Best Fruit Trees To Plant in Tennessee Yards or Gardens
Are you thinking of adding some fruit trees to your Tennessee home or garden? The state of Tennessee gets plenty of rain, so it's no surprise that certain fruit trees can flourish in this southern state. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton looks at the best trees for your gardening area if you reside in the state of Tennessee.
Gardeners in Tennessee are lucky to have one of the best growing climates around. The weather throughout the year is mild, with cool winters and warm summers, avoiding extremes on either side. There is also plenty of rainfall over the course of the year, rather than concentrated in one specific season.
This climate, ranging between USDA Zones 5b and 8a, is ideal for growing fruit trees. There is enough warmth to produce plenty of fruits but not so much that the plants become stressed. It is cool enough to prompt fruiting but not so cold that the tree dies back completely. In other words, if you’re looking to grow fruits, Tennessee is certainly the place to do it.
There are several fruiting trees that are perfectly suited to Tennessee’s moderate climate. Try one of these, or try them all, in your own backyard for delicious produce season after season.
Apples are the quintessential fruit, appearing as a staple in countries across the world. It is also a popular fruit to grow in home gardens, not only for the fruits but also for the stunning flowers this tree produces. Releasing sweet fragrance mid-spring, apple blossoms are the delight of gardeners and pollinators alike.
Long-season apple varieties are perfectly suited to Tennessee climates. These trees grow across USDA Zones 5-8, perfectly fitting the state’s climatic conditions. In colder areas, Tennessee gardeners can also opt for hardy varieties that grow best in USDA Zones 3-5 to ensure strong fruiting despite the cooler weather.
They are incredibly easy to care for. Apple trees are one of the few fruiting plants that aren’t too fussy about their conditions. They won’t need much fertilizer, don’t need to be heavily pruned, and will produce more fruit than you know what to do with year after year.
Plant your apple tree in a sunny spot with plenty of room to grow. The trees are best planted in spring to allow the roots to establish quickly. Prone to a few pests and diseases, apple trees need good airflow and drier air to prevent the growth of fungal spores on the leaves. Apple trees are not fans of cold air – avoid planting in low-lying areas where cool air settles in winter.
To effectively pollinate your apple tree, you’ll likely need to plant more than one variety. There are a few self-pollinating options for smaller gardens short on space, but most trees will only produce fruit when cross-pollinated. Opt for a disease-resistant variety like ‘Liberty’ for lower maintenance, or a dwarf variety for growing in containers or small gardens.
In terms of fruit popularity, pears are certainly a close second. However, gardeners who choose to grow pears will likely move them to the top spot. These trees are far less prone to pest and disease problems than apple trees, making them ideal for low-maintenance gardens.
Like apples, pears are incredibly well suited to Tennessee climates. Growing in USDA Zones 4-8, pear trees need that cooler weather for the fruit to set. During the growing season, they appreciate the warmth too and thrive in mild, temperate zones.
Pear trees are incredibly adaptable. They will thrive under a wide range of soil conditions and are well-suited to container growth in small gardens. With good airflow and the right care, pears are not majorly disease-prone, and disease-resistant varieties will make this even less of a concern. With a bit of pruning and the occasional application of fertilizers, these trees will grow to their full potential, providing you with buckets of pears in summer and fall.
Plant your pear tree in a sunny spot away from cold air. This tree blooms early on in spring, and any lingering frost or cool air could kill off the blooms, limiting fruit set. Pear trees can also be trained to grow along wires or walls, known as espalier. This will limit the space the tree takes up and allow you to manipulate the branches to suit your garden design needs.
Ensure you plant two pear tree cultivars together to ensure cross-pollination. ‘Bartlett’ and ‘Comice’ are two of the most popular options, but there are plenty of cultivars available to suit every garden need and taste bud.
While pears and apples are perfect for areas of Tennessee on the cooler side, peaches prefer the warmer weather, ideal for areas with USDA Zones on the higher end of the range. You also won’t need to wait years for your tree to establish before harvesting. Many peach cultivars will produce fruit in a mere one to two years.
Those in colder areas of Tennessee, around Zone 5, may struggle to get the most out of their peach trees. They thrive on hot, humid weather and do not appreciate any cold weather below 10F. They perform best in Zones 6-8, but may even grow in Zone 9 if the conditions are right. Those in colder areas should opt for a hardier cultivar to ensure your tree stays healthy and productive.
Peach trees can grow incredibly tall, reaching up to 15 feet tall. Regular pruning is encouraged to prevent diminished fruits and weak growth. Pruning also promotes airflow, which reduces your chances of diseases like brown rot, powdery mildew, and leaf curl. During spring and mid-summer, a balanced fertilizer will give the tree a much-needed boost, ensuring you get the best fruits possible.
Peach trees should be planted in a full sun position in winter or early spring. Morning sun is essential to ensure any leftover water sitting on the leaves and fruits evaporates as soon as possible. The soil should be well-draining to prevent waterlogging, especially after long periods of rain.
Unlike apples and pears, one peach tree is all you’ll need for harvesting as they are self-pollinating. ‘Redhaven’ peaches are the most popular, but there are hundreds of cultivars to choose from. Those in the cooler parts of Tennessee can try ‘Madison’ or ‘Harmony’, cultivars that won’t be damaged by winter weather.
Staying on the subject of stone fruit, plums are another great option for Tennessee gardeners. Many varieties are incredibly hardy – no need to worry about any unexpected cold spells. They are also prolific fruiters, producing piles of sweet fruits ideal for preserves and desserts.
The various plum varieties grow best in USDA Zones 3-9. This wide range is thanks to the different types of plum – namely European and Japanese (with some hybrids from the US) – that are each suited to different conditions. The European and American types are best suited to cooler Tennessee climates, while the Japanese plums are perfect for warmer regions (where peaches will also thrive).
To produce juicy fruits, plums require regular watering – especially during periods of little rain. A thick layer of mulch will help retain moisture, reducing the amount you need to water. Regular fertilizing will greatly improve fruit production. Use a balanced fertilizer in spring and summer and reduce the amounts of nitrogen in fall to avoid forcing new growth out of season.
Plums need plenty of light, preferring around 8 hours of direct sun per day. Like pears, plums also flower early on in spring, and will require protection from frost to prevent blossom drop. The soil should be well-draining to prevent root rot, but full of organic matter to retain enough moisture to keep the plant watered.
Different plum cultivars are suitable for different applications in the kitchen. Some are best eaten fresh for their juicy flesh, like the Japanese ‘Satsuma’. Others are better for canning or desserts as their flavors are improved when cooked.
Apricots are another stone fruit ideal for Tennessee gardens. As they can be difficult to find fresh in some regions, growing them in your own backyard is the perfect way to enjoy these tasty fruits. You do not need to plant different varieties for pollination, and the trees remain relatively short in comparison to other fruiting trees, making them ideal for small gardens.
Apricot tree’s USDA Zones perfectly match the Tennessee climate, growing in Zones 5-8. However, as this plant flowers early, any regions that experience frost well into spring may want to choose a hardier apricot variety. Their preferred conditions are similar to peaches, making them ideal for warmer regions around zone 7 and 8.
With the right conditions, apricots won’t require more care than any other fruit tree. They are quite prone to pests and diseases and will appreciate consistent pruning to promote airflow. They don’t require as much water as other stone fruits like plums but will need consistent watering for the tastiest fruits.
Apricots should be planted in spring once the ground has warmed slightly. They grow best in full sun, but this fruit tree can tolerate some partial shade throughout the day. As a smaller tree, apricots will require some support when planting. Install a stake before planting and tie the trunk to the stake once planted, leaving room for the tree to grow. It will also need protection from wind, especially while establishing, to stop the tree from tipping over.
Cherries, although far smaller, are also classified as stone fruits. Unlike peaches and apricots though, cherries prefer weather on the cooler side. They take a few years to develop into mature trees and produce fruits, but your deliciously sweet harvest will be well worth the wait.
Cherries can be split into sweet and sour varieties. Sweet cherries are those normally eaten fresh, while sour cherries are reserved for jams and other sweet preserves due to their intense taste. Sweet cherries grow best in USDA Zones 5-7 and grow slightly bigger than sour ones. Sour cherries are more tolerant of the cold, growing best in Zones 4-6. Either option is very well suited to Tennessee climates, making them ideal for your home garden.
No matter which cherry you choose, their care will largely be the same. They require regular watering, but do not appreciate sitting in waterlogged soil. Mulching often is beneficial and will return organic matter to the soil at the same time. Better growth will be achieved with an annual pruning of dying branches. Fertilizing often is not a necessity but will improve fruiting when applied in spring.
Cherries can be planted as soon as the ground softens, around early spring. To prevent pests and diseases, give each tree plenty of space to grow to ensure good air circulation around the plants. The fruits are favored by birds – cover with netting to prevent these garden friends from stealing your entire harvest.
Cherries do not self-pollinate. Always plant two compatible cultivars nearby for cross-pollination. Some sweet cherry varieties may not cross-pollinate – ensure the pair works well together. When planting sweet cherries, try ‘Bing’, one of the most popular cultivars. Like other fruit trees, there are also dwarf varieties available for smaller gardens.
Fig may seem like an odd choice for Tennessee gardens, considering they grow best in very warm, humid climates. However, there are many hardy fig cultivars that will grow just as well in the warmer Tennessee regions around zones 6 and 7, with a bit of extra care. They can even be grown in containers and brought indoors over winter to protect them from the cold. If you’re looking to grow delectable figs in Tennessee, there are certainly options out there for you.
Fig trees are not fussy plants, needing little pruning and no fertilizing if grown in the right soil. Hardy figs will likely die back during the winter period when you can remove dying branches to promote new growth. They may also require some frost protection during unexpected cold spells. But, generally, figs are quite easy to care for and will reliably produce fruits after a few years under the right conditions.
Fig trees have relatively shallow roots and don’t need to be planted deeply. This also means they’ll need to be watered often as the roots do not reach the water in the soil lower down. A layer of mulch, if planted in the ground or in containers, will provide the ideal conditions for growth. Ensure good soil health before planting as figs are susceptible to many soil-borne pests and diseases, including root-knot nematode.
For the moderate Tennessee climate, try ‘Celeste’ or ‘Hardy Chicago’. These figs are more tolerant of the cooler winter weather. They will still require warmer weather to produce fruit, but won’t be too damaged by the colder winters in some regions.
Persimmon is a fruit valued throughout history for its delicious fruit and ability to produce fruit in colder weather. It may not be common in grocery stores as it does not handle transportation well when fresh, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to enjoy all this tree has to offer. Simply grow this carefree fruit tree in your own backyard for fresh persimmons all season.
The common persimmon, or American persimmon, is well suited to Tennessee climates, growing in USDA Zones 4-9. The Japanese persimmon is another option for Tennessee gardeners but does not appreciate cooler temperatures (anything below 0F).
These fruit trees may be slightly more expensive as they are more difficult to propagate, but that does not mean they are difficult to care for – quite the opposite. Persimmon tolerates a wide range of soil conditions and can handle a little neglect, especially when grown in the right climate. Unlike many other fruits, they will handle a missed watering or two and are unlikely to give you any problems with pests or diseases.
These trees don’t need regular pruning to fruit well; just the removal of dying leaves and branches when needed. When planting, don’t amend the soil with organic matter or fertilizer to allow them to acclimatize to the environment. Instead, apply a layer of mulch once the soil warms and allow the mulch to break down into the soil after the tree has established.
Most persimmon trees are not self-pollinating. When choosing two varieties to plant, ensure they are the same type. American persimmon will not cross-pollinate with Japanese persimmon. Hybrid cultivars are great options as they are developed to produce superior fruit, giving you the most from your tree with the least effort.
Quince trees are the least common of all the fruit trees on this list. Typically grown for their ornamental value as the fruits are not eaten fresh, they are wonderful fruits for jams or jellies or used in cooked desserts. The stunning flowers attract a variety of pollinators too, good for other fruit trees around your garden. These trees also thrive in Tennessee climates, growing in USDA Zones 5-8, and occasionally 9.
Quince trees produce fruit after a couple of years, but their best fruit production occurs around the 10-year mark, making them a long-term investment. While you wait for better fruit production, you can appreciate the flowers in the meantime. The pale pink or white flowers appear in spring, covering the 15-foot tree in captivating blossoms.
Ornamental quince, the cousin that does not produce edible fruits, is slightly easier to care for than the fruiting type, but it is well worth the extra effort. A yearly pruning to remove dying branches and suckers is best done in winter to keep the tree in good shape. It prefers less fertilizer than more, and any fertilizer applied during the growing season should be low in nitrogen.
Plant your quince tree in a full sun position in well-draining soil. It may tolerate some partial shade in parts of the day but will flower far better in a full sun position. Quince appreciates consistently moist soil, aided by regular mulching. While they will survive on a missed watering, it is important to water often while the tree is establishing to prevent any root problems. Plant two trees together to facilitate pollination and improve fruiting.
American elderberries, often found growing in the wild across the United States, are typically considered a shrub. However, their European counterparts (Sambucus nigra) are what’s known as the elderberry tree, producing baskets of delicious fruits around fall. The European elderberry is another tree that produces fruit incredibly quickly, usually the first year after planting.
European elderberries grow under a limited range of conditions. Luckily, those conditions are perfectly matched to Tennessee climates. Elderberry trees grow best in USDA Zones 5-7, and can occasionally tolerate zone 4. Elderberries prefer cooler, temperate weather to hot and dry climates. They thrive in areas with cool rainy weather, perfect for some Tennessee regions.
While elderberry trees are pickier about their conditions than American elderberries, they are still incredibly easy to care for. They tolerate a wide range of soil conditions and can live with partial shade, although the tree will produce fewer fruits in lower light conditions.
These trees benefit from regular pruning as their growth tends to get out of hand, but they can also be left to grow wild (although that will make harvesting slightly more difficult). They aren’t prone to many pests or diseases, and typically remain problem-free in the right growing conditions.
These plants grow rapidly and need plenty of space to spread. When grouped together, they make a wonderful edible hedge, ideal for food scaping. Mulching will help keep moisture in, as these plants need plenty of water, but it will also keep pesky weeds down that are difficult to remove once the roots have established.
Elderberries grow best when planted in spring after any signs of frost. Always plant more than one cultivar to allow for cross-pollination. Place each plant around 3 feet apart at a minimum – these rapid growers will fill out the extra space in no time. To ensure successful cross-pollination, don’t place each plant more than 50 feet apart.
And last but not least, we have another berry tree, the mulberry. These trees have wonderful ornamental value, but their sweet, delicious fruits that stain fingers while picking are undoubtedly their best feature.
They can be eaten raw, straight off the tree, or made into jams or pie fillings. You can even try making your own mulberry wine. As mulberries aren’t common in stores, the only way to enjoy these fruits is by growing them in your own backyard.
When planting a mulberry, you have a choice of black, red, or white. Each of these has slightly different tastes and growing conditions, but luckily, all will grow well in Tennessee. These trees are suited to USDA Zones 4-8, with black mulberries preferring warmer conditions above zone 6 and the red and white types tolerating cooler conditions.
These trees, like elderberries, are relatively carefree. They are slightly drought tolerant and don’t need fertilizer, but will perform better with regular watering and the application of a general fertilizer once a year. They prefer not to be pruned, but you can remove dead or dying branches occasionally to improve growth.
Mulberries are tolerant of a range of growing conditions, especially when it comes to soil. However, they will grow best in a full sun position planted in well-draining soil. Once established, these trees do not mind the wind and are often grown as windbreaks. Once planted, they should grow several feet tall without much intervention from you.
Tennessee’s moderate climate and regular rainfall are ideal for fruit growth. From the humble apple to the juicy peach, with a few unique fruits like quince thrown in, there are plenty of options for every kind of Tennessee gardener. Ensure you check your specific zone and conditions to choose the best cultivar for your area, and you’ll be guaranteed an abundant fruit harvest in a few years or even less.