How to Select & Care for Your New Fruit Tree

Fruit trees are a beautiful addition to any garden or backyard. They support pollinators, provide nutrient-rich food, and add beauty to your outdoor space. Whatever your eating preference is, the way you select, plant, and grow all the various fruit tree types is essentially the same. 

Best Time to Plant Fruit Trees 

With the East Bay’s mild climate, you can easily plant fruit trees throughout the fall and into the latest weeks of winter. This takes advantage of the tree’s normal dormancy period. If you plant your fruit tree in the ground during the colder months, its root systems have a chance to become well established before the warmer weather arrives. This makes your tree more resilient so it is not as easily stressed by seasonal storms, heat spells, or lack of moisture. You can plant fruit trees in spring, but you’ll need to pay a bit more attention to their watering requirements.

Choosing the Right Fruit Tree

Before you run out and buy a fruit tree, take a moment to consider your climate conditions, yard space, available sunlight, and soil type. These will contribute to your choice of which type of fruit tree to grow and what size will work for your space. If you already purchased a tree, this information is still relevant and will help with your next tree.

1. Climate

Different types of fruit trees thrive in different climate conditions so you will often hear about making sure your tree is suited to your USDA climate zone. Many fruit trees require a minimum number of “chill days” in order to produce fruit. Our mild Bay Area climate (zone 10 at our San Leandro nursery location) has a lower number of those chill days. A fruit tree that is highly productive in a cold northern state with freezing winters will not perform the same here. At Evergreen Nursery, we take all the guess-work out of this for you and only offer fruit tree varieties that are proven winners in our local East Bay climate. 

2. Space & Sunlight

Take a realistic look at the available planting space in your garden or yard. Be careful about choosing a planting site that is too close to buildings or other trees, or that is in a low lying area with poor drainage. Also, consider the amount of year-round sunlight in your location. Fruit trees are not shade dwellers. They need a minimum of 6 hours in steady sunshine and warmth to grow a sweet harvest.

3. Tree Type

Whether you enjoy apples, oranges, peaches, plums, apricots, figs, or lemons, choose a fruit tree type that pleases your palate. Then do a little research about the different varieties that are available. Read online descriptions like the ones we have on our website. Visit the nursery to read the plant tags and talk with our staff. You are making a long term investment in growing your fruit tree so embrace this little bit of due diligence to make it a successful experience.

4. Tree Size

Fortunately, many popular fruit trees come in multiple sizes. Small fruit trees are ideal for limited spaces and some Dwarf varieties, such as many types of Citrus, can be planted in large outdoor containers to place on a patio or deck.

Fruit trees typically carry a size designation in their descriptions. Here's what they mean:

Dwarf: Mature height will range up to 10 feet
Patio: Same as Dwarf, but with a long single trunk like a standard
Semi-Dwarf: Mature height will range up to 18 feet
Standard: Mature height will range up to 25 feet

5. Soil Type

Understanding your soil type will help you choose a tree that will thrive in your garden. Soil is such an important factor in growing a healthy fruit tree that we strongly recommend consulting with our nursery staff so you can prepare your planting area successfully. Using your descriptions of the current soil conditions in you yard, our team can recommend appropriate amendments to help your fruit tree get off to a good start. This is extra important if you are considering a citrus tree of any variety.

6. Pollination

Some fruit trees require cross-pollination with at least one other tree. Thanks to modern horticulture techniques, the vast majority of fruit trees sold for home gardens are conveniently self-pollinating, also known as “self-fruiting”. But don’t worry, the bees and other pollinators will still enjoy the nectar from your fruit tree’s flowers.

Planting Your New Fruit Tree

If you’re ready to purchase a tree, or if you’ve already bought one, make sure you’re prepared to plant it. For detailed advice, please refer to our earlier article: Step by Step Guide to Plant A Tree or Shrub. The planting method and post-transplant watering techniques are the same for fruit trees.

Caring for Your Fruit Tree

1. Watering

Proper watering is important for your tree's initial establishment. For the first year, keep the soil around your new fruit tree consistently moist, not overly wet or soaked. This is critical during dry spells. Here are some basic guidelines to consider:

a. Regular Watering:

Water your tree consistently, especially during hot and dry periods in summer or fall. Deep, infrequent watering is better than frequent shallow watering.

b. Avoid Overwatering:

Ensure the soil doesn't become waterlogged, as the roots of your newly planted tree can end up rotting or diseased. This is especially critical if you have citrus trees.

c. Mulching:

Use mulches around the base of your tree such fir bark to help retain moisture and regulate soil temperature. Be sure not to pile the mulch against your tree's trunk. Leave a small “donut” of soil around the trunk visible.

2. Pruning 

Your new fruit tree will need very little pruning the first year while it gets established. But it will need attention in the following seasons. You want to prune your fruit tree during its cool weather dormancy to shape it, remove dead or diseased branches, and promote healthy growth.

Pruning is an essential aspect of fruit tree care that encourages healthy growth and fruit production. Truthfully, it is an artful skill developed over time. We recommend watching online videos, consulting with local Master Gardeners, or attending a pruning workshop like the ones we have at Evergreen Nursery each spring.  

Meanwhile, consider these pointers for more effective pruning:

Best Time to Prune Fruit Trees: Pruning is typically done during late winter or very early spring, while the tree is still dormant and not producing new leaves or forming early flower buds.

Remove Dead or Diseased Branches: Cut back any branches that are dead, diseased, or damaged. Remember to use clean, sharp cutting tools to reduce injury to your tree from sloppy cuts and reduce the spread of disease.

Shaping, Thinning, and Training: As a general rule, prune to create an open center allowing sunlight and air circulation. This helps keep your tree healthy. Thin out excess branches and fruit clusters to promote larger, healthier fruit. 

3. Fertilizing 

Fertilizing is the essential part of the tree growing process. Apply a balanced fruit tree fertilizer in the spring to provide essential nutrients for flowering and growth. Citrus trees have slightly different needs than other types of fruit trees, so look for fertilizers labeled specifically for Citrus. 

Follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully when fertilizing and do not over-do it. More fertilizer is not better and can cause nutrient imbalances. Once your tree has started to develop fruit, you do not need to fertilize it again until the following year. However, side-dressing with quality compost can occur periodically, followed with a fresh application of mulch for water retention.

4. Pest and Disease Control

Regularly inspect your tree for signs of pests or disease, and take appropriate measures for control. If you’re not sure what sort of indicators you’re seeing or what they mean, do not panic. Simply cut a small sample of the affected plant material, place it in a secure ziplock bag, and bring it to the nursery THE SAME DAY. Our staff will be happy to evaluate your sample and advise you on suitable remedies.

Evergreen Nursery: Best Fruit Tree Nursery in the San Francisco East Bay Area

We are Evergreen Nursery - a fruit tree nursery in the San Francisco East Bay area. We offer a wide selection of fruit trees, including smaller varieties suitable for patio containers and smaller yards. Our knowledgeable staff can assist you in selecting the perfect tree for your garden. Contact us at (510) 632-1522 for helpful advice and high-quality fruit trees.