Growing fruit trees has some substantial perks, including increased property values, a decreased carbon footprint and best of all, access to healthy fruit for you and your family.
If you’ve been dreaming of growing these, but thought you needed a large, sunny space to do so, hope is on the way!
In this article, we’ll discuss 16 of the best fruit trees for shade that you can grow in your garden, small patio or apartment balcony.
Growing these in shady spots will still yield a productive harvest, while thriving in limited light.
Choosing Fruit Trees for Shade
Most fruit-bearing plants require at least a few hours of sunlight per day, in order to produce. They also perform best in specific temperature and humidity ranges.
When considering which of these you’d like to grow, first make sure they thrive in your hardiness zone.
Second, check their maturity size to ensure a good fit in your proposed planting location. Third, note how many hours of daily sunlight each requires and finally, determine if your favorites are self-pollinating or self-sterile. We’ll discuss the difference and why this is important, in a moment.
Fruit Tree Rootstock
Once two cultivars of the same fruit type cross-pollinate, the fruit that results is an entirely new cultivar. Just like people!
Most commercially-sold fruit trees have been grafted onto existing rootstock. Why do this? Because it’s the fastest and most efficient way to preserve a specific fruit variety.
It’s important to research the quality of the rootstock you’re purchasing. As its the rootstock that dictates desirable characteristics like cold-hardiness, disease resistance and soil-type compatibility.
Not to mention, the more robust the rootstock is, the more efficiently it will absorb moisture and nutrients.
Potted or Bare Root
If you’ve been perusing online fruit tree catalogs, you may have seen some sold bare root and some potted. Does this matter?
Absolutely! Bare root trees establish and begin growing far quicker than container options and are typically less expensive.
They do need to be planted right away, though, and it’s critical that they be planted while dormant. For this reason, bare root trees are only sold between December and March.
Potted fruit trees are available throughout the growing season and often begin fruiting 1-2 years sooner than bare root options.
Fruit Tree Shapes
Pruning is vital for maintaining a healthy balance between old and new growth.
Over the years, professional growers have developed three pruned shapes that effectively support this goal.
Central Leader – A pyramidal shape on a single trunk. Increasing light and air circulation for higher yields on apple, pear and nut trees.
The Vase – An upright, spreading contour that ensures light and air circulation through the denser branches of pear, citrus, cherry and plum trees.
Modified Central Leader – Combining the best of the above, this method allows trees to grow along a wall or fence. Promoting strong branching from a single trunk.
Self-Pollinator Vs Self Sterile
When budget or limited space is a concern, the difference between these two fruit tree types is important.
Self-pollinating trees don’t require another tree to pollinate its flower and facilitate fruit production. These will independently pollinate their own flowers.
Self-sterile trees need to be planted with another cultivar of the same fruit type for cross-pollination and fruit production.
If you’ve got the room, this is great! Twice the fragrant flowers for twice the fruit. But, if only one is needed to create a lovely patio or balcony setting, self-pollinating options equal success.
Fruit Trees For Shady Areas
An important factor when choosing shade-loving fruit trees is how much sun they actually need. Some have adapted to partial shade better than others.
These first four options offer lush visual appeal and luscious fruits with various light requirements.
(Ficus carica ‘Chicago Hardy’)
Maturing to 30ft tall and wide, this hardy fig thrives in partial shade and provides cover for shade-loving plants, in zones 5-10.
This is self-fertile and prefers at least 6 hours of daily sunlight and well-draining soil.
In spring, large, lobed, dark green leaves emerge. Tiny flowers, inside hollow shells, ripen into deep purple fruit from late summer to early fall.
The Chicago Hardy Fig needs deep water twice per month. A 10-10-10 NPK will boost flowering in limited light. Prune in early spring to promote new wood growth.
(Persea americana ‘Hass’)
In zones 9-11, the Hass Avocado thrives with 6 hours of daily sun and matures to 20ft tall by 8ft wide. This self-fertile tree produces large, creamy fruit when planted in loamy, well-draining soil.
Pale green starbursts and green, leathery leaves fill this tree’s wide canopy, in spring. Each starburst develops into clutches of rough-skinned fruit with velvety interiors.
Water new trees every 2-3 days, until established. Then, once per week. Fertilize with a nitrogen-focused NPK, when necessary. Prune to remove any damaged plant material, in late winter.
Most fruit trees are deciduous. But, this cherry is actually evergreen, in zones 9-11. Maturing to 12ft by 15ft, this self-fertile cultivar thrives in 6 hours of sunlight and well-draining soil.
With a uniquely pleated shape, the Barbados cherry is soft and juicy with bright red and purple skin. These develop from clusters of rosy pink, 1-inch blossoms amid small, sinuous leaves.
Barbados cherries require deep watering when soil is dry down 2-3”. Fruit grows on old wood, so delay pruning until late fall. Fertilize with a fruit tree NPK, in spring.
This vining, self-sterile Kiwi can be trained as a tree and is remarkably cold-hardy, as it matures to 20ft tall and wide, in zones 3-9. Preferring six hours of sun and well-draining soil.
This “Arctic” kiwi bears sweet fruit with a tropical taste. From white blossoms, juicy green pomes with blush-toned skin are born. Surrounded by large, bright green leaves.
Deep, weekly watering will support vigorous growth, especially in times of drought. In early spring, prune back last season’s growth for increased fruiting. Fertilize with a 10-10-10 NPK, at this same time.
Shade Loving Citrus Trees
So far, we’ve seen some delectable fruits that grow on surprisingly shade-tolerant trees. But, what about fruits that are famously representative of regions with lots of warmth and sunshine? Will citrus trees grow and produce in shady areas? Keep reading and find out.
This versatile, cold-hardy orange offers bushels of vitamin-packed fruit in zones 5-10, with a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight. Growing this as a self-fertile privacy hedge is easy, as it matures to 8ft tall and wide.
Sweet oranges hang from large, splayed branches, earning its “Flying Dragon” moniker. With 3-leaf sprays giving the appearance of paws.
Weekly watering will provide sufficient moisture for fruit production. A low-phosphorus NPK will support dense foliage and fragrant flowering. Prune sprouting branches below the grafting point to maintain a tree shape.
(Citrus x paradise ‘Ruby Red’)
This self-fertile gem matures to a potential 20ft by 10ft. Preferring 6 hours of direct sunlight and well-draining soil, this pest and disease resistant citrus is hardy down to zone 4, when wintered indoors.
Long, spear-shaped leaves frame fragrant, white blossoms in spring. Giving way to sweeter-than-typical pink fruit beneath a blushed orange rind.
Water new trees well during the first year, until established. Supplement with a citrus-formulated NPK, prior to spring blooming. Prune away any winter damaged branches, after the last frost.
(Citrus limon ‘Harvey’)
This is the most widely-grown lemon, second only to the Meyer. Lush foliage supports swathes of bright fruit in just 6 hours of sunshine and well-draining soil. Maturing to 14ft by 10ft, this self-fertile citrus thrives in garden beds and containers.
This tree is ideal for growing in colder climates, with indoor wintering. White, fragrant, spring blooms become long, yellow fruits that are juicy and tart.
Water deeply, when the top 3” of soil is dry. Feed with a citrus NPK every six weeks. Prune to relieve any cross-branching, after fruiting.
Native to Japan, this intriguing fruit presents a lemon-lime flavor that’s fantastic in beverages and baked goods. Happiest in containers, this matures to a compact 8ft tall and wide and prefers partial sun, in zones 4-11.
With sumptuous foliage and uniquely-shaped fruit, Yuzu trees are self-fertile and will bear fruit in the first year, after planting. Fragrant flowers begin the season and provide an impressive harvest.
Water deeply, when the soil is dry down 3”. Fertilize with a citrus-specific NPK in spring and summer. Prune to improve air circulation and to remove suckers.
Dwarf Fruit Trees For Shade
I mentioned that some of these would be perfect to grow on an apartment balcony. While a few of the trees we’ve seen can be pruned to fit a balcony, the following four options have naturally small footprints and produce with very little maintenance required.
(Citrus reticulata Blanco)
The Pixie is the perfect adornment for balconies and other small spaces, in zones 4-11. Yet, can mature to 8ft by 6ft, when left unpruned. Self-fertile flowers and fruit abound, even when small and wintered over, indoors or they can even be grown indoors all year.
Seedless oranges have a mild, sweet flavor. Dark green leaves grow longer and larger as the tree matures, while fragrant blossoms send their sweet perfume through your space.
Weekly watering supports healthy growth without saturating roots. Once established, fertilize with a citrus NPK. Prune to remove damaged branches and maintain the desired size.
(Ficus carica ‘Fignomenal’)
An interesting leaf shape and growth habit adds visual interest to any small outdoor space, in zones 4-11. At just 28” tall and wide, this small tree produces figs the first year, with only 4 hours of sun, per day.
Broad leaves and juicy fruit grow on a compact, multi-trunked structure. Hidden flowers self-fertilize and quickly produce full-sized fruit.
Water when the soil is dry 2” down. No fertilizer is needed as this cultivar is self-fertilizing, too! Prune only to remove spent plant material.
On a small patio or deck, this elegant olive will transport you to a Mediterranean landscape. Maturing to a potential 20ft by 12ft, this self-fertile cultivar prefers a minimum of 6 hours of summer sun and well-draining soil, in zones 4-11.
Smooth, gray bark becomes weathered and cragged with maturity, beneath soft green and silver leaves. Panicles of small, white flowers produce clusters of gray-green fruit.
Water young trees weekly, until established and drought-tolerant. Fertilize with a nitrogen-rich NPK. Pruning any sprouting branches from the main trunk in spring and fall.
(Musa acuminata ‘Grande Naine’)
Reaching 8ft tall and wide, this tropical banana grows surprisingly well in partially shaded spots, in zones 4-11. Producing delicious fruit with just a few hours of sun, per day.
The Grand Nain comes with easy care and early fruiting. Large bundles of creamy bananas appear between far-reaching, bright green leaves, faster than any other cultivar.
Water when soil is dry down 2”, only half the recommended dose of a triple 10-10-10 NPK is needed. Prune away all fruit-producing stems to make way for new ones to emerge.
Fruit Trees for Partial Shade
My final four recommendations for shade-tolerant fruit trees are paragons of east and north facing gardens. When planting in these areas, you may need to adjust your watering schedule a bit, to accommodate decreased moisture evaporation.
(Mangifera indica ‘Glenn’)
This decorative mango reaches 20’ tall, outdoors. Yet, only 4-8ft tall in containers, in zones 4-11. Bright green foliage hues and aromatic flowers from this self-fertile tree will sweeten any outdoor space.
Hardy, oval fruit is non-fibrous and sweet tasting. Offering tropical ornamentation to a lush, rounded tree canopy.
Mangoes must be watered daily in the first two weeks. Once established, every two weeks is sufficient. Sensitive to strong fertilizers, organic options are the most successful. Prune back lateral branches, in early spring, for increased fruit production.
This cold-hardy plum thrives in the morning sun and afternoon shade of zones 5-9. Requiring far less maintenance than other cultivars, the self-fertile Methley matures to 20’ by 15’ and prefers well-draining soil and 250 chill hours.
Rounded, purple and yellow fruit are supported by broad, serrated leaves and are borne of cupped, white, spring flowers, speckled with yellow pollen.
Water deeply during the first year to hasten root establishment. In late winter, prune approximately 20% of the previous year’s growth to increase fruit production. Apply a triple 10 NPK in April and June for overall health and robust growth.
In zones 4-10, this tantalizing, self-fertile Mulberry will mature to 15’ x 10’, produce an impressive harvest of multi-colored berries, and won’t require wintering over indoors.
Lobed, heart-shaped leaves beautifully complement tree bark that evolves from a young orange-brown to a mature gray-brown. Flavorful berries emerge from dainty white, spring flowers in black, red, and pale pink.
Water Mulberries weekly, until established and relatively drought-tolerant. Apply berry-formulated, slow-release granules, in spring. Pruning is only needed in spring to remove damaged branches.
The self-fertile Shinseiki Pear performs well in the colder regions of zones 5-9. Maturing to 12ft tall and wide, this produces a respectable harvest when positioned in morning sun and afternoon shade.
In spring, elegant arching branches fill with scented, white blossoms atop a central leader trunk. In summer, blooms develop round, golden-yellow fruit.
Pear trees flourish with 1-2” of water per week. Prune away any competing branches on the lower half of the trunk. A triple 10 NPK can be applied prior to spring blooming.
Final Word On Fruit Trees for Shade
No more dreaming of growing fruit trees! No matter the size of your growing space or what direction it faces, you now have 16 fantastic options to choose from that grow in a range of shade levels, maturity sizes, and hardiness zones.
Just go down your list and compare each of these aspects against your proposed growing space. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, you’ll have discovered the perfect one.
Will it be the highly adaptable Hass avocado tree? The exotic Yuzu with its lemon-lime flavor? Or perhaps, the versatile “Flying Dragon” orange?
For those of you with small balconies and porches, remember, you can’t go wrong with a Fignomenal Fig or Koroneiki Greek Olive.