Fruit trees in the home garden provide lovely blooms in the spring, green foliage all summer and fruit in late summer to fall. Properly cared for, fruit trees will grow and produce fruit for many years. Fruit trees require some maintenance though, and gardeners should carefully consider space and maintenance requirements before planting them.
Popular fruit trees for temperate zones include apple, cherry, peach, apricot and pear trees. Citrus trees grow well in warm climates---although most are not frost hardy and require winter protection if temperatures fall below 23 degrees F. Standard fruit trees stand between 25 and 40 feet high. They are most typically grown in orchards, but are difficult for a home gardener to prune, spray and harvest. Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees are good choices for most home gardeners. They require less space and are more accessible for maintenance. These trees, however, have shallow roots and are not as cold hardy as standard trees. They must be staked in windy areas and may not survive very cold winters.
Home growers generally grow fruit trees for home production. A healthy, mature fruit tree may bear as much as 1 to 1 1/2 bushels of fruit per season. Fruits are eaten fresh, dried, canned or baked.
Fruit trees are grown from nursery stock, sometimes called "whips." These young trees produce fruit in three to five, depending on the climate and the tree variety. They are usually most productive between 7 and 15 years. Some trees are more long-lived than others. Apples may produce fruit for 30 years if properly cared for, while most peach trees produce fewer fruits after 15 years.
Fruit trees require yearly maintenance. Some trees, such as apples, are particularly vulnerable to diseases, such as fireblight, and insect infestations, such as the coddling moth. Growing apples without a spraying plan generally results in poor quality fruit. In some states, such as Oregon, gardeners are required by law to maintain a proper insect management program because of the risk posed to commercial crops. Additionally, fruit trees benefit from an annual pruning to open up the canopy of the tree. Harvesting the fruit is another chore that must be performed annually. Some fruit trees, such as apricots, peaches and sweet cherries, bloom early and are easily killed by late frosts in cold climates. These trees grow well in climates with mild winters and warm summers. Apples and sour cherries are better choices for cold climates. All fruit trees require well-drained, sandy loam soil. Apples, plums, pears and sweet cherries all require a cross-pollinator, so at least two trees of differing varieties must be planted.
Before planting fruit trees, gardeners should evaluate their willingness to perform the necessary maintenance. Fruit trees are a long-term investment and are often left neglected when a homeowner moves and a new owner lacks the experience or interest necessary to maintain them. Gardeners should research varieties well suited to the climate before making a purchase.