Many of the favorite fruit tree varieties planted in home orchards were brought by immigrants from Europe. The crab apple tree is the only native American apple tree. There are now 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the U.S. and it is the most popular fruit tree to grow at home. Cherry, peach, nectarine, pear and plum trees are also popular choices and easy to grow.
Homegrown fruit can be organic and fruit picked when ripe tastes better--commercial growers pick fruit before it is ripe so it can be transported to market. Many people enjoy growing fruit varieties that are not easily found in stores. There are hundreds of apple, peach and plum varieties that are not grown commercially. Heirloom fruit trees are also available at specialty nurseries.
Choose fruit trees that grow well in the U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone where you live (see the Resources section of this article). Fruit trees require a period of dormancy with a particular number of hours of "chilling" in order to produce their fruit. The chill hours vary in different climate zones, so picking a tree that is recommended to your climate zone is important. Apple trees require seven to nine weeks below 45 degrees Fahrenheit to break dormancy and set buds.
Fruit trees are often purchased in the bare-root season, from December to March. The caliper is a measurement used for fruit trees--it is a measurement taken just above the graft bud union. Experienced growers avoid tree calipers that are smaller than 3/8 inches and bigger than 5/8 inches. The smaller ones are inherently weak and the larger ones are likely to have tops that are imbalanced with the root system. Look for a well-healed graft bud union.
Full sun is required for fruit trees to blossom and bear fruit successfully. A planting site with a north-south axis is optimum for sun exposure. Good drainage is essential because fruit trees set very deep roots and do not like standing water. If the soil is heavy and clay-like, amend it with organic compost several weeks before planting the tree. Experienced growers do not recommend using compost at planting time to amend soil.
Fruit trees are planted in a hole dug no deeper than the root system. The hole may be dug wider but not deeper. A small cone of soil created in the middle of the hole will provide support for the roots. Soil is then added back into the hole a little bit at a time and tamped down gently. The tree should sit about 2 inches higher than the surrounding soil line so settling can occur. Trees are always watered thoroughly at this point to check that drainage is adequate
Fruit tree roots do not benefit from exposure to compost when they are planted but it is a regular part of ongoing care for the tree. Side dressing with organic compost improves the soil quality. Compost applied in the summer months is more beneficial than winter fertilizing. Organic compost fertilizer is applied in a wide circle around the tree, rather than near the trunk.