As simple as it sounds, buying a fruit tree to plant in a yard is no guarantee the specimen will ever bear fruit. A fair amount of research and planning must go into the purchase. For example, some trees require a second tree for cross-pollination and fruiting while others do not, and some need a certain number of days in the winter between 32 and 45 degrees for successful fruiting. Big-box stores are not necessarily the best sources for high-quality fruit trees, though plants are easier to inspect for quality in person than through well-regarded mail-order nurseries.
Determine Cultural Requirements
Investigate whether the fruit tree you've decided on requires a "mate," or a second tree for cross-pollination. For instance, all types of apples need other apple companions, while fig trees are self-fertile and require no partners. Many stone fruits (such as peaches, nectarines and plums) are self-fruitful, though cherries are generally not.
Determine whether your climate is appropriate for the plant you've selected. Summertime highs are less of a deciding factor than are winter lows. Areas with exceptionally hard freezes and frequent late spring frosts are not suitable for early blooming fruit trees like cherry, plum and apricot.
Ensure the type of tree you've selected matches your local winter's "chilling hours," or the average number of hours when temperatures are between 32 and 45 degrees. Most fruit trees need a certain number of these cold temperatures for good fruiting the following year. Local university extension offices can provide you with information on your region's average wintertime chilling hours, and many fruit tree labels list the minimum number of chilling hours required for that type of tree.
Evaluate the site you have selected for the fruit tree. Consider whether the tree will receive adequate light (fruit trees require full sun for proper flowering and fruiting), if the site is exposed to winds that can desiccate the tree, or if it is in a low spot that can expose it to additional frost damage.
Measure the space where you plan to plant the tree. Using the tree's mature spread as a reference, visually map out how close the tree will be to neighboring trees, any fences or other structures and other plants. Consider the shadows these objects may cast as well as any shade the fruit tree itself will create when mature.
Research local ordinances regarding yard fruit trees, if they exist. States with economies dependent on commercial fruit cultivation, such as Washington, have laws requiring homeowners to control any pests on their trees that could stray into orchards.
Buying the Fruit Tree
Inspect the specimen closely at the nursery or retail site. Healthy trees, even when dormant, will display evidence of bud growth and have no twig tip dieback (no broken or brittle ends). Bark should be intact with little or no evidence of mechanical or insect damage (holes, cuts, scars, gashes or swelling).
Examine the roots of the tree, if possible. Roots should be supple and moist with a fresh scent; brittle, dry or malodorous roots indicate a dead or dying plant. Be especially vigilant for signs of damage by insects or disease, such as obvious chewing damage or accumulation of fungus.
Ask a nursery worker or retail assistant for additional information on the specific type of tree you've selected, such as susceptibility or resistance to certain pests and diseases, watering and fertilization requirements and the best pruning practices to encourage healthy flowering and growth.