Selecting the best fruit tree

Apples, pears, cherries and peaches. There are not many people who don’t get excited at the thought of picking fresh fruit from their own backyard. But the thought may be daunting with unpredictable Nevada weather and the notion that you don’t have adequate space. Space is no longer an issue given new research, growing trials and grafting. We can now grow several varieties of fruit trees in pots or create a mini orchard in our backyards, even with limited space.

Many nurseries offer fruit trees in a variety of sizes and shapes, from the typical home standard semi-dwarf, which grows between 15 and 18 feet tall, to ultra-dwarfs or pixies that stay under 6 feet. You can also purchase apple and pear varieties that are columnar in form and stay under 10 feet tall without pruning. These trees naturally grow tall and narrow, only spreading about 3 feet in width, making them ideal for pots or small yards. I have several different types growing in old whisky barrels.

To have success with any fruit tree, you must know your environment. Yes, we live in an unpredictable climate. However, people throughout northern Nevada have been successful with cold-hardy, high chill-hour apples, pears, cherries and peaches. If you want to grow citrus, though, you will need to go small and provide an indoor heated growing environment, as our season is not long enough.

apples on a tree branch with leaves
People in northern Nevada have successfully grown cold-hardy, high chill-hour apples, pears, cherries and peaches. Photo by Wendy Hanson Mazet, Cooperative Extension.

Location, chill hours and pollination are three keys to success with fruit trees. Some will grow best in well-drained soil, with a minimum of eight hours of direct sunlight. In some cases, the north or the east side of the home is perfect for trees. These locations provide some protection from drying winds and stay cooler in the winter months, preventing trees from blooming too early.

Chill hours are very important when it comes to keeping a tree from blooming too early. Most fruit trees in our area go into dormancy in the fall and will not break dormancy until after they have received an adequate amount of cold exposure, referred to as chill hours. Chill hours are counted as the number of hours between the range of 45 degrees Fahrenheit and 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some people make the mistake of planting a low chill-hour tree, such as nectarine. In our climate, such a tree will break dormancy and flower in January or February, which means the tree is not pollinated or the flowers or fruit freeze. By choosing varieties with high-chill requirements, we increase the likelihood of harvesting.

Do your research on the variety of fruit tree you want. Many trees can produce an abundant crop with just the wind moving the flowers. These are called self-pollinating trees. Other trees need cross-pollination from another variety, and will require a variety with the same blooming time to be planted nearby for active pollinators to visit both trees.

Invest some time when it comes to choosing your next fruit tree. The selection is vast, and the time you spend researching will pay off when you start picking fresh fruit from either your balcony or backyard.

For more information on selecting and pruning fruit trees, mark your calendars to attend Cooperative Extension’s free Gardening in Nevada class on fruit tree selection and care, 6-8 p.m., Feb. 6, at Bartley Ranch Regional Park, 6000 Bartley Ranch Road in Reno. Visit for more information.


Wendy Hanson Mazet is the horticulture program and master gardener coordinator for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension in Washoe County. Have questions about your plants? Contact a master gardener at 775-336-0265 or