10 Tips for Growing Fruit Trees at Home

A white woman picking apples off of a tree.

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There's not much that can compare with plucking a juicy peach from your own fruit tree. From spring's sweet cherries to fall's crisp apples, fresh fruit is one of nature's most delicious products — plus it's super-versatile, adding a refreshing sweetness to everything from glazes and chutneys for winter roasts to spring salads, smoothies, and dessert. Whether you want to add a fruit tree to your at-home garden for an annual harvest of peaches, cherries, apples, pears, or citrus — or you just like the look of these flowery, budding plants — here's everything you need to get started, from how much space you'll need to which trees do best in which climates.

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Tally Up Your Space

An apple tree in a small garden with a patio.

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First, you'll need to figure out how much space you have. If you have a large yard, you can go with classic orchard trees -- like apples, peaches, and pears (plan to plant these at least 8 feet apart). If you don't have a big property, then think about dwarf trees -- like the citrus ones in this picture -- which take up less space in your yard and can thrive in pots (or consider berry bushes to provide a homegrown fruit fix).

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A woman picking organic peaches from a tree.

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If you want to harvest fruit, then you need to keep the birds and the bees in mind or else you'll end up with nothing but blooms: Either choose a fruit tree that's self-pollinating, meaning the male and female flowers are on the same plant so a single tree is enough -- or expect to plant two trees (in different varieties) for fruits that need cross-pollination. Nectarines, peaches, and citrus trees are popular self-pollinators; cross-pollinating plants include apples, pears, and plums. (Lemon and orange trees can fit into either category, depending on the variety, so ask the experts at your local nursery.)

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Close up of ripe apples hanging on a tree.

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Crisp, juicy apples may just be the best fruit the northern climates have going for them: Because the plants need a dormant season in order to thrive, consider apple trees your reward for rainy and snowy winters. Though apples will grow from seed as Mother Nature intended, there isn't a reliable way to know exactly what kind you'll end up with after the cross-pollination. If you want to grow a certain type, you'll need to buy a starter plant that is grafted or budded from an established version. Expect to wait about four years to see fruit, says How Stuff Works, but look forward to as long as 100 years of delicious fruit production.

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Pears hanging off a pear tree.

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Juicy, fleshy pears have a lot in common with apples -- a core of small seeds, a four-year waiting period before new trees will create fruit -- so if your climate is good for apples, your pears should thrive, too. According to How Stuff Works, a pear tree that's 25 years old could give you up to 2,250 pounds of fruit each year -- so you'll want to have a good recipe at the ready.

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Peaches hanging of a tree in bright sunny light.

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You can grow a peach tree from a peach pit -- although again, you won't be guaranteed a certain breed of the fruit -- but soaking, storing, and planting the pit is just a precursor to the three-plus years it will take to see fruit. Though the southern regions -- especially Georgia -- are known for their peaches more than the northern states are, peach trees will produce fruit in mild temperatures and with just one self-pollinating plant.

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Sweet Orange

Oranges on a tree outside of an apartment building.

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Even if you're not planning to start your own juice company, sweet orange trees add a pop of vibrant color against deep green leaves that can become the centerpiece of your ornamental garden. Like lemon, lime, and other citrus trees, orange trees grow best in warm, southern climates where they can get plenty of sun and aren't exposed to frosts. Citrus trees are also a prettier version of traditional evergreens: They bloom all year, and if you plant one in a container and move it inside, you can enjoy it all winter, says the Home Depot Garden Club.

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A white hand picking an avocado off a tree.

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Guarantee a steady ingredient for your famous guacamole with an avocado tree. Though you can grow a tree from the pit of an avocado, you could be waiting as long as 15 years; instead, try one that's been grafted from a common variety. Since avocados are native to subtropical areas, climates with severe cold seasons make surviving the winter nearly impossible for trees planted in the ground. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, avocados "are not as well adapted to growing in containers" as other plants, but "success is possible": Use the biggest container you can find, and plan to repot the tree at least every two years.

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Cherries hanging on a tree surrounded by green leaves.

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Even Cherry trees that aren't pollinated produce some of spring's most beautiful blooms -- but if you want to harvest your own sweet red cherries, you'll need to plant two varieties near each other. (Sour cherries can self-pollinate, so if you're a piemaker, you're in luck.) Cherries thrive in the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)'s zones 5-8 (think of a band that starts in Washington state, curves down and across the U.S. through Iowa, and rises up into Pennsylvania while encompassing the Southern states) but you'll need abundant sunshine and soil that drains well.

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Closeup of a lemon tree in a pot in an outdoor garden.

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No matter what kind of tree you decide to plant, there are a few more things to keep in mind: Check with your local nursery to find out the best time to plant them in your region (too close to winter and you risk a frost killing it; too close to the summer and some plants won't be able to soak up enough water). And remember that you most likely won't get store-bought quality fruit without paying attention to fertilization, watering your plants, and protecting them from bugs. But in the end, you'll have bushels of delicious, homegrown fruit.