Planting and caring for new trees are not for the faint of heart. You’ve decided you’re up for the challenge, and you’re eager, even excited, to start harvesting your own fruit. So, before you go to the nursery to buy your new starters, you want to make sure you know what to look for. After all, you want fruit fast!
5 simple ways to make fruit trees grow faster. There are a few things you can do to encourage your young tree to grow and yield fruit faster:
- Make sure you buy trees specific to your hardiness zone.
- Buy trees that have two years of growth.
- Buy “fast-growing” trees.
- Plant them using a layered ground method.
- Take steps in spring to give them a strong boost.
Below we’re going to dig into these effective ways to get your fruit trees to bear fruit faster than normal.
What Is a Normal Growth Rate for a Tree?
An experienced gardener will tell you that you can typically expect a tree to take 6-10 years to mature when you begin with a seed. If you were planning on being Johnny Appleseed, you need to prepare yourself for the long game before you will see fruit.
A young tree will generally take 5-6 years to produce fruit.
So, when we are talking about ways to make fruit trees grow faster, we are still talking about a process that takes anywhere from 6-months to 3-years depending on the tree you buy.
1. Start with What Works for Your Climate Zone
When choosing which fruit trees deserve your financial and time investment, you’re going to want to consider what grows best in your climate zone.
Depending on which map you study, there are between 8 and 26 various climate zones in the United States. For fruit tree growth, we are going to focus on a map that shows the broader climate zone ranges.
Climate and Hardiness Zones
The USDA revises climate zones every 20-30 years based on cyclical weather patterns. If you live on the buffer line of two zones, you can look at plants in both zones, but you’re going to need to closely monitor the other zone’s plants more than those indigenous to your area. This is particularly true when you are in the colder zone and planting crops that prefer the warmer zone.
Check out this map for fruit and nut tree hardiness zones in the United States.
You will notice that there are differences between species of fruit. This is important. Not all apples, pears, plums, or cherries thrive in the same climates.
Based on this map, it may seem obvious, but it bears being clear. If you live in Kansas, no matter how hard you try, planting tropical fruit trees is not going to give you a great result. That is unless you plant dwarf trees in containers indoors.
2. Select a Fruit Tree With at Least Two Years’ Growth
While you will still have to wait for your tree to reach its age of production,selecting a tree that is at least two years old will get you to that fruiting stage that much faster.
If you’re new to growing fruit trees and live outside the tropical zones, the easiest fruit to cultivate is an apple
All trees that are transplanted need about two years to establish a strong enough root system to bear the weight of growing fruit. For instance, many apple trees take up to 10 years to reach the fruiting stage, so getting that two years’ head start will make a difference.
Dwarf apple trees fruit sooner – at around 6 years old. This is a great reason to give them a try.
With that in mind, it’s time for you to choose what type of tree you want to grow. There are several trees that need a second tree nearby of a different breed of the same fruit. Here are some examples:
|Main Fruit||Cross Pollinator Option #1||Cross Pollinator Option #2|
|Honey Crisp Apple||Fuji Apple||Gala Apple|
|Golden Delicious Apple||Red Delicious Apple||McIntosh Apple|
|Bartlett Pear||D’Anjou Pear||Bosc Pear|
|Bing Cherry||Montmorency Cherry||Stella Cherry|
|Santa Rosa Plum||Burbank Plum||Shiro Plum|
|Sharpblue Blueberry||Backyard Blue Blueberry||Misty Blueberry|
Another way to manage this process is to acquire a tree that has been successfully grafted with one of its cross-pollinating sibling fruit. There are also fruits that don’t need to be cross-pollinated. Granny Smith apples are an example of these.
3. Choose a Fast-Growing Tree
There are also trees that are considered to be “fast-growing” trees. These are trees that have been grafted onto hearty root balls from a tree within the same fruit family.
Red delicious apples, for instance, are known to be stronger and more disease resistant. A reputable nursery may graft a honey crisp tree onto a red delicious root ball to help it grow stronger and have the positive properties of disease resistance of the red delicious.
The fastest-growing trees are those that have been grafted onto a hearty dwarf tree root ball. These compact trees are often planted in large containers and placed on patios.
Your local nursery can also point you toward fruit trees specific to your climate zone that will grow two to three feet each year until they reach maturity.
It’s important to understand what “dwarf trees” are. Dwarf doesn’t necessarily mean tiny; it means tiny for the breed. Some dwarf trees get up to 10-feet tall and/or have a 10-foot canopy span.
Don’t let their stature fool you. Dwarf trees still produce full-size fruits that are the same quality as what their cousins, semi-dwarf and standard fruit trees do.
A Little More About Grafting
Did you know that you can buy trees that have multiple types of the same fruit grafted together?
Professional gardeners have figured out how to successfully graft up-to five different types of fruits onto one tree. Some grafted trees grow faster than their natural counterparts.
Grafting is a painstaking process of taking a healthy part of one tree, inserting, and securing it to a related healthy tree. This is another process that takes time and patience. With that in mind, it won’t be surprising that these older, healthy hybrids cost more than a single species tree of the same age.
4. Layer Your Soil for Faster Growth
Regardless of whether you’re going to plant your tree(s) outdoors in the ground or in a container (which we’ll talk about in more detail later), if you want optimum growth, you will want to make sure you properly prepare its new home.
One of the most important pieces of information you can have is that your soil must have sufficient amounts of plant-based protein. One way to get this is to use composting, which will add humus to the soil. Humus – the dark, organic material in soil that is created when plant and animal matter decays.
This decaying material is essential, as it provides excellent nutrients for your plants.
It’s best to plant your tree during its dormant season. This will help manage the transplant shock process and also avoid damaging its fruit-bearing cycle.
Here’s a list of what you’re going to need for this project:
- A good shovel
- Two or three pieces of 4-inch drain tile
- Small rocks
- Peat moss
- Leaf mold
- Phosphate rock or colloidal phosphate
- 250 – 500 earthworms
If you’re planting your tree in the ground, you’re going to start with some cardio exercise.
- Dig a hole three feet deep by three feet wide. Yup, that’s a lot of digging, and more than gardeners usually require. To stay ahead of the curve, keep the topsoil you dig out separately from the subsoil. If you’re starting with a container, begin with this next step.
- Next, place the pieces of 4-inch drain tile in the bottom of the hole and plug the open ends with rocks. Why would you need to plug the ends? Well, you don’t want the tree’s roots winding up inside the tile.
- Fill the bottom 12-inches of the hole with a mixture of compost, completely soaked peat moss, topsoil, and about five pounds of phosphate rock. Do NOT put any chemical fertilizer or manure in this layer because it could burn the roots of your new tree or even kill it.
- Place a layer of small rocks on top of that mixture.
- Now it’s time to spread the roots across the rock bed.
- Fill the rest of the hole with the same mixture you used in the first foot of the hole: a mixture of compost, completely soaked peat moss, topsoil, and about five pounds of phosphate rock.
- Top that with one inch of compost, put your earthworms on top of that, and then cover them with three inches of leaves, and another layer of stones, if you want.
If you’re planting in an outdoor container use the same drain tile, 1/3 mixture, tree roots, 2/3 mixture, earthworm process, it’s doubtful you’re going to want earthworms in your house, so skip that part if you’re planting indoors.
5. It’s Spring! Time to Boost Your Fruit Tree Growth.
Your tree has started waking up from its slumber and you see evidence of new growth. Let’s talk pruning. Pruning is critical if you want your tree to grow at a healthy rate.
One nice thing about dwarf trees is that they’re easier to prune than their standard-sized counterparts. They’re not only shorter with a smaller canopy, but they also need fewer limbs, so they don’t get too heavy and split the tree. You’ll prune any size tree the same basic way:
Here’s what you’re going to want to focus on when you’re pruning your fruit tree:
- Remove any damaged, diseased, and/or dead tree limbs.
- If your tree has limbs that are growing inward, toward the tree instead of away from it, remove those too.
- Suckers and water sprouts will steal needed nutrients from the fruit-bearing branches. They need to go.
- At the end of the season, when the tree goes dormant, prune about 1/3 of that year’s new growth to encourage new growth the next year.
Another important element for your trees is aphid management. Did you know that ladybugs are natural aphid eaters? You can buy ladybugs at many reputable nurseries. Take them home and let them loose on your tree once it is fully leafed, and the weather has warmed.
The ladybugs will help contain the aphids, so they don’t eat your tree’s delicate new leaves.
Feeding Your Tree
There are many fertilizers on the market. It doesn’t matter if you have a dwarf tree, a semi-dwarf tree, or a standard tree, it will need food to keep it healthy and keep your tree’s growth rate strong.
When you’re planning on the best fertilizer for your tree, understand that fertilizers are mixed for specific purposes. You need to buy a fertilizer specifically made for fruit trees with high levels of potash.
When you fertilize your tree, spread the fertilizer beginning one foot out from the tree trunk, and lightly rake it to just beyond the edge of the canopy spread.
Provide your tree plenty of water to encourage growth and keep the fertilizer from burning it.
Now that we’ve talked about the basics of giving your fruit tree the boost it needs to grow strong and fast, let’s get back to basics.
Urban Gardens and Fruit Trees
Rooftop gardens have been gaining popularity in urban areas over the past five or six years. If you live in a condominium or apartment building, you are not excluded from being able to grow your own produce.
There are dwarf fruit trees you can plant in containers that will thrive on your building’s rooftop, on your balcony, on your patio, or even in your household.
Why You Can’t Plant a Standard Tree in a Container
It is true that trees will only grow as much as their roots are allowed to develop; however, putting a standard tree in a container will only result in it becoming root-bound and diseased. When considering container gardens, you need to stick to dwarf trees specifically.
Self-Pollinating Tree Varieties
Many varieties of cherries, apricots, and peaches don’t require cross-pollination. If you live in a climate zone that supports one of these fruits, they may be a perfect option for you as you would only need one tree.
As we discussed earlier, though, there are also trees that have been grafted with multiple types of the same fruit family. That said, these trees need to be outside so bees can cross-pollinate between the different varieties. Apples and pears often fall in this category.
Stabilize Your Container
Regardless of the type of fruit you grow, you will want to be able to secure the tree – make sure it’s stabilized. When these trees are matured, the wind can catch their canopy and send them toppling. That would not only make a terrible mess; it could also damage or even kill your tree.
Pros and Cons of Indoor Container Fruit Trees
If you have the space for it, an indoor container fruit tree may be a tempting prospect. In some ways, it’s similar to growing your tree in a greenhouse environment. There are some things to consider before you go this route, though.
- Growing your tree indoors can provide a more temperate climate and could allow you to grow fruit from warmer climate regions.
Choosing to go this route means that you’ll need to keep your container tree away from heating/cooling vents that may affect its habitat. Most fruit trees need full-sun exposure.
Placing them near a window seems like a good choice, but if you’re not careful, the magnified heat (or cold) could end up damaging your tree. Place it in full sun, but not right against the window.
- Some fruits, like apples and pears, must experience a hard freeze.
Even if you choose a non-pollinating variety, like granny smith apples, you still need to provide it with below-freezing temperatures for a period of time. This would mean moving the incredibly heavy container outdoors for a while.
- Fruit trees flower.
Spring is a wonderful time to see everything in bloom. The fruit trees provide pink and white flowers that are proof of life emerging from the dark winter.
The thing is those blooms also drop to the ground. Having your tree indoors will result in constant floor flower patrol for a time.
- Fruit trees bear – and drop – fruit.
Yes, that may seem very obvious, but the other thing to remember is that fruit trees do drop ripe fruit to the ground. If you aren’t able to keep up with harvesting your container tree, you may end up with stains on your floor, deck, or patio from old fruit.
And with smooshed fruit on the ground come bugs of all types. Take heed of this if you’re ready to start a container roof orchard!
Other Fruit-bearing Container Options
Does a tree just seem a little overwhelming? Maybe you’d like to have your fruit but want to keep it a little lower to the ground. There are some other options you may want to consider.
Berries have climate zone requirements too, but some of them are a little broader in their growing areas. Here is another climate zone map so you can refer back to it as we discuss which berries do best in which climate zone spread.
Before you begin your foray into container berry planting, have a conversation with your local nursery or garden center to make sure you buy a variety that is conducive to container growth.
Similar to the trees, there are different growth varieties of each of these berries.
7 Types of Berries that Work Well in Containers
Keeping our climate zones in mind, here are seven different types of berries that do well in containers.
|Raspberries – Zones 2-8||Raspberries love their sunlight. Place their container in an area where they have access to plenty of sunshine. They need to be put in a pot with good drainage and be placed in fertile soil.|
Depending on the size of your container, you can plant up-to six raspberry plants in each 60-centimeter diameter container. Water your raspberries regularly and feed them a berry-specific fertilizer high in potash to keep them healthy.
After harvest, prune the branches that produced fruit. This will promote new growth for the following season
|Black Currants – Zones 3-9||If you love your scones at teatime, black currants will be on your list of must-haves. These berries are rich in vitamin C and enjoy container life. |
Currants do not do well with frost, so make sure to protect them if you are expecting freezing temperatures.
Currants prefer good drainage and lots of sunlight but are not as particular about the type of soil you place them in.
Birds and squirrels will love your currents. Consider covering them with fine netting to protect your crop.
|Blackberries – Zones 3-10||Blackberries are fairly low maintenance and like to grow, so start with a container that holds at least 5-gallons. Also, get some stakes to provide support once they start growing.|
Similar to placing the drain tiles in the bottom of the hole for your trees, put some rocks, drain tiles, or broken pieces of terra cotta pot in the bottom of the container to encourage drainage. Provide your blackberry plants with plenty of nutrient-rich soil and water.
After the plants stop producing fruit in the fall, trim the plants back to about six inches to promote stronger and prolific growth the following year.
|Blueberries – Zones 3-10||Blueberries are another example of a plant that usually needs a second variety nearby to promote cross-pollination and growth. There are self-pollinating blueberry plants, so if you are limited on space, that might be worth considering.|
Although blueberries can get larger, they do well in containers. This is particularly true because you have a better ability to manage the soil’s acidity level with balanced pH levels between 4-5.5.
Pro Tip: Water blueberries with collected rainwater. Tap water tends to have too much lime, which will reduce the soil’s acidity level over time.
As with the other berries, blueberries require good drainage and plenty of sunlight.
These are slow producers, so you will need to wait about three years before you get to enjoy blueberry pies, pancakes, or muffins.
Strawberries – Zones 3-11
|Did you know there are varieties of strawberries that will produce crops in the late spring, summer, and again in the fall? Strawberries can give you a real bang for your buck.|
Your biggest challenge here is that there isn’t an animal out there that doesn’t love a good strawberry.
Certain strawberries even do well in hanging baskets. Make sure you put each plant at least 20 – 30 centimeters apart to allow the roots to grow and remove any “runners” to promote fruit growth, and you will be in business.
|Mulberries – Zones 5-10||Even though they have a short shelf life in the supermarket, you can grow mulberries in containers at home.|
These, too, need full sunlight. They get temperamental with too much watering, but also with too little. Moderate watering and the right kind of soil are the keys to success with mulberries.
|Acai berries – Zones 9-11||Unfortunately, the acai berries don’t adapt well to many climates, so they are limited to the warmer climate zones.|
Like the trees we discussed earlier, if you’re going to plant acai berries, you need to find a dwarf acai berry palm that can be planted in containers. Even the dwarf palms will grow between 10 – 12 feet tall. Also, like the trees, it takes them about three years to begin producing fruit, so this particular berry requires a little more patience
Although you may have to wait anywhere between a year to three years to begin to enjoy the fruits of your labors, once you’ve tended to the growth of your fruit-bearing tree or plant, you will be able to enjoy your harvest.
Depending on what you plant, you will want to be ready to start giving fruit away or canning it.
If you’re wondering how to can or how to make jam from the fruit you’ve grown, Ball (yes, the canning jar people) has several resources available, or you can get some online help from Recipes for Canning and Preserving Fruit.
Even the dwarf versions of these producers will yield a wonderful amount of fruit when you’re keeping it trimmed, fed, and watered.
Who knows? This foray into growing your own fruit may give you a slew of new skills you never even knew you wanted!
You Can’t Speed Up a Tree – Much
While you can’t force a tree to grow faster, there are some shortcuts you can take to get a head start with an older sapling. Your choice of a “fast-growing” variety also helps. From there, it is just taking great care of your tree that is going to get you the best growth when that tree is ready. Your part is helping to make sure that tree is well-prepared to do its life work – bring you fruit!