Growth pattern of fruit trees

(Question)

Hello Master Gardeners,

I have a question regarding the growth pattern of fruit trees (apple and pear). Does vertical growth come from the base of the trunk or does most of it come from the top (and tips of branches) or is it a combination of both?

The reason I ask is that I planted an apple tree and pear tree at the end of last season. The apple tree is in a spot with lots of room around it so I have no concerns about it. On the other hand my pear tree is planted closer to a fence so it’s more of a concern. It’s a semi-dwarf so it won’t get that tall and there is plenty of room for trunk expansion for a tree of this size but when I planted it my assumption was that a lot of the vertical growth would come from the base of the trunk and as such the lower branches would eventually be above the fence line. If this isn’t the case then I’m gong to have to move the tree further away from the fence to ensure there is enough clearance for the lower branches to grow without getting tangled in the chain link fence.

I’m hoping to get guidance on this so I know how to deal with this tree as well as future plantings.

Thanks in advance for any advice on this.

Karen

(Answer)

Like all living things, trees grow through cell division. All trees have three growth areas: 1) From the shoot apex, or tip, of branches, which is how trees grow taller and branches get longer; 2) from the cambium layer around the truck or branch of the tree, which is how the tree trunk and branches grow thicker, and; 3) at the root tip, which is extends the tree’s root system. So, the branches you are concerned about will never get higher off the ground.

A dwarf pear is a great choice for an urban yard. All fruit trees are produced by grafting a branch from the desired fruit tree onto a compatible rootstock. The rootstock will determine the growth habit of the tree. Fruit trees classified as “dwarf” typically grow about 2.5 to 3.5 meters (8 to 12 feet) tall and about 2.6 meters (8 feet) wide. Ideally, the trunk of your tree should be at least 1.2 meter (4 feet) away from your fence.

If the trunk of your tree is less than about 1.5 meters (5 feet) away from the fence, you may want to consider moving it. Since you planted the tree at the end of last season, the tree will have been largely dormant during that time, and so you shouldn’t need to worry about an expansive root system. Now is good time to move the tree, if you can. If it is not possible to move it now, wait until late fall when the tree is dormant, but before the ground freezes. Be careful when you dig up the root ball to dig far enough away not to damage roots. Follow good transplanting procedures. Here is a link to our Garden Guide for planting trees that provides detailed information on best practices.