If you're planning an orchard of your own, there are a few things that you need to consider well before you buy that first tree or dig the first hole. Planting your home orchard can be an exciting time, dreaming about the fabulous fruit that you will be eating in the future while you're digging and planting those little twigs. It's a great feeling!
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But...If you don't plan ahead, excitement can turn slowly into
disappointment. Trees may not produce if they aren't properly
pollinated, or may get bigger than the space you gave them to grow in,
or your trees may grow poorly or even die if conditions are wrong.
Orchard planning takes a bit of time, but it will pay off in the end. It's a good idea to draw out your plan to scale on a sheet of paper or a computer. Start your orchard layout by drawing an outline of the area that you will be using, including any landmarks (trees bushes, buildings, rocks, etc) that will help you orient your layout. Allowing a circle for each tree the diameter of the tree when mature. This allows you to see if the trees will fit and not overlap (grow into each others space). I suggest reading and considering the items below before you start drawing.
One of the first things you need to consider is how much room you have for an orchard. Walk your property and look around. You probably have some idea in your mind as to where you might want to have your orchard. Check out the area and pace it off to get an idea of how much room you have. Look out for good drainage and soil conditions (see below), and especially for surrounding trees that will eventually grow larger and shade out, or steal water and nutrients from your orchard.
The types and varieties of trees you want should also be considered when planning an orchard.
Generally you should plant trees of the same variety adjacent to one another. Apples next to apples, peaches next to peaches.
This can assist in pollination as well as tree maintenance like spraying and pruning. Not to mention organization and appearance.
You should also consider how big your trees will get at maturity. Fruit tree spacings are very important. Space trees so that their branches won't grow into each other.
This can cause the trees to interfere with each others growth patterns and productivity. You'll want them close to each other, but not overlapping.
As a general rule of thumb, allow:
-8-10 foot circle for dwarf trees
-12-15 foot circles for semi dwarf trees
-20-25 foot circle for standard sized trees
Obviously, the mature sizes of your trees will have a bearing on how many trees you can plant in the space you have available. If you want more trees than your orchard plot will allow, you will have to select smaller trees or expand your orchard. Either way - it's good to know up front so you can plan accordingly.
Do your trees need pollinators? Some varieties of fruit trees are self pollinating, while others need a pollinator tree. Some varieties even need a specific (but different) variety to be fruitful.
Most reputable nurseries will tell you this up-front in their catalog or on their websites. If you need a pollinator to have successful crops, make sure to plant them next to each other.
Pollinator trees are most effective when they are close to each other, instead of at either ends of your orchard. The good news is that the pollinator trees will bear fruit as well - providing you a bit of variety in the process.
Fruit trees like fertile, well drained soil and sunny locations. If you have poor soil (low in nutrients), you can always amend it with composts, fertilizers and mulch, so don't let poor soil stop you from having an orchard.
Add new top dressings of compost or mulches every year. Improving poor soil is an ongoing project. It may take your trees a bit longer to bear fruit if you start with poor soil, but if you keep working on it each year, you will succeed.
Good drainage is also an important consideration. I have my orchard on a slight slope so that water doesn't stand on them during wet times. It makes mowing a bit more difficult, but the benefits to the trees is worth the extra effort. Don't plan your orchard where water will stand for long periods of time. If the ground stays too wet, the trees roots will be more susceptible to fungal and bacterial infections. The roots can rot completely away if they stay wet too long.
Here are a few other items that you may want to take into consideration when planning an orchard:
-Rights of way - if you have legal rights of way on your property (and it's more common than you might think), don't plan your orchard so that it encroaches those rights of way. Stay a good distance away from public roads, utilities, and property boundaries.
-Buried utilitiy lines - Digging holes where utility lines are buried is a recipe for disaster. Remember the old "call before you dig" thing? If you're not sure where electic, phone, cable, or gas lines are buried - find out first.
-Overhead Utility Lines - Don't plant your orchard under overhead lines. If your trees get big enough, they could interfere with these lines. The utility companies can come to your home and cut the tops out of your trees without warning. They don't normally take much care in doing it either. There are exceptions, but why take the chance?
-Property lines - do you have good neighbors? If not, planting trees that encroach the property line can cause problems. Even if you have the best neighbors you could ask for, I don't recommend planting your orchard close enough to property lines that they will grow over to your neighbor's side. Remember - neighbors move, houses sell. The next people who move in may not be so nice.
-Accessibility to water and supplies - Home orchards do require some maintenance. Pruning and spraying require carrying equipment to the orchard, and carrying pruning waste away. How far are you willing to carry that stuff? Harvesting means getting the harvest from the orchard to your house.
A bushel of any kind of fruit can be pretty heavy.
Dry times may require watering your trees. Do you have a water source close enough or garden hoses enough to water your trees? Hand carrying buckets full of water can get really old, really quickly.
When I first planted my orchard, I got really tired of going around and around in circles when I was cutting my grass. I had to circle every tree. Finally it dawned on me one day that there was some usable (but unused) space between my trees where I could be planting something, and reduce the number of circles that I had to make.
As a result I planted Gooseberries, Currants, Asparagus, Rhubarb and a strawberry patch between my trees. Instead of mowing in circles, all I had to do was mow big ovals around each pair of trees, and my orchard suddenly became more productive.
The Gooseberry and Currant bushes and Asparagus plants have thrived and produced like crazy. The strawberries eventually got moved to my garden, but not because the performed poorly, but because they were harder to maintain between the trees. The rhubarb didn't do well, but I'm fairly sure it was due to poor care on my part, and not due to any problem with the location.
We also tried Blueberry bushes after the Rhubarb, but our soil wasn't acidic enough, so we moved them into half bourbon barrels where they are thriving.
The point is that you can use the space between your fruit trees in your orchard to grow other things, and also make maintenance easier at the same time. Think about what you can plant between your trees, fruit bearing plants, bush type garden vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) or even ornamental plants and flowers. Don't let that valuable real estate between your trees go to waste.
Planning an orchard in advance can seem like a lot of "unnecessary" work, but if you plan it out first, you may save yourself frustration and additional work later on. Take the time to think things through. An orchard, unlike a vegetable garden is a long term commitment. You can move a garden after one year if you're not happy with where it is. It's a lot harder and more risky to move an orchard.
A well planned orchard will be more productive, easier to care for and a pleasure to the eye for years to come. Take the time to do it right the first time.
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A Pleasure to the Eye?
Yes, simple aesthetics are important too. Make the layout so that it is pleasing to the eye. An orchard in full spring bloom is a sight to behold - especially if it's your own!
My orchard is next to my driveway, so every day when I leave for work and come home, I can enjoy my trees.
Trips to the mail box often wind up as distracted strolls through the orchard. It's easy to get lost in the appeal of an orchard - in any season.