Getting Started - Tree Fruits

Apples in a container
Photo credit: Suzanne Klick

immature figs on a fig tree

Growing tree fruit successfully in the home landscape is challenging and potentially rewarding.  Tree fruits are subject to many problems (insects, diseases, weather extremes, wildlife) which can frustrate the novice grower and seasoned gardener alike. 

If you intend to grow organically, start out with small fruits such as blueberry and blackberry. Tree fruits, especially apple and peach, are more prone to diseases and insect pests than small fruits. Fig, Asian pear and Japanese persimmon are the tree fruits with the fewest pest problems. Learn more about growing fruits organically

If you have the space, desire and commitment to grow tree fruits consider these points before selecting your cultivars:

  • Consult with neighbors who grow fruit.  Which trees and varieties grow well in your area?
  • When possible, select varieties that have resistance to diseases you are likely to encounter.
  • Avoid fad trees like the “5-in-1” apple.
  • “Container” varieties tend to be disappointing.

Most tree fruits suited for the mid-Atlantic region are botanically grouped into two categories: pome fruits and stone fruits. The pome fruits comprise apples (Malus) and pears (Pyrus) and share many cultural similarities and pest problems. Likewise the stone fruits—peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, and cherries (Prunus)—share cultural similarities and pests.

The old adage “you get what you pay for” holds true when buying fruit trees.  Bargain plants may not be healthy or may be a variety not adapted to your area.  Buy trees of recommended varieties from a reliable source.

  • Order your trees during the winter and have them delivered right before you’re ready to plant in early spring.
  • Be sure that you understand your suppliers terms, return policy and guarantees.
  • Fruit trees should not be an "impulse purchase" even though trees can look tempting at the nursery or big box stores. 
  • Most tree fruits are grafted onto a separate rootstock that is hardier and more pest resistant than the root system of the desired cultivar. Rootstocks may also dwarf the tree. Make sure that you know the precise rootstock that your tree is grafted to.
  • A healthy one-year-old tree or “whip”, approximately four to six feet tall with a good root system, is preferred.
  • Trees that are two years or older frequently do not have enough buds on the lower portion of the trunk to develop a good framework.

When Your Trees Arrive...

  • Check the label closely to make sure that you are getting the variety and rootstock that you desire.
  • Call the supplier if trees appear stunted, poorly grown, diseased, or insect injured.
  • If the plants can not be set out immediately:  wrap them loosely in a plastic bag with some holes cut for ventilation and store them at a temperature just above freezing.  Surrounding the tree roots with moistened sawdust, shredded newspaper or peat moss will prevent them from drying out.  You can also plant your trees in a temporary trench of moist soil in a shaded location (this is called “heeling in”.)  Pack soil around the roots to eliminate air pockets and prevent root drying.

    Can I Grow My Fruit Trees From Seed?

    Yes, you can.  But you will probably be pretty disappointed with the results.  Tree fruits, especially apple and pear, are genetically complex.  So, trees grown from seed will not be true to the variety- their fruits will look and taste different from those of the parent tree.  Most temperate fruit tree seeds need special treatment- moist, cool conditions- to germinate reliably.  Furthermore, most of our supermarket fruits are shipped from distant states, and are not adapted to Maryland conditions. Saving and planting such seeds will lead to poor results.

  • Fruit trees are propagated vegetatively; they are grown from tissue taken from a known variety, and are often grafted onto special rootstocks.  There are many advantages to buying a young disease-free tree from a reputable nursery:

    • They will be true to cultivar.
    • They will bear more quickly than trees grown from seed.
    • The rootstocks that fruit trees are grafted onto in the nursery can make the trees more compact, disease and insect resistant, cold hardy, and precocious (bear fruit more quickly).



The University of Maryland Extension programs are open to all and will not discriminate against anyone because of race, age, sex, color, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, religion, ancestry, or national origin, marital status, genetic information, or political affiliation, or gender identity and expression.
IET Departmentof the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. © 2016.