A rose by any other name...
just might be a peach tree!
Many popular fruit and nut trees are members of the rose family (Rosaceae). Apples and pears are in the rose family. So are the stone fruits, such as apricots, cherries, and nectarines. Almonds are stone fruits, too. But which of these trees will grow and produce more quickly?
Before you decide on a fast-growing fruit or nut tree, you need to know your USDA Hardiness Zone and how many chill hours your yard receives. We are all familiar with the buds and leaves of spring, the prolific growth of summer, and the harvest of autumn. But fruit and nut trees and shrubs (and strawberries!) are working through winter, too. Colder winter temperatures are part of their natural lifecycles.
What are chill hours?
Chill hours are an accumulation of temperatures between 32°F and 45°F. Somehow, plants keep track of this information. I have no idea how. But chill hours are so critical that there is a network of stations nationwide to measure them.
In this temperature range, the growth-inhibiting hormone responsible for dormancy begins to break down, allowing trees and shrubs to produce the buds that ultimately become the leaves and flowers of spring. Temperatures above 60°F can reverse chilling accumulations.
If not enough chill hours occur, flowers and buds will not form properly, and you might not get any fruit. Inadequate chill hours can also extend bloom time, making delicate buds and flowers vulnerable to diseases like fire blight and brown rot.
Universities work with the USDA to provide valuable information to farmers and orchardists. You can access this information online and over the phone to identify the chilling hours in your area. You may have to estimate your chill hours, depending on where you live and how far you are from the nearest recording station. Do not trust your local box store to sell you the right one. Do your homework.
What about grocery store tree seeds?
If you plant the pit or seed from a grocery store stone fruit, you are unlikely to get offspring that looks, behaves, or tastes the way the first fruit did. That is because most bare-root fruit and nut trees available today are hardy rootstock grafted onto a productive, flavorful fruit producer. Scions and cuttings from adventitious roots can create clones.
Super fruit trees!
One variety of grafted trees, in particular, boasts 40 different types of stone fruit on the same trees! Sam Van Aken creates these Trees of 40 Fruit. To me, they are botanical masterpieces. You can find similar stone fruit trees, with four or five types of fruit, available in garden centers and catalogs. There are also citrus trees with oranges, lemons, and limes. These trees grow fast and are a great way to use a small space.
How to plant bare root trees
Most bare root stock trees are two or three years old. Install bare root trees early in the growing season when temperatures are above 45°F. Choose a site that can accommodate a tree’s full size and provide plenty of full sun and good air circulation. Before planting, be sure to get your soil tested by a lab before adding any other amendments. Too many nutrients can be worse than not enough. Lab-based soil tests cost about the same as a large bag of fertilizer and provide a wealth of information. Many universities offer this service.
When ready to plant, dig a hole that allows the roots to spread horizontally. The hole should be shallow enough that the graft union (where the rootstock joins the scion) is at least 2” above soil level. You should be able to see a slight flare of the trunk at the base. Planting too deeply is one of the easiest ways to kill them, though it may take a few years.
Add soil around the roots and water thoroughly rather than tamping it down. Pressing down on the soil damages delicate root hairs needed by the tree to absorb water and nutrients. Watering, or mudding in, your tree removes air pockets that can dry roots out before they ever get a chance to grow while providing the water needed to recover from the planting ordeal.
The early months
It is a good idea to install tree supports for your young tree. Whitewash the trunk and exposed branches each spring with one part white, interior latex paint, and one part water to prevent sunburn damage.
Mulch around your new tree, keeping the mulch several inches away from the tree trunk, and water regularly until the root system has become established. Remove the supports at that time. Remove all blossoms for the first two or three years to encourage root development. I know it is hard, but you will thank me later.
Seasonal fruit and nut tree care
While each species has its own needs, we can make some generalizations about seasonal fruit tree care. These practices keep your trees structurally sound and productive while reducing pest and disease problems. Pruning is best done in winter after all the leaves have fallen. The only exceptions to late-season pruning are apricots and cherries because they are susceptible to Eutypa dieback. Prune these trees during the warm, dry season. For all your other fruit and nut trees, this schedule of care should keep them healthy:
So, which trees grow more quickly?
In this case, it ends up that size does matter. Full-sized trees (15-20’) live 50 years and produce the most fruit, but they can take 20 years to reach maximum production. Semi-dwarf trees (12-15’) live for 15–25 years and need 5–8 years to start producing harvestable crops. Dwarf trees (10-12’) live 15–25 years but can produce fruit in only 3-5 years.
You can prune any of these trees to make them smaller. You can also grow dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit and nut trees in large containers.
Fruit and nut trees are investments in your landscape. You will not have a harvest the first year. And not in the second year, either. But in the long run, fruit and nut trees can produce an annual bounty that goes on for decades. Your best bet for a fast-growing fruit tree is a dwarf, grafted tree that can provide your family with bountiful harvests for many years!
Kate Russell, writer, gardener, and so much more.