do with those fruits, and what other yields and services a particular fruit tree can offer.
It is important to pair up not only the needs of the trees and the environmental conditions, but also the yields and services of particular fruit trees and what you need or desire.
Think about which fruits you will actually enjoy eating to place in a home garden, and if you are trying to create a fruit farm or other commercial scheme, make sure you know the market and what people want in your area before you make your choices.
Grafting & Fruit Trees
An important thing to understand when choosing fruit trees is that many fruit trees are grafted. The scion (top portion) of a particular species and variety are grafted onto a specific rootstock (bottom portion, with roots). The scion determines the characteristics of the fruit, while the rootstock determines the hardiness, vigour and eventual size of the tree.
When choosing a grafted tree, therefore, you need to think about the rootstock as well as the species and named varietal, thinking about how large you would like the fruit tree to grow and any other characteristics that particular rootstocks may impart.
Pollination & Fruit Trees
Another consideration is that some fruit trees are self-fertile but many require at least one (sometimes more than one) pollination partner in order to fruit successfully.
It is important to ascertain whether or not you will actually be able to obtain a good yield of fruit if you only grow a single tree of a certain type on your property. You may need to give careful thought to which varieties you choose to make sure that you have the right pollination partners for those trees that need them.
Determining Harvesting Time
One other thing to think about, which is often overlooked, it how particular fruit trees, their care and in particular their harvesting will fit into your gardening or farming year. Thinking about when each particular fruit tree can be expected to bear fruit can also be important in decision making.
Different varieties of different types of fruit tree can, of course, vary in their harvesting time. When you choose the right varieties, therefore, you can potentially significantly increase the length of the harvest.
Thinking about the timing of harvest can also help you to make sure that you do not have a glut that will be hard to handle, or too many trees to harvest all at once. Time of harvest might also determine where you plant certain species, since grouping trees together that are harvested around the same time may make this process easier.
Planting Fruit Trees
Once you have determined an overall design for your site, and chosen your fruit trees, implementation can potentially begin.
Remember, before planting any of your fruit trees you may have to undertake earthworks, or take steps to amend the soil, add mulches etc... what is required will depend on the particulars of the specific site. Irrigation might be something you need to consider in some areas.
In general, trees such as fruit trees thrive in a humus-rich and fertile soil, and in one that is fungal-dominant rather than bacteria dominant. We can often help fruit trees get off to a good start by mulching the area where they are to grow with ramial wood (to encourage fungal ecology) and other organic matter.
In some areas, thought not all, it can be beneficial to add mycorrhizae to the planting holes. These fungi are important in creating a healthy and functioning ecosystem below the soil. They can help fruit trees to get the water and nutrients they need and establish well in their new environment.
You may have purchased fruit trees as bare root specimens, or as pot grown plants. In certain cases, you may even have grown your own fruit trees patiently from seed. Which option you have taken, as well as where you live and which trees you are growing, will determine the best time to plant.
Dig holes large enough to accommodate the roots of the fruit trees you are planting, spreading out the roots within the hole. Then fill back soil around the roots and water your tree in well. It can be beneficial to add a layer of organic mulch around the base of your trees after planting.
Fruit Tree Guilds
One important thing to remember when planting fruit trees is that you should not think about those trees in isolation. You should also have been considering companion planting when determining your plans and designs.
Fruit trees on their own will be more susceptible to pests and disease, while those surrounded by guilds of beneficial companions can be part of healthy, functioning ecosystems and so, therefore, can be much more stable and resilient due to the number of beneficial interactions we can create.
When we choose guild plants that fill different ecosystem niches and fulfil different functions within that ecosystem, we are much more likely to meet with success when growing our fruit trees.
In smaller gardens, a fruit tree guild might be a circle of planting around a single stand-alone fruit tree. However, we can spread out and extend this concept for the creation of forest gardens and other agroforestry schemes.
Caring for Fruit Trees
The key elements of fruit tree care are:
- Meeting the water needs of the fruit trees in question.
- Ensuring the ongoing fertility of the soil where the fruit trees are grown.
- Monitoring the trees for signs of pests or disease and dealing with these promptly (and, of course, organically).
- Determining if and when pruning needs to be undertaken.
- Harvesting fruit from your trees.
As long as you think about each of these categories when caring for the fruit trees you are growing then you should not go too far wrong.
Of course, care needs will be different for different fruit trees, depending on your location and its characteristics. So it is important to do your research to make sure that you understand how to care for the particular fruit trees you are growing where you live.
Fruit Tree Harvesting
Remember, some fruit trees will bear fruit much sooner in their lifecycles than others. But once your fruit tree begins to bear fruit, harvesting is likely to be the most time-consuming activity involved in their care – especially once trees are mature and bearing abundantly.
Make sure that you understand when you should expect to harvest, what fruits should look like at this time, and at what stage you should do so. Ensure that you have any tools or equipment you will require for this work in place and ready. And make sure that you know what you will do with the fruits that you harvest, and how they will be used, preserved or stored.
Fruit trees can be a wonderful choice for many permaculture projects, key species in many, many designs. So it is important to make sure that you make the right design decisions, the right plant choices, and understand how to provide the trees you grow with the right care.