Fruit Tree Grant Program

As many of you know, I’m a city manager by profession. I’ve spent the last few months thinking about creating a grant program where our City government would purchase a large number of fruit trees at wholesale and then offer them to residents who live in the City Limits at a very low or perhaps even no cost at all. Clearly this would require me establishing a lot of guidelines, rules, limits, and so on, but I’ve already been working on those things. I even proposed it to City Council and convinced them it is a program that would create a lot of positive publicity for the City at a relatively low cost. Of course all of you can understand it’s also a great way for me to mix business with pleasure, but I honestly do believe it would be a great program with a lot of benefits to the City and the residents.

But before I move forward, I’d like very much to hear opinions from you folks. I also am hoping that you all may be aware of some existing fruit tree grant programs that you could refer me to so I could see how they work. SO if any of you are aware of any fruit tree grant programs- be it through government or private or non-profit organizations, please tell me where I can read about it. The only one I’ve found is called The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, and reading about it has been a huge help.

But I also am extremely interested in any thoughts or recommendations any of you might have. Or if you think its even practical. I mean, we all know fruit trees are not for everyone and are much more difficult and complicated than just giving someone a maple or oak tree to plant. I could limit the varieties to just pear and apple since those are probably the least difficult for beginners, but even apples require some work. My thoughts are to limit each household to just 2 trees. Without knowing how many people may accept them I’m afraid to offer any more due to potential costs. I also plan to give a detailed “instruction sheet” with each grant. I think I’ll require everyone who accepts a tree to sign a contract saying they will allow me or someone to come onto their property twice a year to take photos of the trees, inspect them, and offer assistance.

I’ve already developed a draft of a press release detailing the grant program, listing several good reasons why planting fruit trees is good for the town, and so on…but I’m a long way from a final draft or sending it out. I really want to hear from you all. If you think its just a bad idea, you can say so. If you think its a neat program but you have some thoughts on what it should and should not include, I’d really love to hear those opinions.

I know this is a long and somewhat unusual post/thread, but this is important to me and I firmly believe that no one in the world would be better to help me with this project than the experts right here on! I’m pretty excited about the idea and think it really has potential to be an amazing grant program with major benefits to the community and really will get some positive attention from other cities as well as the residents of my own. But I want to get it right. So what say you? Is it hopeless to expect the average family to take the time and interest and work to grow a successful fruit tree? At the very least I feel like most families will end up with 2 new trees and even if they never get good fruit, the distribution and planting of hundreds of new trees is still a very good thing. But maybe that’s just me? All thoughts and comments appreciated! Thanks. Kevin


I think it’s a great idea, Kevin. I hope you are able to bring together enough people of similar bent to bring it off.

I think that one possible downside is that a lot of people just don’t appreciate the amount of time and effort that goes into making a fruit tree useful and productive; it’s all too easy for people to end up letting the fruit fall and become a nuisance. Those kinds of things would need to be addressed, and your contract would help on that issue. I had the thought that the county extension’s Master Gardener Program might enlist volunteers to care for otherwise neglected trees, with part of the harvest going to the property owner and part to a local food bank/shelter.

But again, the devil is in the details. There would be liability issues, for example, and volunteers have a way of drifting off over time …

But I think you have a terrific idea and are probably just the kind of person to enlist the right help. Good luck with it!

Very cool idea!

I think am easy entry would be low care varieties, such as pears (like you said) and disease resistant apples such as Liberty and Enterprise. Those are pretty easy “entry level” fruits. The main problem is (I see this A LOT working in a retail garden center) people want to grow what they know…Red Delicious, Gold Delicious, Granny Smith, etc, even though they are not well suited to beginner home orchards. That all being said, maybe it’s best to not coddle people too much, if they want to jump into stone fruits, let them! But keep the selection simple. I’d say no more than 4-5 varieties of any fruit type, too much selection can scare people off too.

We are off to a great start here, so thanks to both of you for very helpful input. It seems that we all share the concern over whether or not the average person/family will put in the time and effort required to grow fruit. But my hope is that if someone is interested enough to want fruit trees, they will put in a least some effort to be successful. Then I hope to be able to capitalize on their interest and desire by providing a basic set of instructions, along with one or more sources (web sites) where they can get more information as time goes on. Then I plan to keep records and get permission at time of grant to be able to go (or send a professional) to the homes trying to grow fruit a couple times a year so I (or the designated person) can offer tips and advice on what they need to do to keep their trees on track. I’m sure some people will stick the trees in the ground and never seek any more advice/information or do anything else for the trees and they will produce poor or no fruit. But I hope that will be a small percentage and that most people will at least put forth a minimal effort, look up some info, and listen to what they are told at the bi-annual on site consultants. Better still, I hope some of these people catch the fever we all have and end up getting more fruit trees.

Great minds think alike, mark…I actually already contacted the county extension service and talked to them about what I’m planning and ask if they would be willing to help when called on. They were absolutely excited about the idea and were firm in saying they’d help. So perhaps they can make 1 or both of the annual visits, though that may be expecting too much from them. But they already said I can list their name as a source for information and advice, so I plan to list it in the initial paperwork with the grant. That way, people with these trees will have someone they can call for free anytime they are worried about their trees or want to be sure they are on track. That’s a little different from your master gardener idea, but I like that too and I’ll reach out to those folks also and see if they would be willing to help. The more (free) resources I can give people the more likely they may use them and therefore get good advice.
Kelby, your points are incredibly on-point and even apply to me…when I started growing fruit the first thing I did was run to Lowes and buy things like Red Delicious and other things I’d eaten with no clue whether they were appropriate to grow in my area (many were not!) So yes, I need to be sure I get varieties that are both low-maintenance and well suited to my area. I planned on the EXACT varieties you mentioned (Liberty and Enterprise). Really. Like I said…great minds… ha. I was tempted to offer only pears (I’ve seen cities offer Bradford pears before…yuck!). They’d be most likely to succeed without any owner input. But I know everyone would want apples, so I am going to offer some low(er) maintenance apple varieties. And yes, even though many of you may think its destined to fair, I feel compelled to offer one or two varieties of peach, plums, and sour cherry. Sour cherry’s are pretty easy here so I’m less worried about them than plums. Peaches are hardest but I think I’ll give them a choice. But in the paperwork BEFORE they select a tree I plan to make it very, very clear that Pears are their safest bet to get fruit, then go down the list all the way to peaches. This way they will know going in which fruits will take more/most effort and be less/least likely to succeed. But since many wholesale tree sellers require a minimum number of each variety purchased, and for simplicity, I’ll probably just offer one or two varieties of every type of fruit. Thanks for input…hope to get more of this quality.

In our town, on Arbor Day, the town gives out two bareroot trees per family. People need to bring proof of residence. Be it a utility bill or a driver’s license. They give out both flowering trees and fruit trees (different kinds of apples).

The program is well-received every year. It is first come, first serve starting at 8:30 am. By 10 am, all the trees are gone every year.

I would say there should be advice giving to those novice growers, either in person when trees are giving out or pamphlets/instructions to take home.

Be careful, though, you do not want to create a town full of neglected fruit trees with lawns full of rotten fruit. I drive by such a lawn in my neighborhood twice a day.

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I know it would take longer but what if st the same time you got the school kids to graft them. You could set it up through votec or high school/middle school. Rootstock less than a $1 each and donations for scion wood. The kids need to know how to do this stuff because how else will they learn?

I have been involved with a few such efforts here in Baltimore. The biggest issue is keeping the trees maintained, usually there is great enthusiasm at the start and then the tree is on its own for the rest of its life. One local group has tried to fix that with various education seminars etc. I would say make a tree pickup day festival, have someone talk about how to care for trees with slides etc, make up some “contract” for them to sign (or not if they changed their mind), and then give them their trees like they were being given pure gold.



I’d be careful about putting sharp blades in hands of school kids.

Liability issues like crazy.


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This is one of the companies the store I work at buys from:

They have a fairly helpful website for absolute beginners that one could either give out as a link or copy info from.

This is such a great idea! Hope you are successfully implement this idea and benefit the residents. I have seen pomegranate trees/bush were planted along sides of the road as street trees. It has interesting leaves,beautiful red flowers, and handsome fruits. The tree itself does not grow very big and relatively disease free.

In my city Sterling Heights, no fruit trees are allowed on easements. Edible or not. I guess they expect it to be a mess. I would like to use fruit trees there, oh well. The county next to us has a tree program for residents, even non-residents, but none of the fruit trees offered appealed to me. After growing them awhile, backyard orchard people are rather a specialized lot looking for plants that fit into the ripening schedule, work in your area, and taste exceptional.

I think the biggest potential problems have already been mentioned (neglect of the fruit trees, and yards of rotted fruit).

A few smaller issues might be if there are any local nurseries, it’s likely this program is not going to make them very happy (just putting myself in their place).

The church I attend got over 500 free pumpkins shipped in from somewhere for a church fundraiser.Since the pumpkins cost the church nothing, they can sell them cheap for the fundraiser. The church is located near an intersection, where people set up to sell produce at roadside. I saw someone set up to sell pumpkins, but they were only there one day. I’m sure they didn’t sell many because they couldn’t compete w/ the church pumpkins which were donated (even the labor to sell the pumpkins is donated/volunteer). Plus most people here would probably rather buy from a church than someone else (it makes them feel better).

However, I felt sorry for the folks trying to sell their pumpkins roadside. They put a lot of work and effort into growing those pumpkins, for some part of their livelihood, and now they may not be able to sell them.

One other issue to think about w/ pears is fireblight. Here, I’ve had good success w/ fireblight resistant pears but, as you are in TN, I’ve read some folks in the South have even had problems w/ some fireblight resistant varieties, so make sure you offer good resistant varieties. Blight resistant apples are more blight resistant than blight resistant pears. Psylla could also potentially be a problem w/ pears, as is blister mite. But I agree, overall, pears (in this area) are one of the easiest to grow fruits. A good blight resistant variety will produce some usable fruit w/ total neglect.

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In Newport, RI, the Tree Society also provides a ‘tree clinic’ for planting through the Arboretum. This program works. They no longer offer fruit trees.

"The Newport Tree Society has announced a program that will provide homeowners in Newport with trees.

Unlike previous programs, the “Specimen Tree Restoration Program” will provide trees free of cost.

Homeowners who receive trees will be asked to sign a contract promising to take care of the tree.

The Society hopes the program will serve as a model of urban forest management for other cities.

If you are a Newport citizen interested in in the program, visit the Newport Arboretum website at"

The agreement also includes permission for a professional aborist to come and see your tree to make sure it is healthy.

This is a very unpopular opinion these days, but I’m opposed to government as Santa Claus, at all levels. I live in a political climate that is completely in love with Santa Gov. If there is surplus money in the coffers, give some back with refunds or by taking less out to begin with. Right now redistribution of wealth and class warfare is really heating up into a populist ground swell.

Now, if the plan would be to plant out government land with food plants to support local food banks, I’d be more on board. Local 4H, schools and other orgs could tend the plot and make it a valuable local resource. Dovetailing into the point that @Olpea made, straight up tree handouts might negatively impact local vendors that make a living selling these same trees.


I think the points you make are good about 4-h, and I too like olpeas point of not impacting small business etc. I think all people need to know how to grow fruits and veggies regardless of income. Income can be a barrier for the poor to learn how to graft or grow fruit trees. I want everyone to be self sufficient and successful. I teach anyone here willing to learn how to grow things, raise bees, etc. Usually I teach grafting to neighbors when I do it in the spring.

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The City of New York has been running a ‘million trees’ giveaway for some years now (see

From their website: “MillionTreesNYC was launched in October 2007 in partnership with New York Restoration Project (NYRP) as one of PlaNYC’s 127 initiatives to help meet the challenges faced by New York City as its population grows by one million more by 2030. Mayor Bloomberg allocated $400 million to the City’s Parks Department budget to plant 600,000 of the one million trees through reforesting 2,000 acres of parkland, planting street trees at all available locations, and creating 800 new greenstreets. The remaining 400,000 trees will be planted by homeowners in their own yards and by the business community in existing and new developments. In addition, NYRP and non-profit community partners, with the financial and in-kind support of individuals, corporations and foundations, will plant trees on public lands such as schoolyards, public housing land and outside libraries, community health centers, and senior centers with donations like the one announced today. The private campaign to raise these funds, which totals over $35 million, is being led by NYRP and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.”

Along with the public and private funds there are of course public costs in terms of grants, a jobs program, etc. -

Leaving the politics aside, the one thing that sort of bugged me was the types of trees given away. Dogwoods and redbuds and other, easy, flowering “park” trees seem like a good choice, but they also did tons of more difficult trees - fruit trees requiring pollination or specific growing conditions (pawpaw!). I wonder who ‘sold’ the city on some of these trees.

I’m sure that, like many government programs, they can say “we gave away 400,000 trees!” and consider that a success. Were I funding the project, however, I’d like to know what the actual success rate was; what % of trees are still alive three years later? No provisions were ever make for follow up.

In terms of the budget (and inherent waste) of a city the size of NY it’s a drop in the bucket. And perhaps I’m cynical as well; it was cool to see lots of folks lined up for these trees to beautify their urban backyards. But given how many of those backyards receive zero light or supplementary water or have space enough or could be considered ‘well-draining and high in organic matter’… I just fear not many made it.

Recent thoughts in this thread bring into consideration impact on local nurseries. That’s an unknown. Yes, there may be slight negative impact, but I think the likelihood of positive impact on their retail sales is at least as likely.

I believe that most who already intend to plant apple or pear trees do at least some reading and already have developed preferences from at least store bought fruit about what types they want. Those people are more likely to purchase what they really desire whether they also take part in the giveaway or not. The purchase price of a single tree is relatively low compared to the size of dreams about the payoff that come with it.

There will be those whose initial excitement about getting something for nothing wanes as they wait for fruit, and those who, for whatever reasons, are unsuccessful at growing and maintaining their trees to productivity. But there will also be a number of people who, either because they enjoy their trees, or because they are interested in the ones someone nearby is growing, either decide that they want more or start thinking about what else they could grow and enjoy eating. That thinking will create future retail sales in both fruiting plants and products for their maintenance. Smart retailers could use the giveaway as a marketing opportunity from the get go and help spawn and encourage the type of thinking that would be beneficial to them over a longer term.


Where I live, there is little to no impact on any nursery. The ‘fruit tree’ section is the smallest part of any nursery here. I think it depends upon where you live. Not many people plant fruit trees in Newport County. They think of them as a mess, and a lot of work. I agree with ‘a lot of work’. Most people are too lazy, or have no interest in growing fruit here.

I like the concept, but as you know, successfully growing fruit trees requires a lot of commitment and dedication. My best guess is that 95% of your residents will lack both on a long term basis. They will be enthusiastic at first, but the enthusiasm will decline quickly. A small portion of folks will get a big benefit and perhaps a new rewarding hobby.

I knew you folks would contribute valuable ideas and thoughts, and you didn’t disappoint! I got something of value from every single post on this thread. Many things I hadn’t thought about. The idea of a large number of trees with rotting fruit is certainly concerning and something most of you mentioned but I hadn’t thought about. I’m going to give that more thought. I had already planned on requiring those accepting a tree signing a contract allowing the city to send someone to inspect the trees periodically and perhaps (hopefully) offer helpful advice to owners. Perhaps I will put something in saying if fruit is not properly disposed of the tree could be removed by the city. I could justify such a move not only on beautification grounds, but also because it would be a breeding ground for insects and animals that would likely spread to others who are working hard on getting good fruit (including myself!). We occasionally do other grants and retain the right to monitor and control things that are given, even federal block grants often have such conditions, so I’m sure we could do that. It also won’t surprise me at all if the grantees do great at first, and over time loose interest. So some type of continued inspection and education is a great idea. I’d love to involve the schools in some way, so that’s another idea I will explore and give more thought to. The other fruit tree grant I found gives grants for not just a few trees but for small orchards, and their caveat is that some portion of the fruit be given to schools for some number of years. That grant also either requires or encourages the involvement of school kids (I forget which).
One of the best things mentioned that I hadn’t thought about is @Olpea 's warning that we could upset local nurseries. Now that is another aspect I hadn’t considered but is an OUTSTANDING point I need to think about. Just like Olpea’s example, I’ve ran into situations before where the city does something that- in one way or another- ends up competing with the private sector. I’ve had this on things as big as a public golf course offering cheaper green fees than the private sector can, to a City buying and renting out commercial property to encourage economic development, only to have private commercial property owners say we are unfairly competing, all the way down to us offering free gun locks and having a local gun shop complain that we have ruined his ability to sell gun locks- all are reasonable complaints that I get. The good news is we only have a grand total of 1 commercial nursery in the City limits and they have almost no fruit trees. I also think I can talk to the owner and work out a compromise and keep him happy.

One final comment that I just have to address is that of @mrclint . Mostly because it was a comment that 99.9% truly does reflect my own values and opinions. At risk of touching off a political debate (not my intent) or criticism, I must say that I’m extremely conservative and almost always opposed to government “Santa Clause” programs as Clint called them. Collecting taxes from some people and then using that money to give something free to someone else really is a form of income redistribution and I would almost always oppose any such program. So Clint and I agree more than he/you would suspect. My defense of this program, however, has several points. First, we are probably talking about a one-time “grant” of about $15-$20 total per household. That doesn’t change the philosophy, but puts it into reason. I also have to point out some things I’m proud of about my city: We are one of only 11 cities (out of over 400) in my state that have no property tax at all. Our revenues are almost all user-based, so a resident could theoretically avoid paying any CITY taxes ( our revenue sources are beer tax, sales tax, gas tax, cable tv tax, etc). I suspect you’ll say that’s a thin point, but it is valid. Our City also has zero debt of any kind- something else very few cities can say. I also believe the argument could be made that the planting of large amounts of trees, if it happens, would increase property values and quality of life for residents and make the town more attractive to people and businesses, which could overcome any negative redistribution issues. Anyway, I know this last paragraph is a bit weak and open to disagreement, but I just wanted to say that in spite of my promotion of this free fruit tree idea, I really am not a government-giveaway guy AT ALL. I guess my love of fruit trees and desire to see more of them and have the community involved in growing and promoting the hobby has caused me to temporarily loose sight of my usual position on the subject! :smile:
Finally, thanks for some of the examples of similar programs in other cities. I’m going to look them all up.