Delicious jams, irresistible pies, even a freeze-dried treat! There are many ways to enjoy fruit from your very own backyard fruit trees. Plus, intermountain fruit varieties—apples, cherries, pears, and peaches—provide tasty nutrition for special occasions and everyday snacks.
Luckily, growing fruit trees is simple and affordable for anyone with an existing yard or garden. By planting and raising your own backyard fruit trees, you improve your self-sufficiency while adding lusciousness to your landscape. The best part? It’s easier than you think.
Growing your own backyard fruit trees starts with selecting the right tree varieties, choosing the best spot in your yard, and of course, proper planting.
Fruit Tree Varieties Suited for Utah, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, western Wyoming, and southern Idaho
While you might love some fruits more than others, choosing the right trees to raise in your backyard depends on the varieties that grow in your specific area. Apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, cherries and almonds all commonly grow throughout the Intermountain West.
Consider the pollination needs of your specific tree varieties when planting new fruit trees for best results.
In order for a tree to produce fruit it requires some form of pollination or the spreading of pollen from flower to flower. Several tree varieties are considered “self-pollinators” meaning the many different flowers on that same tree pollinate each other. Trees such as apricots, nectarines, peaches, and sour cherries self-pollinate and grow on their own.
On the other hand, fruit trees such as apples, pears, plums, and sweet cherries are not self-pollinating and must be grown with at least one to two other trees to facilitate pollination.
Planting Tips For New Fruit Trees
Once you’ve chosen your fruit tree varieties, it’s time to start planting. When, where, and how you plant matters for growing healthy, productive fruit trees plan ahead before bringing your new trees home.
Fruit Tree Placement
First, consider location. Soil drainage and sunlight play an important role in the tree’s growth and fruit production. Choose an area of your yard that is well-drained to avoid root rot.
Most trees are full-sun plants. They require an average of six to eight or more hours of direct sunlight per day to be their most productive. Choose an area of your yard that would allow your trees to receive this needed sunlight.
Keep in mind that intense sunlight can be just as bad for your trees as not receiving enough. If you live in an area that receives extreme sun, consider planting your trees in an area where they receive plenty of morning sun while being shaded in the afternoon or use a shade cloth.
In addition to sunlight and drainage, consider how the tree will look in ten years. Avoid locales where it could grow into buildings or electrical lines and lead to future problems.
Best Time to Plant
Trees should be planted in the spring, early summer, or fall to allow time for establishing a strong root system before the winter months. If you live in a warmer area such as St. George and Southern Utah, avoid planting in the summer months when extreme heat could impede the young plant’s growth.
How to Plant Fruit Trees
Step 1) Soil and Area Prep
Dig a hole two to three times wider than the tree’s root ball and no deeper than the height of the transport pot. Loosen the soil in the bottom of the hole with a shovel and add IFA Garden & Planting Mix directly to the soil then mix the rest of the IFA Garden & Planting Mix with the native soil set aside for refilling the hole. If the soil is dry, fill the hole with water to both moisten the soil and to ensure it drains well.
Step 2) Tree Prep and Planting
Begin planting by gently removing the pot from the roots–If the plant is well rooted, cut some of the larger roots that are circling the root ball with a sharp pair of pruning shears. Once the tree is removed from the pot, rub Soil Moist Transplant Plus Mycorrhiza directly to the root ball then gently place the tree into the hole, making sure it’s not too deep. The root ball should be one inch higher than the native soil.
Step 3) Watering and Refilling with Soil
Refill the hole halfway up the root ball with the amended soil that was set aside and water the plant with Fertilome Root Stimulator. Continue adding the amended soil until the hole is almost filled, then water again with the Fertilome Root Stimulator. Check the plant depth once more to make sure the root ball hasn't settled too low then water the new plant tree two to three days later one more time with Fertilome Root Stimulator.
Fruit Tree Care: Water, Fertilizer, Pruning and Pest Control
Once your fruit trees establish a strong root system, keep up with annual maintenance and general care. Your backyard fruit trees have the same basic care needs as any other plants around your yard or garden, as well as some very specific annual maintenance items such as pruning and thinning that will help increase fruit production.
Get on a Watering and Fertilizing Schedule
Fruit trees need adequate water, sunlight, and soil nutrients to grow and produce fruit. While trees do require water, too much of it leads to root rot and other problems. Ensure your trees receive one good soaking a week rather than frequent irrigations.
Ensure your fruit trees receive adequate nutrition from the soil by replenishing the nutrients. Amend your soil by spading in an all-purpose garden fertilizer such as IFA Grand Champion 16-16-16 or IFA Premium Garden Fertilizer 16-16-8. Applying IFA Bountiful Earth Humate in spring and fall improves plant health by increasing nutrient availability and filtration through the tree’s root zone.
Pruning Your Fruit Trees
Pruning fruit trees reduces light and nutrient competition. This encourages growth of strong branches, and even allows you to shape the tree for easier fruit picking. Tree pruning is specific to the shape and type of tree and should be done primarily in the winter to early spring when the trees are still dormant to reduce stress. Analyzing your tree's structure annually along with pruning improves the overall health and growth of your fruit trees.
Fruit thinning generally refers to removing a portion of the fruit during or shortly after fruit set to allow the remaining fruit to grow better. In apples, thinning is also used to help prevent “alternate bearing,” a year with heavy fruit production followed by a year with no or minimal fruit production. Thin your fruit trees by removing small fruitlets when they are one-quarter of an inch to an inch in diameter and remove doubles and triples in apples and peaches. Carefully select which fruits you thin so that the remaining fruit is spaced out along the branch.
Common fruit tree pests include: the codling moth, western cherry fruit fly, greater peach tree borer, peach twig borer and aphids. These pests can severely impact fruit production. To protect fruit and trees, use fruit-tree sprays with a combination of insecticide and disease-control ingredients. Be sure to rotate the active ingredient of your sprays annually to prevent the pests from building up resistance to it.
A Bountiful Harvest Time
Harvest is every fruit grower’s favorite time of the year. After carefully caring for your fruit trees, it is finally time to get a real taste of all that work.
When to Harvest
Harvest fruit when it has reached your desired ripeness. Analyze how ripe a fruit is by checking its color and firmness. When you pick the fruit depends on your goals. Allowing the fruit to tree-ripen will enhance flavor for short-term use, but fruit picked earlier will stay firmer and store longer although it will not have the same flavor or sugar content.
How to Harvest
Grab a ladder, picking basket, and/or harvesting apron to help you safely pick and pack the fruit from the trees. Harvest ripe fruit from your trees by simply shaking the branches and collecting the fruit that dislodges naturally. If you are picking fruit for storage that is not ready to fall, use a ladder and picking apron to hand-pick and pack the fruit back down.
Grow Your Own Backyard Fruit
Growing your own backyard fruit trees is a great way to improve your self-sufficiency, add to your yard or garden, and simply enjoy a delicious home-grown fruit that simply tastes better.
Stop by your local IFA to ask about fruit tree varieties and for help with your tree care questions. We’ll help take care of the trees, so the only question left to ask is how you’re going to enjoy all that delicious, home-grown fruit.
Information for this article was provided by Aaron Jaussi, Branch Manager, Provo IFA Country Store; Todd Tolbert, CCA, Utah County IFA Ag Center; and Marvin Potter, Garden Center and Live Plants Category Manager, IFA Country Store.