Edible Trees & Shrubs – Choosing What To Plant


When planting fruit and nut trees most people simply go down to the local nursery and choose what they want to plant on the spot with little forethought as to the trees that best suit their needs and their garden’s environment.  While this can produce good results it is likely to lead to disappointment.

In this section there are a number of questions you should ask yourself before you go out and buy your trees.  Note that while these questions pretty well apply to all fruit and nut trees they are mainly aimed at pome and stone fruits such as apples, pears and peaches.

What fruit do you like to eat?

There is no sense in planting  fruit trees if you or your family don’t like the taste of the fruit the trees produce.  If you don’t like eating apples then it isn’t a good idea to plant apple  trees.  But even if you do like apples then it is worth noting that the taste and texture of different apple varieties can vary greatly.  If possible it is a good idea to actually taste the varieties of apple (or any other type of fruit) that you are intending to plant.

How will the fruit be eaten?

Will the fruit be only eaten fresh or do you intend to preserve it in some way for use out of season?

If you only intend to eat the fruit fresh then it is best to plant small espaliered and/or multi grafted fruit trees with the fruit of each tree or graft ripening over a staggered time during the season.  That way you get small amounts of fresh fruit over an extended period of time.

If you want to preserve fruit for eating out of season you might want to plant more than one espaliered tree of a single variety or have a tree that is allowed to grow to a large size.

If on the other hand you also want to preserve fruit for eating out of season you might want to
plant more than one espaliered tree of a single variety or have a tree that is allowed to grow to a large size.  That way you will get a lot of fruit all at once, which is ideal for preserving.

Fruit varieties, especially apples, pears and peaches, can be categorised into three groups :-

  1. FRESH – Best eaten fresh.  If cooked or preserved this type of fruit usually discolours and/or becomes mushy and tasteless.
  2. COOKED – Retains good colour and texture when cooked but usually does not taste very nice eaten fresh.
  3. UTILITY – Can be eaten both fresh.

My preference is to grow fruit trees with utility characteristics as this gives you more flexibility, though all three categories have their place depending on your requirements.

What other uses are the trees for?

While the main aim of having fruit trees is to produce food for you to eat it is not the only reason for planting them.  For details on other uses of fruit trees see the Fruit And Nut Tree Functions webpage.

What are the pollination requirements?

All fruit trees need to be pollinated in order to produce mature fruit.  They can be grouped into three pollination categories.

  1. SELF POLLINATED : Produces fruit without the need to be cross pollinated with pollen from trees of a similar variety.  The pollen from it’s own flowers performing the successful pollination.
    Note that it is my experience that even self pollinating varieties produce more fruit if some cross pollination occurs.
  2. PARTIALLY SELF POLLINATED : Will produce fruit without cross pollination from trees of a similar variety, however the yields will be a lot lower.
  3. CROSS POLLINATED : Needs pollen from a similar tree variety to produce fertile fruit.
    This does not mean you have to have two trees of exactly the same variety in order produce fruit, in fact they often have heavier crops when cross pollinated with slightly different varieties of the same fruit tree.

Good books on growing fruit, many mail order fruit tree websites and well labelled fruit trees on sale at retail outlets will list compatible pollination tree groups, usually in the form of group numbers or letters.  For example Pakenham’s Triumph (Groups 2,8 & 9) is not compatible as a pollinator with Winter Nelis (Group 3) but is compatible with Beurre-Bosc (Groups 2,1 & 4) as both Pakenham’s Triumph and Beurre-Bosc are in the group 2 pear tree category.

Note that some fruit trees have a much broader cross pollination list than others.  To maximise pollination it pays to pick trees that have wide cross pollination capability.

Of course it is possible to plant a single fruit tree that requires cross pollination and produce a perfectly good crop.  That is because of the likelihood that people living near to you would have planted fruit trees with compatible pollination characteristics to your tree.  But this is a hit and miss affair, to ensure that your fruit trees produce the best possible crop it is a good idea to plant more than one fruit tree with compatible pollination characteristics.

What are the water requirements?

Few people have enough water to fully irrigate their entire garden.  What your annual rainfall is, the evaporation rate and whether you have sandy or clay soils (trees in sandy soils need more water) are all factors that influence how big that water shortfall is.

The amount of water fruit trees need to produce good fruit  varies greatly depending on the type of fruit tree.  For instance olives, nectarines and almonds need a relatively low amounts while pears, avocados and citrus trees need a more.  In order to maximise fruit production it is a good idea to have a mix of trees with higher and lower water requirements and have trees with similar water needs grouped together for easier watering.  For more information see the Water Zones section.

The size of the tree also makes a difference.  A small espaliered apple tree will need much less water than a larger apple tree grown to a vase or central leader shape.

Are the trees suitable for your climate?

The best fruit and nut trees to plant are the ones that do well in your area.  A good place to get advice about what grows best is at a local reputable nursery.  Asking experienced gardeners in the neighbourhood can also yield good advice.  They  often have a better understanding of the local Micro Climate and Regional Climate, which can lead to some surprising advice as to what does and doesn’t thrive in your area.


Reproduced from Urban Food Garden.  Read more here.