We often receive questions regarding our Community Fruit Trees program and planting fruit trees in general.
Here we have answered some of the most frequently asked questions.
Q: What climates can fruit trees grow in?
A: Fruit trees can grow in almost every region of the world! Where you live, however, and the climate of your area, will determine which fruit trees will thrive. Some trees cannot handle freezes and can only live in tropical regions while others actually need the colder temperatures in order to survive and produce fruit.
Q: What kind of fruit trees can grow in the colder climates in North America?
A: The most popular fruit trees grown in colder climates are mulberry, apples, cherries, plums, pears, peaches, nectarines, apricots and quince. Native cold climate fruit trees include the paw paw and American persimmon. That said not all varieties of each kind of species will be able to survive in every zone. This guide from the University of Maine discusses which varieties of different species are suitable for which zones. Stark Bros offers a Hardiness Zone Finder tool that will highlight search results that are compatible with your zone.
There are many berry bushes / shrubs that thrive in cold climates including raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, blackberry, elderberry, Aronia, juneberry / serviceberry, currants, gooseberry / jostaberry, cranberry, thimbleberry, nitrogen fixing shrubs like autumn olive, goumi, and seaberry. Aronia and juneberry plants grow large enough to be considered a tree.
There are certainly more beautiful fruits growing in cold climates across North American and the world!
Q: How do I know which fruit trees can live in my area?
A: We recommend talking to your local nursery that sells fruit trees to seek advice about which trees will thrive in your area. They will generally only sell trees that live in your region. However, we recommend asking them which trees are the most adapted to your area and most likely to succeed, as some nurseries sell fruit trees based on demand, rather than what is best adapted to the climate. It is handy to know in which USDA Plant Hardiness Zone you fall. From there you will be able to narrow your search to only trees that are hardy up to your zone number.
Q: What does a fruit tree need to survive?
A: Much like any plant, a fruit tree needs water, sunlight, soil and nutrients to survive and thrive. We recommend planting fruit trees with mulch to help retain moisture at the roots, and with compost for a nutrient boost. Trees will need to be planted in full sun unless otherwise noted, and watered on a regular schedule while they are establishing. For more information about how to plant and maintain fruit trees, visit our Community Fruit Tree Care Guide.
Q: Where is the best place to plant a Community Fruit Tree?
A: The main requirement for a fruit tree to be considered a Community Fruit Tree is that it needs to be planted in a fully publicly accessible place. This does not mean that it needs to be planted on public property though, but rather a location where the public can freely access it.
Some great locations include residential and business front yards near sidewalks, with permission from the owner; the medians between streets and sidewalks; schools; churchyards; and along bike trails or walking paths. Public parks are certainly highly trafficked areas that would be great for fruit trees, but may require governmental permission (which is covered in the next question). Fruit trees should be planted where people walk frequently and where they are highly accessible.
This could be in the front yard of your own property or you can talk to people in your community to get permission to plant.
Q: How do I get permission from the city to plant a Community Fruit Tree in a publicly owned or city owned space such as a park?
A: Getting permission to plant on land owned by the city such as public parks can take a lot of time and energy. We recommend planting on land that is privately owned, so that no permission is required, but is publicly accessible. We suggest planting fruit trees near a sidewalk in residential front yards, businesses, churches, schools, etc. This way it is on property that the city does not control, but the fruit is easily accessible to the public. The permission needed can often be granted by a single individual such as the homeowner by having a simple conversation, or by a small group of people when dealing with business or schools for example.
It is possible to deal with cities, but you should be prepared for it to take quite some time and possibly be rejected. We have had cities come to us and that has gone very smoothly. But when we have proposed it to cities, it has been a headache of back and forth emails. All this is not to say that it can’t be done or that it’s not worth trying. But we would not want your motivation to become flattened by trying to deal solely with the city. There are plenty of great options where dealing with an uninterested city can be completely avoided.
Q: Who is supposed to take care of and maintain a Community Fruit Tree?
A: The idea of planting a Community Fruit Tree is not to plant it and forget it. The fruit trees will need care in order to survive and thrive. In time they can become self-sustaining or largely self-sustaining, but for the first few years they need stewards to watch over them. The stewards of the tree should be decided before planting. Generally the steward will be the people who plant the tree or the people who reside or frequent the property. If it is your home then likely you would be the steward. If it is a church-yard there could be a rotation of volunteers to care for it.
It’s up to you to decide who will steward the trees, and it can be done as a community, but bottom line, there should be a plan to steward the trees.
Q: What maintenance does a fruit tree require? Will I need to run irrigation?
A: A fruit tree requires relatively minimal care for a great reward. Routine watering is required to establish your tree, but after the establishment period watering needs will decrease and eventually can be none if you choose the right trees for your environment. Sufficient watering in almost every case can be achieved with a hose, five-gallon bucket, or large watering can, and irrigation lines are not required. The fruit tree will need to be initially planted with compost and mulch and re-mulched and composted once or twice a year. Other maintenance includes pruning, and that widely varies between tree species. Visit our Community Fruit Tree Care Guide to learn more about care, pruning and maintenance.
Q: Will fruit trees attract unwanted critters like bears, rats, insects, etc?
A: Fruit trees and compost will bring new life to the area in which you planted it. Pollinators like bees and flies will come to pollinate the flowers. Without them there wouldn’t be any fruit! We need more insects in our environments. If rodents already thrive in your area, then they probably already live all around you without you seeing them. It is unlikely that some fruit trees would inflate the rodent population, although they may become more apparent to you. Rats and mice are a part of our world and are not inherently bad.
To keep insects and rodents to a minimum the best thing to do is to make sure the fruit gets used, rather than letting it fall to the ground and go to waste.
If you live in a known bear habitat, it is possible that fruit trees could bring in bears. Here are measures to take to reduce this: (source Sooke News Mirror)
- Prune your fruit trees, so they will produce only the amount of fruit that you are able to pick and consume.
- Clean all fallen fruit from beneath the trees and shrubs daily, and pick fruit and berries as soon as they ripen.
- A small, inexpensive electric fence system will act as a bear deterrent for your trees. Visit wildwisesooke.com for directions on how to build an electric fence.
The key is proper management and not giving up by going to the grocery store instead.
Q: If I plant a fruit tree near the sidewalk, will it make a mess?
A: If you and your neighbors are harvesting enough fruit then there will not be a mess! The whole idea behind planting Community Fruit Trees is to bring more fresh food into the hands of the people, so very little fruit at all should make it to ground if everyone is picking the fruit. If your fruit tree is producing too much fruit for you and your network to harvest, consider harvesting the abundance for a food bank or food sharing program like Food Not Bombs! You can also invite others to come and pick the fruit or see if there is a fruit tree gleaning program in your area such as Produce Good in Southern California. It is up to the stewards to make sure the fruit is harvested, and if it does fall on the ground that it is removed from the sidewalk or street and composted.
The other key is to plant the tree just far enough away from the sidewalk so that a majority of the fruit falls onto soil where it can decompose and add nourishment back to the soil.
Q: Will a fruit tree become too tall to pick from some day?
A: Many species of cultivated fruit trees have been grown in a way to prevent the trees from becoming too large. These will be called “dwarf” trees or sometimes indicated as “grafted onto dwarf root stock.” These types of trees are perfect for suburban yards, for plantings near sidewalks, and make harvesting very easy.
You can also prune trees to keep them to the right height and size that is desired.
It is important to know how big the trees will get and plant them accordingly in proper locations.
Q: How do I work around an HOA in order to be able to plant a Community Fruit Tree in my yard?
A: This will largely vary depending on your specific situation, but oftentimes planting within an HOA can be very difficult. They often have very strict rules. Generally the trees would have to be able to be considered ornamental. Luckily, many fruit trees like cherries, apples, pears, and stone fruit (plums, peaches, etc) are already planted as ornamental trees because of their beautiful spring flowers! Loquats are often planted by developers in Central Florida because of their beauty and Surinam Cherries are often used as hedges. You can find fruit trees in your area that are visually attractive to increase your chances of approval.
Another factor of resistance may be due to the risk of messy sidewalks from an unmanaged fruit tree, but as we outlined above, your trees should be heavily harvested as Community Fruit Trees so as not to create a big mess from fallen, unharvested fruit.
Get creative and see if you can sneak in edible plants and trees that also happen to be beautiful and ornamental. Search the internet for successful examples of people planting in HOA’s. There are plenty of examples!