How to Grow Fruit

Growing fruit trees and bushes isn’t anywhere near as difficult as a lot of people think it is. With the right knowledge growing fruits in your garden is relatively easy. In our How to Grow Fruit section, we provide you with all the information that you need.

There are specialised words or phrases (terminology) that are used in relation to seeds, plants and trees. Specialised terminology is in blue and clicking on it will open a popup explanation.

How to Grow Fruit Guide to Choosing Your New Plant

The first step is choosing the plants. It is recommended that you always buy certified stock where applicable. This avoids virus problems and guarantee that they are true to type .
My son recently bought a lovely ‘pear tree’ from a large DIY chains’ garden section to find, later in the year, that it grows amazing apples.

Fruit trees & bushes are usually supplied in one of three ways; each have their ‘pro’s and con’s’

Pro's

  • These plants are grown in open ground which means they tend to be bigger and stronger than potgrown stock
  • For the same reason they are less likely to suffer from the family of diseases generally known as “root root”
  • Because there is no need for pots, compost and pot specific watering systems they are much cheaper to produce and buy
  • There are no heavy rootballs or pots with compost to pack and transport. This makes carriage either vastly cheaper or quite simply, possible.
  • For the eco conscious, bareroot plants are generally carbon positive (good for the climate) which potted and rootballed stock are not.

Con's

  • These plants are lifted from the ground, so they may suffer some root loss. In the long run this is good as root pruning creates a denser rootball, but in the short term it means they take a little longer to start growing after planting than potted plants. Root-loss is less in smaller plants than larger trees.
  • Because of this root loss, barerooted plants are more prone to die of thirst if they are not watered when it is dry in the spring and early summer after planting.
  • As near-dormancy is necessary for bareroot planting, the season is restricted to the months of November – April (May in a late spring).
Seeds & plants Image
Bare Root Strawberry

Containerised

  • Usually only available in autumn and winter as they have been dug up like ‘bare root’ and then potted into containers.
  • More expensive than bare-root, but cheaper than container-grown
  • Establish quickly, like bare-root plants

Pro's

  • Some plants are only available as ‘container grown’. Evergreens never go fully into dormancy so are rarely available as ‘bare root’ as they do not enjoy the experience. Others may not be available as ‘bare root’ because they have weak root systems. 
  • Container plants are always on show at a nursery so that you can choose your own. 
  • Large mature trees are available as ‘container grown’; the largest ‘bare root’ will usually be around 10-12cm girth (maximum 3-4m tall). 
  • Container grown plants are available all year round unlike ‘bare root’ which are only available in the dormant season, which varies dependent upon the species. 
  • They don’t need to be planted as urgently as bare-root plants

Con's

  • More expensive than bare-root or containerised plants as they need more care and management, they are also heavier to move around.
  • Unless you buy from a reputable, quality nursery, the plants may be pot-bound.
How to Grow Guides Image
Container Grown Fruit Trees

If you would like to know more about Permaculture you might like to look at our Recommended Books. Or try looking in our Learning section.

For Suppliers of Fruit Trees & Bushes see Seeds & Plants

Understanding Rootstocks (Mainly Fruit Trees)

Understanding ‘Rootstocks’ is central to understanding how to grow fruit, especially in getting the right size of tree to suit your space.

Some cultivars (varieties) of plants do not come true from seeds. The seed from a Bramley apple will produce an apple tree, but it will not produce a Bramley apple tree.

In other words, fruit trees cannot be reproduced “true” to the original cultivar from seed. Only by grafting the scion wood (a cutting of a branch) from the original tree onto another rootstock (the base of another tree with roots) can you ensure that you get the same fruit each time.

Rootstock; is the lower part of the trunk and roots and determines the eventual height of a tree and how vigourously it grows. Specialists then combine then combine the particular variety of fruit which produces the leaves, flowers and fruit onto the rootstock. This means you are able to choose from many fruit varieties, growing at different heights suited for your outdoor space.

How to Grow Fruit - Guide to Rootstock Sizes

Some of the main rootstocks to look out for are:

  • M27 – Extra dwarfing- great for containers and small spaces including balconies
  • M9 – Very dwarfing – great for small gardens
  • M26 – Dwarfing – good for an average-sized garden
  • MM106 – Semi-dwarfing – despite its name, better for large gardens where you have lots of space
Tree Rootstock sizes
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The Fruit Propagation Certification Scheme (FPCS) Applies to England & Wales only, encourages the production and use of healthy planting stock, this ensures that the plants that you buy are free from virus and disease.

True to Type refers to plants whose seed will yield the same type of plant as the original plant. Heirloom varieties, will almost always grow true to seed if another variety does not cross-pollinate them.

All bareroot means is that there is no soil around the roots of a plant when it is delivered.  The plants are supplied during their dormant (hibernation) period.

All bare rooted plants whether they are seedlings, shrubs, soft fruit, fruit trees or large ornamental trees need the same basic treatment before, during and after planting. Follow these simple instructions and they will establish well.

1. Water/Moisture

Bare root plants cannot stand their roots drying out. Once dry, they will at best struggle and at worst die. Plant roots; store nourishment which is used to regenerate themselves when transplanted, fuel growth in spring, survive droughts and fight disease. As the roots dry out, that nourishment is lost and cannot be replaced. Dry roots mean dead trees. At the same time they need to breathe and with very few exceptions, putting them in a bucket of water and leaving them there will kill them about as quickly as their drying out. So:

On receipt open the packaging carefully and put your hand down inside the bag(s). If the roots feel damp you need to do nothing for the time being. Keep them in the bag and check them daily - if they feel as if they are drying out take the plants out and dunk the roots in a bucket of water for 10-15 seconds  and then put them back in the bag.

Until planting, store the plants in their bags in a cool place out of the sun and out of the wind.

On planting day have a bucket of water by you as you plant. Keep the plants in the bag and take them out one bundle at a time (or several bundles if you are planting a mixed hedge). Put the bundle(s) into the bucket so the roots are in the water. Cut the string/cable ties holding the bundles together. Then take one plant at a time from the bucket and plant it. Its roots should go into the ground sopping wet.

2. Planting depth in the soil

The single biggest cause of planting failure with bare root stock is that the plants are inserted TOO DEEP into the ground. While tree bark is wonderfully good at resisting animal and insect attack, it can rot quickly when in contact with the soil. When this happens, the flow of sap to the upper parts of the plant is cut off and the tree dies. Quickly. Therefore when planting:

Look for the root collar on each plant. Technically this is identified by a bulge in the trunk just above the roots. Practically the easiest way of seeing it is to look for the "high water mark" left by the ground where the plant was growing before it was lifted. When the planting is finished the surrounding soil should be no higher than the root collar. A good mistake is to plant too shallow. A serious one is to plant too deep.

3. Firming the plant in the ground

Be firm. Roots need to be in contact with the surrounding soil to grow, and plants need support from the surrounding soil to prevent them being rocked by the wind. Take a look at our planting films to see how firmly a professional sets his plants.

4. Aftercare

This one is simple. Keep the weeds away and make sure the roots have enough water. Watering heavily every few days in a dry spring is much better than watering a little every day. Once the ground is soaked, it stays moist for weeks at a time.

Containerised plants have been grown in the ground and then been lifted and planted in a pot with soil.

Planting the tree

Start by digging over about 1 square metre around the planting location, to loosen up the soil. This will help the roots extend into the surrounding earth after planting.  It is best to do this a few weeks ahead of planting if you can, but if not then do it on the day of planting.

Remove the temporary container from the rootball. Pot-grown trees will very quickly develop spiralling roots and you think this is an issue simply score the rootball vertically 2-3 times, which will cut the circling roots and ensure that new root growth spreads outwards in the soil.

If the soil around the tree appears very dry, you can dip it in a bucket of water for 30-60 minutes - but no longer than that - to refresh the roots.

Then dig the hole. It only needs to be slightly bigger than the rootball. Because you have already loosened the soil, actually making the hole should be quite easy.  It is best to make the whole a square shape, not round - this helps to encourage the roots to spread out into the surrounding soil after planting.

Planting a young tree is best done with two people. Once the hole is ready, one person can hold the tree vertically in position whilst the other back-fills the earth around it.

Firm the soil back, and make sure the tree is upright. Do not backfill the hole with compost.

Now apply a bucket of water to the planting area to help the roots get established.

If you are in an area where rabbits, deer, or other potential animal dangers are a threat, install rabbit/deer guards.

Supporting the tree

Most of the trees we supply will become self-supporting as they grow taller, but it is very helpful to fix the base of the tree so that the root system can establish quickly. A tree stake (placed either vertically, or at 45 degrees to the tree) will help.

Aftercare

The critical period for a newly-planted tree is the first spring and summer. During this time the top of the tree will start growing vigorously, but the roots will not yet be "plumbed-in" to the soil, so the tree can dehydrate quite quickly if the roots cannot deliver enough water. Therefore make sure you keep the new tree well watered, with a bucket of water every week, or more frequently if it is hot and dry. A mulch will also keep moisture in the ground, as well as preventing competition from grass and other vegetation whilst the tree establishes.

Some things NOT TO DO when planting a new tree

Dig the hole in advance - this is an invitation for rain to fill it.

Tease out the roots from the rootball - use the scoring method described above.

Add fertiliser or other nutrients in the planting hole. If you over-enrich the hole the roots will tend to stay in it, rather than spreading out into the surrounding soil. However, it is a very good idea to dig over the whole planting area beforehand, and mix in some soil improvers such as farm manure.

As mentioned above, do not fill the planting hole with compost. Excessive compost will extract water from the surrounding soil and drown the roots. If you think the soil in the planting area needs improvement, it is best to dig over and improve the whole area rather than just putting compost in the planting hole.

If planting over the winter (which is usually an excellent time to plant a young tree) don't try to plant when the ground is frozen. Instead wait for a period of milder weather.

Container grown plants and trees have been grown in the pots that you buy them in, so the roots haven’t been disturbed.