Growing your own food is easy, fun, and so rewarding, and when you can combine it with planting trees, it’s even better. But trees take a long time to grow: sometimes a really long time.
If you’d rather enjoy the fruits of your gardening labors sooner than that, consider these eight fastest growing fruit trees for reasonable harvests within just a few years.
Planting fruit trees is a great way to improve the beauty of your home and increase the biodiversity of your local area: birds, bees, and critters love them. And what could be better for a healthy snack than freshly picked fruit? We’ve also included a short guide after the list to help you choose your fruit tree and ensure that you pick the best one for your circumstances.
I thought I’d start with an unusual one. Mulberries aren’t what you might immediately think of as a fruit you’d like to grow, but the trees are seriously heavy croppers, and the fruits are delicious. While they don’t have the same plumpness as other berries, fresh mulberries are wonderfully sweet and tart at the same time. Dried white mulberries have an amazing, fudgey-caramel taste. I love them!
The trees grow extremely fast, sometimes 2.5 feet per year. Grafted trees (more on that below) can produce fruit within the first year of planting. Mulberry seeds germinate without too much difficulty too, so you might find a few more mulberry trees springing up from time to time. They’re generally hardy in USDA zones 5-9 depending on the variety, with some varieties living happily even in zones 3 and 4. (You can see the USDA’s hardiness zone map here.)
You do need to be careful where you plant them as some varieties can achieve more than 80 feet in height. Their root systems are extensive and can be invasive, so keep them away from houses, foundations, or leaky pipes. But with the right planning, a sunny spot, and well-drained soil, a mulberry tree can provide you with fruit and a shady place to sit for many years.
If you want an apple a day, you won’t have to wait too long! Apple trees are available in a huge number of varieties and cultivars, and they can produce fruit in as little as two years from planting. They usually need to be planted with another, compatible apple tree for fertilization to occur, although it is possible to find some lovely self-fertile cultivars.
Apples have a wide hardiness range; depending on the variety they can grow and fruit quite happily in zones 3-8. The do require “chill hours” however, so in warmer zones, the temperature may not get low enough for the tree to produce fruit. Chill hours are defined as the temperature being between 34-45° Fahrenheit or 1-7° Celsius. Apples have one of the higher chill hour requirements; they need more cold weather than other trees with similar needs.
Golden Delicious and Red Delicious are particularly known for their vigorous growth, although it’s always worth checking out older, heritage and local varieties to plant in your garden.
3. Peach and Nectarine
Both types of tree grow very quickly and can produce fruit in three years or less. Or even sooner: we bought two small, dwarf peach trees from a garden center one winter, and they fruited the following summer. Their flowers are beautifully delicate in the spring, and watching the fruits grow from little green balls to bright, juicy deliciousness is a joy of gardening.
Like apples, most peaches and nectarines require a similar tree for cross-pollination, but again there are self-fertile varieties available. While there are hardier cultivars, most peaches and nectarines don’t cope well with harsh cold or severe frost at the lower end of their hardiness zones: 4-9.
They also require chill hours, but far fewer than what apple trees need. Peach trees also really don’t like the damp: soggy roots are a big problem as can be a damp climate in general. They may require a little more care and attention than some other fruiting trees, but a good, fast harvest of peaches or nectarines makes it all worthwhile.
You could try the Belle of Georgia, Elberta, Golden Jubilee, or Hale-Heaven varieties for especially fast growth.
Self-fertile, fig trees grow very quickly and can produce fruit in as little as two years. In their native Mediterranean climate, they can even crop twice in one year. Figs enjoy a sunny, well-drained spot and can usually handle dryness, but they may be sensitive to drought especially in the early stages of fruit development.
Fig trees prefer a sheltered location, but their suitability for container growing means that potted trees can be moved out of the wind if necessary. They’re usually hardy in zones 8-10, although some varieties can cope with 6-7 and even 11.
They can grow to height of 30 feet when planted in the ground, and their wide, lobed leaves provide wonderful shade on a hot summer’s day. Container-grown fig trees don’t get nearly as large, but they still produce an excellent crop of figs.
Not all cherries are fast-growers, but the black cherry tree can grow up to three feet each year. Hardy in zones 3-10 but most prolific above zone 4, these trees can eventually reach 60 feet in height if the conditions are right. They like full sun to partial shade, and produce abundant crops of dark, juicy cherries each summer.
Black cherry trees don’t require much special care or maintenance so can be a great tree for people without a lot of time to spend. And with enough space to accommodate them!
You may not be able to grow citrus trees in your yard — their usual hardiness range is 9-11 — but it’s possible to grow them in containers for an indoor-outdoor life. And if you live in zone 8, you could try Meyer lemons. They do well indoors but can also survive slightly colder temperatures outside in a sunny, sheltered spot. Similarly, Mexican limes, satsumas, tangerines, and kumquats can handle a slightly colder climate.
Most citrus trees, even small ones, produce large quantities of fruit quickly and regularly and are a great addition to your garden.
Like cherry trees, not all apricot trees grow fast. But the Moorpark (zones 4-8) and Early Golden (zones 5-8) cultivars have a reputation for growing vigorously. Related to peach, plum, cherry, and almond, apricot trees produce beautiful blossom in the spring followed by tasty, delicious fruit in the summer.
Hardy in zones 9-10, Hass and Fuerte avocado trees can grow 3 feet per year. Broad, spreading trees, avocados produce fruit for a significant portion of the year: Hass trees fruit in every season but winter, and Fuerte fruit in every season but autumn.
Be aware though that if you plant one near to your bedroom window, you may be kept awake by the sound of fruit dropping off the tree! Avocados are heavy, and they don’t go quietly.
How to Select & Plant Fast Growing Fruit Trees
A list of trees is no good if you don’t know how to use it. While the trees listed above are all considered to be fast growers and productive fruiters, like all trees, they each have their own requirements. And there are some pro tips to consider before you start planting.
1. Seedling vs. Grafted
Fruit trees that you buy from a nursery or garden center will be grafted. This means that a branch of the chosen tree was joined with the rootstock of another, related tree. Grafting is a way of reproducing trees that cannot be grown from seed.
For example, if you plant an apple seed, you might get a tree bearing a similar type of apple that you planted, but equally you might get more of a wild, crab apple type of apple or something else entirely. And the next generation — apple trees planted from the seeds of your seed-grown tree — will be nothing like your original apple. So growers use grafting to ensure that they get the fruit they want.
Other trees, like peach and apricot, can be grown from seed, but grafts are still used to preserve the characteristics of certain cultivars: fruit quality, disease resistance, flower color.
This makes fruit trees more expensive to buy than, say, oak or maple seedlings, but it also means that you can be assured of fruit in a relatively short space of time. Grafted trees have a head start, so it won’t be long till they produce fruit after you plant them.
After you plant a grafted tree, you might notice shoots coming up from the base of the tree, just below the surface of the soil. It’s usually best to snip these off neatly with a clean pair of secateurs, as they’re growing from the rootstock rather than from the scion (grafted portion). Sometimes these shoots are allowed to grow up to make, for example, a tree with some red and some green leaves, but for fruit production, it’s best to make sure that all of the tree’s energy goes into the top portion.
And in general, it’s worth knowing that certain rootstocks provide for faster growth than others. It all starts getting a bit complicated here, but, for example, the MM106 semi-dwarfing rootstock for apple trees is associated with faster scion growth than some others. If you really want to get serious about it, go for it!
Buying grafted trees is the quickest way to a fruit harvest, but if you want to try growing fruit trees from seed, and you have the space to accommodate the trees once they’re grown, please do! It’s a wonderful project and an amazing thing to watch your seedlings mature.
Spend a little time researching the specific conditions your seed requires to germinate and thrive, and you can try growing a wide variety of fruit. Just bear in mind that it’ll probably be 8-10 years or more till the trees bear fruit. And depending on the type of fruit, you might not get quite what you’re expecting.
2. Where to Plant Fruit Trees
I’ve already touched upon hardiness zones and soil types, but it’s important to remember that there’s no point planting a tree somewhere it won’t be happy growing. Or where you won’t be happy with it growing! You can look at our article on How to Pick a Tree for Your Yard for more information.
3. Check Your Chill Hours
Chill hours, as mentioned in the sections on apple and peach, can be critical in determining whether or not your chosen tree will produce fruit. Do your research and make sure you know that your climate zone, and your local weather, are suitable not only for your tree to grow but for it to flourish.
4. Think About the Bees & Pollinators
They need our help! Buy beyond that, all fruit trees have pollination requirements. Some are self-fertile and don’t need another tree nearby. But others, like many varieties of apple, peach, and cherry, need to be planted near a suitable companion for cross-pollination.
You can find cross-pollination charts online; good examples can be seen here and here. Cross-pollinators rely on bees so are best planted at 100 feet apart or less: probably not an issue in the average garden.
5. Think About the Bugs & Pests
Ask around and see what pests are the biggest problems in your area. Look for trees that have a natural resistance to those pests, and learn how best to situate them for maximum protection. The healthier your trees are, the more able they’ll be to stand up for themselves and fight off attacks from pests or diseases.
6. Plant Wisely, Dig Deep
Learn the best tree planting methods for your chosen fruit tree before you buy it: how deep it wants to be planted, how much water it needs once it’s in the ground, whether it needs any protection from animals or elements in its early days. It’s always better to be prepared, for your sake and the tree’s; it will save you both stress and problems later on.
7. What Do You Want?
Fruit, I know. But do you want fruit all year round? Fruit just in the summer? Are you also wanting a tree that flowers? Fig trees just produce figs — no flowers at all — so if you’re after aesthetic appeal as well as edible value, they’re probably not the trees for you.
Fruit trees can get big, very big. If you want fruit that you can pick easily without needing a ladder, or you don’t want fruit dropping on the ground, consider a dwarf tree. Specifically cultivated to be smaller and more compact, dwarf fruit trees can provide excellent-quality produce without taking up too much space.
Some of them are also quite happy to grow in containers, so if space is an issue, or you’re not completely settled where you’re living, they can be a great option. I’ve got several trees in containers that have traveled with me as I’ve moved through four countries!
Why Plant Fast Growing Fruit Trees?
Fruit trees are a beautiful and productive addition to any garden. An abundant fruit harvest can save your household a significant amount of money too. Having a fruit tree — or several fruit trees — in your garden can attract pollinators and beneficial insects that will not only help your trees, but will improve the overall health of your garden too. The fast-growing fruit trees are a great investment, given that you won’t have too much time to wait before they start fruiting.
While you can often find quality trees online in a wide variety of cultivars, check your local nursery, garden center, or grower for local varieties. Find out which grow best in your area and consider planting trees that are more native to your area.
It’s also worth seeking out heritage varieties. Their fruit often tastes much better — compare the taste of Cox’s Orange Pippin to a Red Delicious if you ever have the chance — and the ecological important of preserving diverse varieties of trees and plants can’t be overstated.
We wish you happy searching, happy planting, and happy eating. Whether it’s for fresh fruit, jams and jellies, pie, or dried snacks, a home-grown fruit tree is the perfect addition to any size garden.
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Kira Nash lives with her family in the sunny French countryside amidst bees and swallows. A writer, editor, and artist by trade, she also teaches creative meditation. She’s passionate about nature and ecology and tries to live as green a life as possible. In her spare time, she surfs, reads, and plays with her cats, although not usually all at once. She loves tea a little too much.