On the surface, there is a major difference between fruit trees and shade trees. Fruit trees are often grown as a crop, for commercial fruit production, or for ornamental purpose. And while shade trees may be selected for ornamental purpose, they are more frequently chosen for their large size, spreading branches and the shade that they provide.
Most shade trees are classified as such for their eventual height, fullness and width. A shade tree is considered a long-term investment, and many species can live for 100 years or more. The oldest fruit trees have the characteristics of height and age in common with shade trees, but scientists and fruit growers have purposely developed newer varieties in dwarf sizes to make it easier to harvest fruit from these trees.
Shade trees need little care beyond pruning to keep a tree healthy and shape it. By contrast, fruit trees are in constant need of care and upkeep. Fruit trees must be protected from pests through spraying. The fruit should be shielded from birds through netting. It must be harvested and any fruit that falls on the ground must be cleaned up. Branches may need to be thinned to protect the tree from breaking under a heavy crop. In areas where wild animal populations exist next to human populations, raccoons, deer and even bears may be attracted to the fruit. Some fruit trees require more fertilizer than a shade tree would to boost the production of fruit.
While shade trees may be planted singly, some varieties of fruit tree must be grown in pairs so that the trees can cross pollinate to produce fruit. Not all fruit trees produce fruit at the same time, so multiple trees may be planted so that harvests occur in succession. Some varieties of fruit trees, which are grown for ornamental purposes, may produce no fruit, but may provide the same benefits as shade trees.
When planted around a home, both fruit and shade trees can help to lower the cost of energy. When trees shade a home in the summer, the home remains cooler. In winter, the trees provide a wind break that eases the strain on a home's central heating. Trees help to increase the property value of a home.
Some consumers select a tree to fit the available space of their yard instead of considering a size that a tree may grow to fit. When people select trees with the current size of their yard in mind, their tree soon outgrows that space. Trees that have grown too large for a yard's space can disrupt a foundation with their roots, or create a hazard by growing too close to the home.