In most temperate climates, fruit crops and flowers have to be cross-pollinated. Pollen from a completely different variety has to transfer to the stigma (the part of the plant where pollen germinates) of a given flower. If pollen from the same variety or the same plant lands on the stigma, the flower will not set fruit. This is a way of ensuring genetic variability. However, some fruit varieties can set fruit with pollen from the same tree or with pollen from the same variety. These are called self-fertile or self-fruitful varieties. In small home gardens, it is most convenient to the only plant one kind of each fruit tree and still get a good harvest.
Choosing Fruit Trees
When planting fruit trees in a garden, it is very important to know if the tree type is self-fertile or not. This will affect tree choices and determine how many trees are needed. If you have room for only a few trees in your yard, choosing self-fertile trees can maximize your options. The main consideration is to choose varieties that have the requirements necessary to do well in your particular climate.
Options for Self-Pollinating Fruit Trees
If you're interested in creating a mini-orchard in your backyard, consider some of these self-pollinating fruiting trees and shrubs. Some are best planted in warmer climates while others do well in temperate areas. While not all varieties are self-fertile, the following fruit types exhibit that trait:
It's important to note that blueberries and pears are both self-fruitful, but cross-pollination produces higher yields and larger fruit.
Persimmons are easy-to-grow fruit trees ideal for home gardens. Native to parts of Asia, they can survive a variety of soil conditions. Although they are self-fruitful, they will also cross-pollinate. Persimmon fruit from cross-pollination have seeds, but the fruit of self-fruiting trees are seedless.
The odd-shaped yellow quince fruit comes from small trees and shrubs with twisted branches. It is in the same plant family as pears, and gardeners use quince plants as a dwarfing rootstock for pears.
Persimmons are naturally sour until they fully mature, at which point they look and feel a bit like tomatoes. Fully mature persimmons are sweet and can be eaten on their own, pureed, made into jam, or otherwise enjoyed like any of the better-known fruits.
Options for Growing Apples in a Small Space
Many varieties of fruit trees require a pollination partner, where a different variety of the same fruit species is used to cross-pollinate a tree to produce fruit. Both partners have to bloom at the same time and, sometimes, even requiring a little helping hand with pollination. Most apple tree varieties, for example, need a pollinator variety growing nearby to set fruit. But if you have a small space, you might want to consider one of these options.
Orchards inter-plant one or two pollinator trees in a given area and let the bees do the pollen transfer. Sometimes branches of the pollinator variety are grafted onto the crop trees here and there rather than planting a whole tree. This is not a DIY project unless you're very familiar with the process, but a local arborist may be able to help.
Piggy-Backing on Neighbors' Trees
For those who grow Honeycrisp apples, another apple or crabapple in the area is needed for proper fruiting. This means that there needs to be space for additional trees. Try scouting out the trees in the neighborhood. Since ornamental crabapples are popular flowering trees, there probably won't be a need to worry too much.
Check with the local extension office or nursery for suggested varieties that are compatible with the variety chosen. Not all varieties can cross-pollinate.