Ask Burton: Q: I have about 30 feet of space in my back yard, and I’d love to put in some fruit trees, but I need some help on selection.

A: Most urban gardeners don’t have loads of space to plant fruit trees, so choosing the right ones to give you production is crucial. The first thing to keep in mind is that most fruit trees are decent sized. Orchard growers often prune fruit trees into tightly-spaced rows of what look to be essentially large bushes, but if you’re going to let your trees look like trees, you’ll fit about three fruit trees into your space. Make sure the plants get good sunshine and air all around – flat against a wooden fence row gives poor air circulation which can cause problems later.

The second important point is that the fruit trees you select are going to range from self-fertile (the tree will pollinate itself) to plants which require a specific second variety to pollinate them. Since you don’t have a lot of space, some recommendations would be to use any peach, certain plums (such as Methley), figs, or persimmons, as these plants will set fruit all by themselves. If you have your heart set on apples or large-fruited plums (such as Bruce or Morris), you’d want to plant your preferred choice along with another type of apple or plum which will pollinate the variety you selected. In this case, if you wanted apples and peaches, you’d know you’ll need to leave two spots for apples and one for a peach tree.

Harvest times matter. If you want a single fruit variety, for example, if you love peaches over all other fruit, select varieties with differing ripening times – an early, mid, and later ripening variety – to keep fresh fruit available for as long as possible.

After that, it comes to selecting a specific variety. You’re mostly selecting for fruit size, skin color, and occasionally flesh color – we’re asked all the time, “Which is the BEST peach/apple/etc. I can plant?” If there was only one right answer, that’s all anyone would plant. Environmental conditions, adequate nutrition, pruning maintenance, and plant maturity have much to do with how sweet your fruit will come out to be in any given year; the variety matters, but there isn’t a single clear winner as best all-around. If you’re planting several fruit trees, plant several varieties; that way, even if the weather doesn’t favor one type one year (say, if it frosts while a particular tree is in bloom), you may still get good production on your other types that season.

Please join us Saturday, January 25th for our free Fruit Tree Class. Please call 972-475-5888 Ext. 2 to sign up.

Burton specializes in diagnosing and solving plant problems. If you have a question for Burton, please email him at and include photos showing the problem.