Is age of fruit tree by "years" or "years in the ground"?

OK, kind of a newbie question here, but when discussion revolves around “x year old trees”, does x = years old, or years planted in the ground?

  • If it’s years old, can I assume that a small whip is 1 year old, a larger whip is 2 years old, and a 15g bare root a 3 year old?
  • If it’s years in the ground, does it start at 0 years old, or once it’s in the ground is it considered 1 year old? And how about if I re-planted it a year later?

Thanks, I’d love to know what you do about this topic :wink:

Hi Gene – not sure what the official answer is, or exactly the context you´re thinking of.

I can think of 3 basic scenarios : a seedling planted in situ, a young grafted tree purchased from nursery and then set out; or an older established tree that is topworked with scions to another variety.

As a short answer to your question, I think in terms of how long I´ve been working with the tree. If I´m talking to another gardener I´ll mention how the tree was started. Of course, the real question is when will it bear fruit. Most backyard gardeners are working with scenario #2 and are wondering when they´ll first get fruit. I usually estimate a stardard 5 years before expecting fruit–sometimes I´m pleasantly surprised.

Though #2 is perhaps most common, I consider #s 1 & 3 ideal – to have an established root system is a sweet position to be in. Here where I am in a cold climate with persimmons I find it very hard to buy a young grafted persimmon and have it overwinter that first year. It´s much easier to plant a seedling then graft later.

(One could make a good argument that my scenario #1 & #3 are the same–but some seedlings don´t need grafting to bear good fruit; and there is a difference between waiting for a seedling to be big enough to graft and an much older tree that´s grafted over.)


Thanks for the thoughtful reply. It certainly makes sense to discuss “years” by how long it’s been in the ground for practical reasons. But “years” by how old the tree actually is may be helpful in regards to how much fertilizer to use, etc. It’s a tricky one, but seemingly no standard rule of thumb.

I’m not one to use fertilizer on fruit trees except for potted ones. I keep goats, so have an abundance of manure to keep the trees well mulched. I’ve never made a study of the issue, but know that excess nitrogen can favor growth over fruiting, and cause some fruit trees, such as apples, to be susceptible to fire blight. If you are on the west coast doing citrus, it may be more of a requirement.

Yes it is confusing. I like using the term leaf, as it is clear what I mean. A 3rd leaf tree has had leaves 3 seasons since I got it. It’s not the actual age of the tree, but to me that is really not important. Why? Well we also have clonal age. Trees do not live forever, and they also have a clonal age. Why this is important is that nothing alive is exempt from DNA damage due to various forms of radiation. Eventually all known tree cultivars will die. It could take hundreds of thousands of years, we know Aspens start losing the ability to sexually reproduce. Eventually flaws to the DNA prevent the ability to produce pollen production. Info is all over the net. Here is a little info

So to get more on subject trees mature enough to fruit is more accurately measured by how many times it has leafed out in permanent home. Often 2 or 3 year old whips end up fruiting the same year. Not always some trees take to transplant better at a young age. I suggest if you wish to shape a peach tree to buy as young a tree as possible as 2nd and 3 year trees will no longer branch if headed to two to three feet. Whereas a cherry will. ASAP I like to pick existing branches or form new scaffolds via heading prune. It makes it easier. I may keep back up scaffolds for a year or two, it all depends on shape of tree.

Bamboo flowers after 120 years. Most die after flowering. A popular bamboo that was cloned thousands of times and spread across the United States, well it hit 120 years and all clones flowered, or soon flowered when big enough to flower. And all died. One cannot escape one’s clonal age. Doesn’t matter if rooted or cloned. The genes can only be refreshed with sexual reproduction. Seeds have a clonal age of zero.
One day Sweet Crisp apples and Red Haven peaches will no longer exist.
In China they have some 300 to 400 old peach trees. They are native there. They only live about 25 years here. They probably can be cloned for about 100 thousand years or longer, but eventually they will fail to thrive. As clonal age cannot be ignored. Exactly how long they will be around is not known?


As a practical matter, One Green World uses the phrase “bearing age: n-years after planting”.
That is assuming the plant for sale has reached a certain age in the pot.

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This is the simple version. You buy a « whip » its at least a year old and too is bare root. You can buy two, three or four year old trees; all bare root and those are their ages. Once you plant them you simply add the years the tree has been in the ground to the original age of your tree. A « whip » or a « maiden » can have leaves as well. Most trees arrive dormant if you are ordering through the mail. Age is age. I always buy 3-4 year old trees as I am impatient.

Goats, nature’s natural fertilizer :wink: Yup, I’m in SF Bay Area with heavy clay soil, so most nutrients are plentiful, but I am finding that I need to boost my nitrogen, especially my citrus.

Whoa, I love the info… TMI in any other blog, but is heaven to fruit tree nerds like me! I like the way you do it, many leafs it’s grown in a single place. It makes the most practical sense when measuring years to fruit, which I suppose is the single most important metric anyway. Thanks.


Yup, that’s the number I’m going to go with moving forward. Thx.

Great, thanks, I’ve just contacted my grower (Dave Wilson) to ask how old their trees are when they are sold.