Providing a graceful focal point and economical food source, fruit trees are unrivaled in their ability to transform the home garden from backdrop to delightful and rewarding landscape. Growing and harvesting fruit trees is a satisfying hobby or revenue-generating project accessible to any home gardener with a sunny patch of land.
Fruit trees add character to a garden design with the bonus of an annual food crop. Many fruit trees feature outstanding spring flower displays that enliven the garden long before the height of summer bloom. The large canopies of standard-size trees create enough shade to provide a respite from summer heat. For the small yard, espalier, a method of training fruit trees in a flat plane, can fill areas of bare wall or fence as an attractive border.
Perhaps the most exciting part of incorporating fruit trees in the garden is choosing which fruit(s) you'd like to harvest year after year. Not all kinds of fruit trees can grow where you live, though each climate has varieties suitable to its conditions. Check with your state's extension agency as well as local nurseries for the trees that will grow best in your area.
Three general sizes give gardeners the flexibility to fit fruit trees into most scenarios. Standard trees require the most space, growing 25 to 30 feet or larger, and are challenging to prune and harvest. Semi-dwarf trees reach a diameter of 15 feet and a height of 10 to 16 feet. Pruning requires moderate skill and some ladder work; however, the upkeep is minimal compared to their abundant yields. Dwarf trees fit into an 8-foot diameter and most branches are reachable without the use of a ladder. Due to their smaller size, dwarf trees produce less fruit.
Fruit trees require six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day to maintain optimal shape and fruit production. Choose a site with well-draining soil and enough space for the mature size of the tree you have selected. Consider how accessible the location is for an easy harvest, and whether fallen fruit would constitute an unwanted mess, such as on a sidewalk or driveway.
Optimum fruit production comes from healthy, well-managed trees. Pruning helps to develop strong trees capable of holding heavy fruit loads and opens the tree canopy to air and light that reduce pest and disease occurrence as well as improve the size and quality of the fruit. Some trees, such as apples and peaches, also require thinning to produce high quality fruit. Trees are thinned just after fruit set, which involves pinching or clipping off all but two or three fruits per cluster.