How to Pick a Fruit Tree for Your Garden

Choose the Best Fruit Tree

Pick a Fruit Tree

As with anything you intend to grow in your garden the best place to start is a local supplier. Local suppliers will know what grows best in your area. You will need to know where you intend to position your tree and the room you have available. Armed with this information make your visit but don’t go with the intention of buying. You are first gaining information about what can be grown. Use your center to advise you of the problems associated with the climate, soil condition, the position you have chosen, and any local issues. There are many varieties of fruit trees and garden centers will only stock a small number of varieties.

With this information, you can then seek out specialist suppliers. If you have one locally then visit them. If not use the internet to contact a number explaining what your requirements are.

Think about why you want to plant a fruit tree. This may seem a silly question but if you are looking for a tree where you can store the fruit over a long period then you will need the right species. Consider the flavor of the fruit, is it something you will enjoy eating. Where possible taste some and go for what you enjoy most.

Making a Purchase

You need healthy and vigorous fruit trees. These come either as bare-rooted or container grown plants. Most varieties come as both bare-rooted and container grown. If you are not an expert at training trees then use your specialist nursery as they will advise you. Look for a straight trunk that is sturdy. The branches should well spaced and preferably not too vertical. A young, well pruned apple tree will produce fruit over many years and require less work on maintenance.


Fruit trees are grafted onto a variety of rootstocks. For slow growth choose a dwarfing rootstock. This type will produce smaller trees. A vigorous rootstock means it grows much faster with a larger tree.

The space you have available will dictate which one is best for your garden. If you have a restricted area then the dwarf rootstock is ideal and easier to manage. If you have plenty of space for a full sized tree then obviously the vigorous variety is better. Also, use the vigorous rootstock if your soil is poor and if there is going to be a lot of competition from other plants in close proximity.

Rootstocks are known by either a code or a name. Codes are used for apples and pears whilst names are used for plums and cherries. Check with your supplier about the rootstock code or name as these distinguish the angle between the branches and the trunk. This angle will determine the strength of the branch as it matures and how much fruit it can bear.

The graft area should be thoroughly examined before purchase. It should look strong and well healed. Carefully examine the bulge which usually appears 15 cm above the ground. You want healthy plants to if you are buying plums or cherries check for canker. If there are rough areas of the bark of you see sap oozing it is likely the tree has canker. If the foliage has a silver sheen to it this is silver leaf disease and such plants should be avoided.

Cordons, Fans and Espaliers

In small gardens, a cordon, fan, or espalier is probably the most effective way to grow fruit trees. These are grown against a wall or fence.

Cordons are where the branches are fixed to posts or fences at a 45o angle. These require more maintenance as they need pruning on a regular basis to maintain their shape.

A cordon consists of a single stem or trunk from which short side shoots grow. By planting the main stem at a 45o angle towards the wall or fence and the side shoots are tied into wires stretched horizontally along the wall or fence. By tying the side shoots you are training your tree to grow in a set way. This method is best suited to apples, pears, and plums. You can use this method with two or more main stems trained vertically or at an angle.

Another type of cordon uses what is called the Arcure method. The main trunk is still planted at a 45o angle but the main stem is bent over to the right and tied in to form a semi-circle. The following year another stem from the curve is trained to curve in the opposite direction. You can keep doing this until you have achieved the height desired. This may be a little complicated to envisage so look online to get a graphic picture of what it looks like.

Fans can be tied to wires supported by posts or against a wall or fence. They can also be free-standing. Fans can cover a large area.

For apricots, nectarines, greengages and peach, apples, cherries, pears, and plums try a fan trained tree. Again it is best to use this method against a fence or a wall for shelter and radiated heat. The branches of the tree are tied to horizontal wires and allowed to radiate outwards from about 2 feet above the ground. As branches from higher up the trunk form, you can keep trying them in until you reach the desired height.

Espaliers are often trained against wires fixed to a wall but they can be free-standing.

Espaliers are ideal for apples and pears but also stone fruits like plums. Stone fruit dislikes hard pruning and this method is more suitable for them. The espalier has a central stem and the branches are tied in horizontally along wires every 45 cm. For edging try a step-over espalier which only has a single tier of side shoots.

I realize the above may a little difficult to imagine so use the Internet or a good gardening book to see what each configuration looks like.

If you are really short of space you can grow flag-pole apple trees. These grow in a narrow column and require less maintenance and watering.

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