Having a garden has given me a lot of opportunity in the sense that I can literally go out in my backyard and pick food any time I want. That’s an absolute blessing many times when I can’t get to (or can’t afford) fresh produce at the grocery store. Vegetable seeds tend to come rather cheaply, so you can plant a decent variety without spending too much cash. However, fruit trees come at a bit more cost, usually $50 and over. Are they worth the cost? Should you get one? Here are a few things to consider when trying to determine whether a fruit tree is right for you.
How Much Time Do You Have?
Are you going to be living where you are for a long time? If not, it’s probably best to skip buying a fruit tree right now. Fruit trees can be purchased at a few years old – where they actually look like a tree – but in most cases they are still quite small and may actually take several years to start producing fruit. We put an avocado tree in our backyard once and it took four years to start producing fruit, which is typical. Finally, after the fifth year, it started producing more than just a few avocados. If you’re going to be living where you are for the foreseeable future, grab a fruit tree. But if you are going to be moving you might want to skip it.
How Much of the Fruit Do You Purchase?
Sometimes it’s not worth it to purchase a fruit tree because the cost of the tree in addition to the upkeep is simply not worth the cost. Add up how many pounds of whatever fruit you’re considering purchasing in tree form you actually consume per year, roughly. For instance, I don’t eat a whole lot of grapefruit. I have maybe 10 pounds of grapefruit per year. At about $1.67 per pound, buying a fruit tree would do me little to no good. (Unless, of course, I deem that I would eat more if I had a tree.) But I eat figs and dates like they’re going to disappear from the earth. So if I had a chance to buy a fig tree, pomegranate tree, etc. it would be a very good investment. If I had to spend $60 or so up front (even $80) to buy a fruit tree and I had a few years to wait, I know I would definitely eat as much as that tree would produce. Weigh your options.
How Much Fruit Can You Use?
After you consider how much you already purchase you’ll want to consider how much of a certain fruit you can actually use. You only have so many neighbors, family members, friends, and random people you meet to give fruit to, so if you love a certain fruit but you won’t be able to eat the amount of fruit a tree will produce, you might want to reconsider. However, even if you have an extremely high yielding tree you can always give food to your local homeless shelter, food bank, etc. Food banks are usually very happy to get whatever fresh foods they can. Still, if you feel like the majority of the food you grow will literally be going to the birds, it might be best to skip a tree if for no other reason than you’ll have quite a mess to keep up with. Our tangerine tree produces so much fruit we can barely keep up with it every year. However, my dad and I both make juices and smoothies, my grandma has neighbors, we have our church family we can give to, and so forth. Think about what you’ll be able to do with buckets of fruit, because most fruit trees are high yielding.
Do You Have the Space?
This might seem like an obvious question, but it surprises me how many people don’t realize that trees get big. They purchase an apple tree, for instance, because they think it’s a little tree, and then realize quickly that the tree has outgrown its space. We have a tangerine tree that is extremely high producing, but it’s also very big. Even if the roots don’t take up that much space you’ll have to consider the vertical space and the “branch span”, if you will, of the tree. Measure how much space you have (vertical, horizontal, etc.) and ask a horticulture expert if you have enough room before purchasing the tree.
Are You Willing to Keep up with Maintenance?
This is a big one. Fruit trees can be a lot of maintenance work, particularly in the growing stages. You might have to prop it up, keep it clean, pick up tree droppings, keep it clean below the tree, make sure fruit isn’t dying on the tree once you start getting a yield, and so on. You also have to consider that every plant will bring new visitors to your yard. Some are great, like butterflies and birds. Others, like pests, are not. And then you have to consider the task of actually picking the fruit. It might not seem like so much of a chore, but trust me, it’s a big deal. We have a lemon tree, an orange tree, an avocado tree, and a tangerine tree, and whenever I go out to harvest them it’s a lot of work. It’s worth it to me, but you have to decide if it’s going to be worth it to you.
I hope these points to ponder have helped you come closer to a conclusion about whether or not a fruit tree is right for you. Purely based on experience I would say that if you eat a lot of a certain fruit, having a fruit tree is absolutely wonderful. While there is maintenance it’s usually highest during harvest time, and being able to go out and pick food for your breakfast is awesome. I would say that expensive fruit (that is, fruit that is expensive to buy at the store) is worth having a tree, no matter how much you eat of it. But ultimately the choice is yours. Good luck in your decision making and your gardening efforts!