Selecting tree species that produce fruit quickly is a great plan if you want to minimize the investment of water and time you’ll need to put into them. Young trees purchased from greenhouses can get to be expensive quickly, but thankfully, with just a little research, you can maximize your return on investment.
The top ten trees that bear fruit quickly are:
- Mandarin oranges
- Black cherries
Having the right knowledge before you start planting can mean the difference between a delicious, full-harvest, and dead plants and wasted money. Below I’ll describe my top ten picks in more detail and then give you some vital starter kit information on tree planting basics.
How soon will I start to see fruit?
Trees in general tend to be slow-growing fellows. When we talk about “fast fruiter” we’re normally talking 1-3 years for the really fast ones. Some species will require more; think 5-8 years, however the wait can be well worth it for those looking to sustain themselves off their own land.
Pears can start producing fruit in about three to five years if you get the conditions right. So while they may not be the fastest on this list to produce fruit, I’m putting them near the top of the list because compared to other tree species, pears are fairly easy to care for. They also tend to be resistant to diseases and insect problems.
Pears can also be grown in wide range of temperature zones. They like USDA zones 3-10.
Bartlett pears are one of the more commonly grown varieties at home. Pear trees do require full sun and remember that pear trees can get big—up to 40 feet depending on the variety you chose—so be sure to pick a spot that will get full sun for the entire lifetime of the tree. Pears do need to be pruned as soon as they’re planted according to some experts.
Mulberries tend to have large crops and will start producing within a single year if you use a grafted tree (a few years if not). They can also be long-lived—think upwards of a few hundred years.
We had mulberry trees in my neighborhood growing up and I’ll say that if you don’t intend to harvest the berries they can leave a mess on the sidewalk for people passing by.
They like USDA Zone 5-9. Because of how large the yields are, you might consider it as chicken feed if you can’t eat them all.
They thrive in USDA Zone 5-9 and need full sunlight with well-drained soil. Will be productive for 10-15 years but will need a regular schedule of pruning.
Peaches are a great fruit to grow yourself and can start producing after two years. They are excellent when served in a variety of ways, and are self-fruiting, which means that a single tree will be able to pollinate itself.
There are several types of peaches, but two main distinctions are freestone, which are best eaten fresh, and clingstone, which are better for canning.
Necatarines fruit after 2 years. A nectarine is a peach without fuzz and because they are genetically engineered, they don’t self-pollinate. This means you’ll need at least two trees (ideally different varieties) to help keep them going.
They like USDA zones 5-9, just like peaches. Also, because of their similarity to peaches they will also need to be pruned.
Mandarin oranges, otherwise branded as Cuties or Halo, are popular because they’re small and easy to peel. They can take longer to produce fruit if you’re not using a grafted tree: think seven years or so (two if it is grafted).
If you’re going for any type of citrus tree remember that they tend to like warm climates (which is why Florida and California are great places for them).
They usually need 8-12 hours of sun a day, but the nice thing is they don’t need pruning.
Another nice thing about mandarins is that they come in dwarf varieties that can be grown indoors. If you don’t have that kind of sunlight in your area you could consider using a grow light for plants that are indoors.
Lemons take about three years to start producing. Most people don’t go around snacking on lemons, but they’re still a nice item to have on hand and can help add vitamins and variety to those looking to create a self-sustaining orchard.
Yes, they do require warmer temperatures, but there are a few varieties that can grow in containers and moved around as needed.
I love a good fig. There are lots of varieties of figs but one downside they have is that they do take about 5 years to really get going. Fig trees are nice because although they also tend to like more tropical climates, they can be grown in a container indoors. They can get quite tall (upwards of 30 feet), but you can prune them back and they’re actually very trendy right now as an indoor plant.
Yes, I said it. Banana plants, if grown in a warm enough climate, can start producing fruit in a year. They’re not a tree but a large herb related to ginger, and they will require full sun.
I’m including bananas here because although they may be hard to grow in much of the US, bananas are a staple fruit for many Americans and they can be grown indoors.
Black cherries only take 2-3 years to start producing (vs up to 7 years for sweet cherries) and because of their tartness, are a great jam-making fruit.
The leaves and stems of black cherry trees do produce hydrocyanic acid. This has the potential to sicken livestock if eaten in large quantities, so keep this in mind while choosing the location for your tree.
As with mulberries, this also might not be a great species to plant over a sidewalk if you don’t want cherry stains on the walkway.
This video has some excellent guidelines on planting fruit trees, and also features a cherry tree.
It can be hard to find a truly ripe apricot in a grocery store, so this is one of my favorite trees to have around. Apricots will take around three years to start fruiting and will continue to produce fruit for about 25 years after that. Apricots do well in Zones 6-9. Apricots are self-pollinating and are also another great jam-fruit.
Other fast fruiting plants
If a tree isn’t in your backyard space budget, then you may want to consider:
- Strawberries: These will produce fruit in 1-2 years and come in varieties that bear fruit up to three times a year, or even all growing season.
- Raspberries: Produce after 2 years and will continue to produce for 8-15 years afterwards. They’re also self-pollinating!
- Blueberries: Blueberries can take three to four years to produce, and they do need more specific conditions to grow well. Namely, they need acidic soil, and they don’t self-pollinate, so you’ll need to plant a few varieties.
Will growing trees from seed affect fruit production?
Growing trees from seed if you want fruit quickly is not advisable. Not only will you spend additional time and energy keeping the seedlings alive, but the quality of the fruit may not be what you expected when you finally do get to taste it.
A reputable nursery is a great place to learn about what grows best in your area and will have the flavor you’re looking for.
Why do grafted plants produce fruit faster?
Grafting is a method of plant propagation where the more mature top part of a tree (a budding stem) is attached onto the less mature root portion of another tree. The result is a Frankenstein tree that has the mature upper portion that is ready to bear fruit sooner.
Grafting is often done on species that are hard to grow from seed but is also a great way to be 100% sure you’re growing a plant you really like.
A grafted plant is essentially a clone of the plant you got the shoot from.
This means that if there’s a tree that produces excellent fruit year after year, the best way to be sure that all your trees produce similar fruit is to clone that exact tree. Planting the seeds of that tree has a lot more uncertainty—especially if it’s not a self-pollinating tree.
What is a USDA Zone?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness Zone Map divided the country up based on the average annual minimum winter temperature.
This map is used by gardeners to help them figure out which types of plants will be able to grow successfully in their region. The zone map is color coded and very easy to use.
What is a self-fertile or self-fruiting tree?
A self-fruiting tree is one that can use its own pollen to pollinate its own flowers.
A flower is the pre-cursor to a fruit. Inside each flower is a stigma, which looks like a little sticky stem. For self-fruiting trees, if pollen from the same plant or the same variety of tree lands on the stigma, the flower will become a fruit.
But this isn’t the case for all species. Some need a different tree’s pollen in order to turn a flower into a fruit—this is one way the tree promotes genetic diversity.
Examples of self-fruiting trees include:
- Black cherries.
Will pruning help trees make fruit faster?
Yes, the purpose of pruning is to help the tree grow in a way that maximizes fruit production. By cutting off big spindly limbs you’re re-directing the tree to put its energy into other things.
Remember that when you prune a tree, you’re essentially injuring the plant. That fresh cut is an opening where pathogens and fungus could enter your tree, so it’s important to follow best practices to avoid killing your tree.
Although you may want fruit as fast as possible, it may be advisable to pinch off the first year’s flowers to prevent your tree from fruiting (remember—flowers become fruits!).
The reason for this is that it takes your tree A LOT of energy to produce fruit; energy that might be better spent growing and maturing strong branches first. Again, this advice varies by species, but it’s something to keep in mind.
When do you prune a tree?
Pruning should be done at the time of year specified by your tree species. Each tree has a different yearly timeline whereby they start producing fruit.
Pruning right before fruiting season could mean a fruitless season for you. One general pruning rule is to never take off more than 1/3 of the tree at time. Any more and you’re doing more damage than good.
There are lots of good choices if you want to start picking fruit fast. Unlike pioneers of years past, we don’t have to rely on years of trial and error to reap the delicious rewards of eating our own fruit.
There are thousands of varieties of each of the tree species listed above, and each will have slightly different requirement. Be sure to do your research, and I’m quite certain you’ll be reaping a rich harvest in no time!