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Do Fruit Trees Really Grow Better in Pairs?

Fruit trees make rich additions to any backyard orchard or garden space but their vibrant greenery comes with quite the number of specifications, but I promise they’re not difficult to grow. You just need to know which ones need a close friend, which ones can be planted alone, and which ones can still grow fruit as long as they’ve got a cross-pollinating tree in a neighbor’s yard.

Self-pollinating fruit trees can be grown alone, while fruit trees that require cross-pollination must be grown in pairs. Some cross-pollinating fruit trees may still bear fruit when planted solo if there is another cross-pollinating fruit tree in close enough proximity.

Although it might seem practical to plant fruit trees from seeds or pits, it’s important you know that not all fruit trees can be grown this way and that this method of planting, if not handled properly, is highly likely to turn out abortive (and massively frustrating). If you don’t feel like taking chances, then purchasing a sapling or seedling from any reputable online retailer, nursery, or garden, will set you off to an easy start.

Image of apple, pear, cherry and berry fruits placed in separate small woven baskets and a wooden bowl

Why You Need 2+ Fruit Trees to Pollinate

Fruit trees need to be pollinated to bear fruit. Some trees are self-pollinating, while others require a compatible cross-pollinating tree planted nearby. Self versus cross-pollination is a quality that’s bred for (or against) in growing fruit trees. You’ll be able to find self and cross-pollinating fruit trees in almost every variety.

Like I hinted at earlier, growing fruit trees in pairs or groups all depends on the type of fruit tree you’re looking to grow and the environment you’re gardening in. Fruit trees that do not need to be grown in pairs are usually self-fruitful (self-pollinating) or have compatible donor trees scattered all over the area they’re grown in.

So, before you set out on buying your fruit tree or planting, find out whether the type of fruit tree you’re interested in requires cross-pollination or is self-fruitful.

For those new to the gardening scene or unfamiliar with certain terms, pollination is pretty much what must take place before any plant can set fruit, it can either take place within a plant (self-pollination) or between two plants through the aid of several abiotic and biotic pollinating agents such as wind, water, birds, and insects (cross-pollination).

You can plant a fruit tree that requires a pollination partner alone if your neighborhood is filled with several compatible donor trees. Hand pollination also makes it very possible to do this. Don’t worry, we’ll show you how in a bit. But there are very few fruit trees you can try this method on.

If there are no compatible donor trees around your neighborhood and hand pollination cannot be carried out on the type of fruit tree you’re growing, then you would most definitely have to plant your fruit tree with one or two more compatible pollination partners.

What Fruit Trees Should Be Planted in Pairs?

Apples, apricots, pears, sweet cherries, and plums have mostly self-unfruitful varieties and should be grown with other varieties of the same species. Fruit trees that are partially self-fertile are better off planted in pairs as well, this is because they have higher chances of producing more fruits this way than they do when planted alone.

Please note, you cannot pollinate a self-unfruitful or partially self-fertile fruit tree with the same cultivar of the same species, as they are usually incompatible. Therefore, you need pollen from another variety of the same species before fertilization can take place. When pairing your trees make sure you keep this in mind.

Also, ensure that your trees have similar bloom times so that cross-pollination can actually happen.

Here are a few examples to make things more clear.

  • If you’re planting a golden delicious apple tree, then you would need to pair it with another variety such as a Honeycrisp apple tree for pollination to be successful.
  • Most European pear trees can be pollinated by a Bradford pear.
  • Crab apples will pollinate almost any variety of apple trees.
  • Asian plums can only set fruit when planted with another Asian plum variety.
  • European pears and Asian pears are also compatible for pollination, but make sure their bloom times are similar – otherwise, they won’t cross-pollinate or set fruit.

However, incompatibility exists among certain varieties of fruit trees.

  • For instance, hybrid plums or Asian plums cannot pollinate European plums.
  • The same goes for Barlett and Seckel pears.
  • Tart cherries do not make compatible donor trees for sweet cherries.

Choosing varieties that are known to be well-suited for the variety you’re working with is the easiest way to tackle this problem. 

Pro tip: talk to your neighbors and find out what trees they have. You may not need a second tree if they’ve already got a known-to-be compatible cross-pollinator in their yard!

Here are adequate pollination partners for some of the incompatible varieties we listed previously. That way, you aren’t sitting stuck wondering what to do.

  • For cold-hardy Asian plum varieties, you can pair them with either South Dakota or Toka varieties.
  • Kristin, White Gold, Black Gold, Regina, Seneca, Lapins, Stella, Valera, and Hedelfingen make compatible donor tress for sweet cherry varieties.

You should also know that there are certain apple varieties that cannot be used for cross-pollination, as these varieties are known as triploids. Triploids are fruit trees that have sterile pollen, so they can’t be used to cross-pollinate. They can be pollinated, but they don’t help pollinate other trees.

Triploid apple varieties such as Gravenstein, Baldwin, Bramley’s Seedling, Jonagold, Belle de Boskoop, Winesap, Roxbury Russet, Crispin, Shizuka, Mutsu, Rhode Island Greening, and Wealthy possess sterile pollens and should be planted with either one self-fertile apple variety or two other varieties that can cross-pollinate each other.

What Fruit Trees Are Self-Pollinating (and Can Be Planted Alone)

Almost all figs, peaches, pomegranate, nectarines, persimmons, blueberries, citrus trees and all sour cherries are self-pollinating, while very few varieties of apricots, sweet cherries, apples, pears and plums possess this capability.

Here are some of the self-pollinating varieties of the fruit trees mentioned above.

  • The Stella variety of sweet cherries
  • The Desert Gold, Flavorcrest, Elberta, Redhaven, and Fortyniner peach varieties (which are also the best for home gardens)
  • The apricot varieties include Katy, Blenheim, Moorpark, Early Golden.
  • The Bartlett variety of pears
  • The Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Braeburn, and Scrumptious apple varieties are also self-fruitful.
  • Nectarine varieties include Flavortop, Fantasia, Goldmine, Flamekist, Snowqueen, Panamint, and Independence
  • Citrus trees like orange, lime, lemon, grapefruit, and kumquats are self-pollinating as well

Table of Fruit Trees by Pollinating Type

Below you will find a table of fruit trees and additional information that’d be of use to you when setting up your backyard orchard.

Fruit TreeYears to FruitNeeds 2 or more for pollination?Can they ripen after being picked?
Apple trees4 – 5 yearsMost of the timeYes
Apricot trees6 – 7 yearsNoNo
Peach trees4 – 5 yearsNoYes
Pear trees5 – 7 yearsMost of the timeYes
Plum trees3 – 5 yearsMost of the timeYes
Nectarine trees4 – 5 yearsNoYes
Mulberry Trees10 yearsNoNo
Citrus trees1 – 2 yearsNoNo
Fig trees5 – 6 yearsNoNo
Persimmon trees2 -3 yearsNoYes
Cherry trees (sour)3 – 5 yearsNoNo
Cherry trees (sweet)6 – 7 yearsMost of the timeNo
Pomegranate trees2 -3 yearsNoNo

Don’t forget to check with your neighbors to see if they’ve got a compatible cross-pollinating tree.

We’ve got a sweet cherry tree (okay, technically it’s a bush) that we had a cross-pollinating partner for. Only, the partner tree got blight and died. It turns out a neighbor down the road has a compatible cross-pollinating partner (so we haven’t replaced the missing tree yet) because we’ve still been getting cherries for several years now.

How far that tree can be will depend on a ton of factors. We don’t actually know which neighbor has a cherry tree, though we suspect it’s a neighbor a few houses away. All told, the two cherry trees are probably two football fields apart – and it’s working for us.

Can You Hand Pollinate a Fruit Tree?

Some trees can be self-pollinated using hand pollination techniques. Hand pollination is a time intensive but effective way to get fruit from fruit trees when no known cross-pollinator can be planted. Using a cross-pollinator would be the easier, more advised option.

You might have to result to hand-pollinating your fruit tree if the bee activity in your neighborhood is dismal or the fruit tree you’re relying on as a pollination partner isn’t flowering on time. Planting bee-friendly flowers like asters, lupine and goldenrods is a great way to ensure the bees needed for pollination are attracted to your garden but if you can’t do this here’s a step-by-step guide on how to hand pollinate your fruit trees.

Step 1: Identify the stamens and stigma of your fruit blossoms.

In order to successfully do this, you must first study images of fruit blossoms to familiarize yourself with the different flower parts.

  • Stamens are the male parts of the flower blossoms and possess sacs filled with pollens at their tips called anthers.
  • Stigmas are the female parts of the flower blossoms and stick out from the center column of the blossom, they contain a sticky material, on their crown, for holding pollen.

Step 2: Wait till your tree is in full bloom.

The best time to pollinate is between 12 to 72 hours of the flower opening, fruit trees have certain temperature grids where pollination is best accomplished, for instance, an apple tree will most likely be successfully pollinated between a temperature range 60 – 70 ℉.

Step 3: Pollinate the tree.

You can do this by gathering pollen from your other tree, a nearby flowering one, or from commercially distributed pollens with your cotton swab, q-tip, or small paintbrush, gently apply the pollen to your fruit tree’s stigma. Continue this for several days until more blossoms open.

For larger fruit trees, you can pollinate them with a duster on a poll. Also making use of blossoms from neighboring trees is as simple as doing the following, snip some blossoms from compatible donor trees and store them in a plastic bag, take them to the tree you’d like to pollinate and apply their pollen from their anthers to the stigmas of the tree.

Seriously. You can use a cotton swab, Q-tip or small artist brush to pollinate blooms. Pretty cool, huh?

Container-Grown Fruit Trees vs Bare Root Foot Trees

There are two options available when purchasing fruit trees as saplings, they are bare root and container grown trees. In terms of performance, bare root fruit trees are the best as they take off faster than container-grown fruit trees.

Bare root trees don’t have to transition from container soil to local soil. This purchasing option is also planted during dormancy and therefore has more weeks of root growth than their spring-planted container counterparts lack.

That being said, not all nurseries offer both options. So container-grown fruit trees still do well. Here’s the breakdown of each purchasing option.

  • Container-grown Fruit Trees: there are limited varieties that can be grown this way, this option is always available later in the spring and performs better for fall planting. Its more expensive than bare root fruit trees and is often rootbound when purchased, this factor makes it hard to work with when planting. Container grown fruit trees are also prone to root girdling years after being planted.
  • Bare Root Fruit Trees: this option is much cheaper than the container grown one, is available in many fruit tree varieties and can usually be purchased in the late winter. Bare root fruit trees must be planted before they break dormancy and start growing for the season.

We’ve bought both types and they do well. Just make sure that you plant them well. That and they need to be watered properly so they get established. Then, they’ll do fine.

What’s The Range of Pollination for Fruit Trees?

 As long as there are compatible donor trees in your neighborhood and adequate pollinating agents, pollination is bound to happen one way or the other. But there are certain spacing requirements you must fulfill if you’re planting your fruit trees in pairs or groups.

Below you would find a break down of the importance of fruit tree distancing and how far apart you’d need to plant your fruit trees.

Fruit trees must be spaced in a way that allows for air circulation and ample sun exposure, crowding your fruit trees can cause low fruit yield while spacing them too far apart can affect pollination. There are three sizes of tree available, standard, dwarf, and semi-dwarf.

In order to achieve adequate spacing you must plant the same size of rootstock for each tree.

Standard-sized Fruit trees must be planted in a 25 foot-plus diameter space.
Dwarf fruit trees should be planted in an 8-foot diameter space.
Semi-dwarf trees should be planted in a 15-foot space.

Not following this spacing can lead to crowding and issues with pollinating.

Final Thoughts

Owning a backyard orchard can be very rewarding. Apart from the annual yield of fruits it provides, it also plays a vital role in preserving and purifying the environment. Planting fruit trees is easy to do, especially when you know the basics – which we have covered extensively in this article.

All newly planted fruit trees need water immediately, so make sure you water them at this stage as it helps settle soil properly around the root. Using about 2 – 5 gallons of water should be about right. That amount seems to be just right, as it gets absorbed into the soil in order to get rid of air pockets, and firming down the soil or adding more soil may be necessary at this point as well.

Good soil nutrition, regular pruning, pest management, and disease management (whether via organic methods or spraying) are crucial in the ongoing care of any backyard orchard of fruit trees.

Now all you have to do is sit back, enjoy the shade, and wait for the harvest. So while you’re waiting, why not give our YouTube channel a gander? Or subscribe to the free newsletter? That way, we can help you know what to do with all that fruit once it’s ready.

Cite this article as: “Do Fruit Trees Really Grow Better in Pairs?” Backyard Homestead HQ, 11 June 2021, backyardhomesteadhq.com/do-fruit-trees-really-grow-better-in-pairs/.

Resources

It’s important to learn from your own experience, but it’s also smart to learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and in our personal research to be more informed as homesteaders. 🙂

  • “Pollination Requirements – Cooperative Extension: Tree Fruits – University of Maine Cooperative Extension.” Cooperative Extension: Tree Fruits, extension.umaine.edu/fruit/growing-fruit-trees-in-maine/pollination-requirements/.