Growing healthy fruit trees

Page last updated: Wednesday, 5 September 2018 - 12:21pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Selecting varieties

It is important to select fruit varieties which are suited to your climate, and have some resistance to the insect pests and diseases found in your area. Your local nurseries generally have the best information on fruits suitable for local conditions. Deciduous trees like pomefruit (apples, pears, quinces) and stonefruit (peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries) need a certain amount of winter chilling (winter cold) to produce fruit and different varieties will have a different chilling requirement. When choosing varieties, make sure the winter chilling in your area is sufficient for the variety chosen.

Pink hued apples on tree.
'Pink Lady' apple tree.

Also be aware that certain fruit trees need compatible pollinating partners to produce fruit. These partners are usually a different variety which flowers at the same time. Consult your local nursery for recommended pollinating pairs.


The best time to plant deciduous fruit trees, like apples, pears and stone fruit, is when they are dormant, in winter and early spring. Evergreen fruit trees, like citrus, avocados and olives, establish well when planted in autumn, so they have three seasons to develop their root system before the heat of summer. Avoid planting any fruit trees in summer when conditions are extreme.

Young trees should always come from a reputable source. The soil should be well drained and have no major history of soil diseases or nematodes. Improve the soil structure, water holding capacity and fertility of the soil through the application of compost. Sandy soils should also have 5% clay incorporated into the top 30cm of soil to aid water retention.

When planting a fruit tree dig a hole about 1m wide and half a metre deep. Mix compost, phosphorus (rock phosphate at 1kg per tree, or superphosphate at 500g per tree) and trace elements (100g per tree) with the soil for the planting hole. Clay soil with poor drainage can be improved with gypsum. In most cases if the tree is in a container remove the tree from its pot without disturbing the root ball and plant into the hole. In some cases potted trees can suffer from being 'root bound' which is when the roots have used up all the available space in the pot and may have grown around the pot in a circle. In this case roots may need to be trimmed and thinned out prior to planting to prevent the tree from 'strangling' itself as it grows.

Bare-rooted trees are available from some nurseries in winter. Keep the roots moist during planting; spread the roots on top of the mound of improved soil mixture, then backfill. Keep the bare roots away from direct contact with the fertiliser. The bud union or graft should be at least 5cm above the eventual soil level.

Water the tree in after planting using a soil wetting agent and cover the roots with free-draining wood chip mulch.

In windy or frost susceptible locations, protect the tree with a tree guard which can be constructed from wire mesh and shade cloth.

Contact information

Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS)
+61 (0)8 9368 3080