plum closeup - fruit tree growing in California

Imagine yourself strolling the aisles of your local big box home improvement store. The plants, shrubs and trees are glistening in their pots, looking healthy. Suddenly, you stumble across an apple tree, or perhaps a fig. You think to yourself how nice it would be to have fresh apples, figs, pears, peaches or other type of fruit. How wonderful for the kids. You could grow your own fruit right there in the yard!

Stop right there. While fruit can be grown in California much easier than out east, thanks to our generally warmer temperatures, it’s no easy feat. Many people don’t realize that fruit trees aren’t “set it and forget it” food producers. They require work and depending on your desired crop, quite a bit of it!

Rules for Raising Fruit Trees

  1. How much space have you got? If you have a small yard, you may want to consider not having a tree at all. Raspberries and strawberries can be grown right in hanging baskets. Grapes can be grown along a fence line, as can blueberries. These are much easier to grow in a smaller space and have a much smaller footprint.
  2. Have you considered the full height and width? You’ll want to keep your tree relatively short so you can reach its top branches to harvest fruit. But ensure you leave enough space around the crown of the tree for power lines and other utilities. Additionally, your tree’s roots will grow to twice the width of the top of the tree, so ensure it’s not too close to sidewalks, driveways or your house.
  3. Good soil and drainage? Many trees are fairly forgiving when it comes to soil because of their size – a gentle compost will help them get started. They do, however, need to be well drained.
  4. The most important thing of all. Something we don’t often think about. If you want your fruit tree to produce good, hearty fruit, it needs air. Each spring, depending on the variety, you’ll want to prune ⅓ of the branches back to the trunk. This allows the tree to focus its energy on and creates airflow for the remaining fruit.
  5. Have at least two. This helps with cross-pollination. If you have less than this, take a drive around and see if any neighbors have a fruit tree. If they do, you may want to select a similar variety. Many on the list below are self-pollinators, but having another tree around is helpful.

The Best Fruit Trees to Grow in California

Fuji Apple

Nobody ever went wrong with an apple tree. All of the instructions above work well for it – just remember to ensure it’s pruned well and be on the lookout for critters trying to get at that sweet fruit! These can grow pretty tall, so ensure you have enough space with full sun and well draining soil.

Santa Rosa Plum

This is the perfect tree for a smaller space. Only getting about 15 feet tall, the plum tree is ideal in full sun, but can tolerate partial sun. Well-draining soil is an absolute must and it will begin to show fruit in early May.

Oro Blanco Grapefruit

This is almost a bush! These smallish grapefruit start out with pinkish meat and develop into that lovely blood red color we’ve come to know and expect from grapefruit. They can be grown in a pot if need be, but they love well draining soil and full sun.