Read the informational inset below on selecting, siting and growing your own fruit trees. Below the inset, we reference two resources that provide thoughtful suggestions based on experience for this kind of undertaking.

Selecting Fruit Trees
Growing Fruit Trees
Site Your Fruit Trees
Selecting Your Fruit Trees

Given their long lifespan and the amount of space needed for most fruit trees, it’s especially important to consider carefully what sort of tree you want to commit to, as it will become a semi-permanent feature of your yard. This is important to understand before selecting a tree, especially if you have limited space. Finally, research how tall and wide the tree you’ve selected is likely to grow when fully mature, and plot this out on your garden plan.

Once you have narrowed down the possibilities, find out if the tree you’re considering is self-pollinating (like peach or cherry) or not (apples and pears, for example). Certain fruit trees require at least one more tree for successful pollination; furthermore, some trees require cross pollination – that is, pollination from a different variety of the same tree (for example, an Anjou and a Bartlett pear). Important: When selecting trees that require cross pollination, refer to a chart such as shown in Step 8 (some charts are available as apps).

Title: Types of Fruit Trees in the Northeast
Author/Source:Garden Guides
Description: This short article discusses the growing habits of fruit trees suited to the northeast, and lists popular varieties that do well in the area.

Growing Fruit Trees in a Limited Space

For those working with limited space, there are a few options. First, you might select a dwarf or semi-dwarf variety of the fruit tree. Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees have the dual benefit of not only taking up less space, but producing fruit much quicker than standard trees. (A full-size tree often takes up to five years before producing any fruit).  Second, you can choose to train your tree into a cordon or espalier (where the trunk and/or branches are trained to grow along wire fence supports).  Thirdly, you might choose to pot your tree, rather than plant it in the ground. A potted tree will require more feeding and watering, but allows for more flexibility and can be moved indoors during inclement weather. This is beneficial (and might be necessary) if you’re growing citrus or other tropical fruit.  Finally, if your tree requires other nearby trees for pollination but you lack sufficient space for an orchard, consider coordinating with your neighbors; this way each of you only needs to care for one tree, but both benefit from pollination and you can swap different fruit varieties.

Title: The City Homesteader: Self-Sufficiency on Any Square Footage
Author: Scott Meyer 
Publisher: Running Press, 2011      
Description: Provides brief overviews of various berries and fruit trees, including instructions for planting and pruning. Ch. 1, "Growing Your Own", pp. 34-36, Small Space Fruit.

Site Your Fruit Trees

Once you’ve selected your tree(s) and determined how large and wide they will grow when fully mature, you can decide where to plant them. Like vegetables, most trees require full sun. (This will vary from species to species; pawpaws, for example, do well as an “understory” tree, and prefer indirect, morning sunlight when they’re young. Determine what your tree prefers). 

Consider how tall the tree will become, its location in your yard relative to the sun, and what it might cast shade on – you don’t want a mature tree blocking sunlight from your vegetable garden or solar panels. If you are growing an in-ground garden (as opposed to using raised beds), you don’t want to plant the tree too close, as it will monopolize most of the water and nutrients in the soil.

Drainage must be considered when siting your tree(s). Most fruit trees will not tolerate excessive moisture, which waterlogs the soil, rots roots, and doesn’t allow them to take up oxygen. You can determine the drainage of your land by digging a hole about one foot deep and one foot wide, filling it with water, allowing it to drain, and then refilling it again 12 hours later; if it is gone within two to three hours, the soil is well-drained.

If not, you can either choose another location or “berm” up the land by adding an extra foot of soil to the area. Some fruit trees – such as Gala and Fuji apples, mulberries, and persimmons – will tolerate damp soil, while stone fruit (peaches, apricots, etc.) and warmer weather trees (such as figs) will not. “Air drainage” must also be considered; frost runs downhill, so you don’t want your tree or orchard in a low spot known as a “frost pocket”.

Finally, if you are planting more than one tree to aid with pollination, follow the suggested advice from the nursery regarding spacing. This can range from 3 to 25 feet depending on the variety and whether it is a standard or dwarf-sized tree.

Title: How to Plant Multiple Fruit Trees in a Small Space - High Density Backyard Orchard Culture
Author/Source: Cameron Akrami (The Busy Gardener)
Description: This video shows how to plant multiple trees in the space normally occupied by a single fruit tree. Sometimes referred to as “Backyard Orchard Culture” or “High Density Planting,” this makes it possible for a suburban or urban grower to enjoy a surprising variety of fruit trees and lots of fruit.

Title: How to Select a Tree Planting Site
Author/Source: Orin Martin and Manjula Martin
Description: Learn what factors to consider when deciding where and when to plant a new fruit tree, including resources on finding a spot with the best sun exposure.

Title: The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It: The Complete Back-to-Basics Guide
Author/Source: John Seymour
Publisher: D.K. 2004
Description: Includes descriptions of various fruit trees, including their use, soil and climate needs, and instructions for planting aftercare, pruning, and harvesting. Ch. 2, "Food from the Garden," pp. 87-89, Tree Fruit.

Title: Getting Started:  Backyard Fruit Trees Interview with The Busy Gardener, (YouTube)
Author/Source: Chris Sabbarese
Description: Cameron Akrami shares how he started his own small orchard in his backyard. With some planning, he maximizes every bit in his backyard to provide fresh fruit year-round.