The Complete Guide to Purchasing Fruit Trees from a Nursery Pro

The Complete Guide to Purchasing Fruit Trees from a Nursery Pro

Fruit trees are a wonderful addition to any garden, providing both aesthetic appeal and a bountiful harvest. For residents of Britain, choosing and purchasing the right fruit tree from a nursery can seem daunting. This guide aims to simplify the process, offering practical advice on selecting, buying, and caring for fruit trees. Whether you are a novice gardener or have years of experience, this comprehensive guide will equip you with the knowledge needed to make informed decisions and ensure your fruit trees thrive.

Your Climate and Soil

Before purchasing a fruit tree, it is crucial to understand the climate and soil conditions of your area. Britain’s climate varies significantly, from the milder, wetter west to the colder, drier east. Generally, most fruit trees require a sunny position with well-drained soil to flourish as we read at

Climate Considerations

Temperature: Consider the temperature fluctuations in your region. Some fruit trees, like apples and pears, are more tolerant of colder climates, while others, such as peaches and apricots, prefer warmer conditions.

Frost Risk: Late spring frosts can damage blossoms and reduce yields. If you live in an area prone to late frosts, select frost-resistant varieties or delay planting until the risk has passed.

Rainfall and Humidity: Ensure your chosen fruit tree can cope with the typical rainfall and humidity levels in your area. For instance, cherry trees prefer drier conditions and might struggle in consistently wet environments.

Soil Considerations

Soil Type: Most fruit trees thrive in loamy soil, which is a balanced mix of sand, silt, and clay. However, different fruit trees have specific soil preferences. For example, apple trees prefer slightly acidic soil, while plum trees can tolerate heavier clay soils.

Drainage: Good drainage is essential to prevent root rot. If your soil is heavy clay, consider improving drainage by adding organic matter or planting your tree on a mound.

Soil pH: The soil pH should be within the range suitable for your chosen fruit tree. A soil test kit can help determine the pH and nutrient levels, allowing you to amend the soil accordingly.

Selecting the Right Fruit Tree

Choosing the right fruit tree involves considering several factors, including the type of fruit, tree size, rootstock, and pollination requirements.

Type of Fruit

Your personal preference for fruit will significantly influence your choice. Common fruit trees suitable for Britain include apples, pears, plums, cherries, and peaches. Consider the following:

Apples: Available in a wide variety of flavours and uses, from eating apples to cooking apples.

Pears: Known for their sweet, juicy flesh, with varieties suitable for eating fresh or cooking.

Plums: Versatile and delicious, perfect for eating fresh, cooking, or making preserves.

Cherries: Available as sweet or sour varieties, excellent for fresh eating, baking, or preserving.

Peaches: Prefer warmer climates and well-drained soil, ideal for fresh consumption or desserts.

Tree Size

Fruit trees are available in various sizes, determined by the rootstock onto which they are grafted. The size of the tree will affect the space required and the ease of maintenance.

Dwarf Trees: These are ideal for small gardens or container growing. They typically reach 2-3 metres in height and are easy to prune and harvest.

Semi-Dwarf Trees: Reaching 4-5 metres in height, these trees are a good compromise between size and yield, suitable for medium-sized gardens.

Standard Trees: These are full-sized trees that can reach up to 7-9 metres. They require more space and are best suited to larger gardens or orchards.


The rootstock determines the tree’s size, disease resistance, and overall hardiness. Common rootstocks include:

M27 (Apple): Produces very dwarf trees, ideal for small spaces and containers.

M26 (Apple): Produces dwarf trees, suitable for small to medium gardens.

MM106 (Apple): Produces semi-dwarf trees, offering a good balance between size and productivity.

Quince C (Pear): Produces dwarf trees, ideal for small gardens.

Myrobalan (Plum): Produces semi-dwarf trees, suitable for most garden sizes.


Pollination is essential for fruit set. Some fruit trees are self-fertile, while others require a pollination partner. Ensure you understand the pollination requirements of your chosen tree.

Self-Fertile Trees: These trees can produce fruit on their own without a second tree. Examples include some varieties of plums and cherries.

Partially Self-Fertile Trees: These trees can set some fruit on their own but will produce a better crop with a pollination partner. Some apple varieties fall into this category.

Self-Sterile Trees: These require a compatible pollination partner nearby to produce fruit. Many apple and pear varieties are self-sterile.

Visiting the Nursery

When visiting a nursery to purchase your fruit tree, there are several factors to consider to ensure you select a healthy and suitable tree.

Inspecting the Tree

Examine the tree for signs of health and vitality. Look for:

Healthy Roots: If the tree is bare-root, check that the roots are moist and fibrous, not dry or brittle. For potted trees, ensure the root system is well-established and not root-bound.

Sturdy Trunk: The trunk should be straight and free from damage or disease. Avoid trees with cracks, splits, or signs of pest infestation.

Healthy Leaves and Buds: Leaves should be green and free from spots or discoloration. Buds should be plump and intact.

Asking the Right Questions

Engage with the nursery staff and ask questions to gather more information about the tree’s suitability for your garden. Consider asking:

Origin: Where was the tree grown? Locally grown trees are often better acclimated to your region’s climate.

Age: How old is the tree? Younger trees (1-2 years old) typically establish more quickly and are easier to train.

Care Requirements: What specific care does the tree require? Understanding the watering, feeding, and pruning needs will help you prepare for proper maintenance.

Planting Your Fruit Tree

Once you have selected your fruit tree, proper planting is essential for its successful establishment and growth.

When to Plant

In Britain, the best time to plant fruit trees is during the dormant season, from late autumn to early spring. Planting during this period allows the tree to establish its roots before the growing season begins.

Planting Steps

Site Preparation: Choose a sunny, sheltered spot with well-drained soil. Clear the area of weeds and dig a hole twice the width of the root ball and slightly deeper than its depth.

Soil Improvement: If necessary, improve the soil by mixing in organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure. This will enhance soil structure and fertility.

Planting the Tree: Place the tree in the hole, ensuring the root collar (the point where the roots meet the trunk) is level with the soil surface. Fill in the hole with soil, firming it gently to eliminate air pockets.

Watering: Water the tree thoroughly after planting to help settle the soil around the roots.

Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch around the base of the tree, keeping it away from the trunk. Mulch helps retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.

Staking and Protection

Young trees may need staking to provide support until they establish a strong root system. Use a sturdy stake and tie the tree loosely with a flexible tie to allow for some movement, which encourages root growth. Protect the tree from pests such as rabbits and deer by installing a tree guard or mesh around the trunk.

Caring for Your Fruit Tree

Proper care is essential to ensure your fruit tree remains healthy and productive. This involves regular watering, feeding, pruning, and monitoring for pests and diseases.


Young trees need regular watering during their first few years, especially during dry spells. Water deeply and consistently, ensuring the soil remains moist but not waterlogged. Mature trees generally require less frequent watering but may need supplemental watering during prolonged dry periods.


Fruit trees benefit from regular feeding to support healthy growth and fruit production. Apply a balanced fertiliser in early spring and again in mid-summer. Avoid over-fertilising, as this can lead to excessive vegetative growth at the expense of fruiting.


Pruning is vital for maintaining tree health, controlling size, and encouraging fruit production. The best time to prune is during the dormant season (late winter to early spring) for most fruit trees. Follow these basic pruning guidelines:

Remove Dead, Diseased, or Damaged Wood: This helps prevent the spread of disease and pests.

Thin Out Crowded Branches: Improve air circulation and light penetration by removing crossing or congested branches.

Shape the Tree: Aim for an open, balanced structure. For most fruit trees, a central leader or open-centre shape is ideal.

Pest and Disease Management

Regularly inspect your fruit trees for signs of pests and diseases. Common issues include aphids, caterpillars, apple scab, and canker. Employ integrated pest management (IPM) techniques, such as encouraging natural predators, using organic sprays, and practicing good garden hygiene to minimise problems.

Harvesting and Enjoying Your Fruit

The reward for your care and attention is a bountiful harvest of fresh fruit. Understanding when and how to harvest is crucial to enjoy the best flavour and quality.


Harvest times vary depending on the type of fruit and variety. Generally:

Apples and Pears: Harvest when the fruit is firm, with a slight give when gently pressed. Apples should come away easily from the tree when twisted.

Plums: Pick when the fruit is fully coloured and slightly soft to the touch.

Cherries: Harvest when the fruit is firm and fully coloured, with a glossy appearance.

Peaches: Pick when the fruit is fully coloured, slightly soft, and fragrant.

Harvesting Techniques

Use proper techniques to avoid damaging the tree or fruit:

Twist and Pull: For apples and pears, gently twist the fruit and pull it away from the tree.

Cutting: For delicate fruits like cherries and plums, use pruning shears to cut the stem, leaving a short stub attached to the fruit.

Gentle Handling: Handle harvested fruit gently to prevent bruising and damage.


Purchasing and growing fruit trees in Britain can be a rewarding experience, providing fresh, home-grown produce and enhancing your garden’s beauty. By understanding your climate and soil, selecting the right tree, planting it properly, and providing ongoing care, you can ensure your fruit trees thrive and produce abundant harvests for years to come. Whether you are planting a single tree or creating a small orchard, this guide offers the essential information needed to make informed decisions and enjoy the fruits of your labour.