Planning the Backyard Orchard

    • Many fine varieties of flowering dogwoods, tulip magnolias, Japanese maples and other specimen plants are now available at nurseries for winter planting.
    • Prune fruit trees, grapes, berries, and ornamental trees this month. Take in a pruning class and sharpen your shears before you start.
    • Spring flowers and vegetables can be started from seeds now on your window sill. Try pansies and snapdragons, broccoli, cabbage and lettuces.
    • Blueberries are a delicious fruit that can be planted now from young plants. Give them a rich, acid bed prepared with lots of peat moss.

Planning the Backyard Orchard

Whether you have 20 acres or 1/4 of an acre, you can have fruit-bearing trees on your property that will give you mouthwatering, tree-ripened fruit as well as a sense of pride and accomplishment.

In choosing the location for fruit trees, a place with as much summer sun as possible is best. With a short season to ripen fruits here, we need as much sunlight as possible. Fruit trees should not be planted in the vegetable garden. Worse than root competition, the shade created by the trees diminishes the productivity of the garden.

There is some advantage to planting early blooming fruit trees, like apricots, plums and peaches, on a north slope or the north side of a building. The winter shade will delay the blooming of these trees and increase your chances of having a good harvest. 

Fruit trees should always have good drainage. This is especially true for stone fruits (cherries, peaches, plums, apricots and nectarines), which will not tolerate standing water around their trunks.

The question of whether to plant standard trees or dwarf trees is mostly determined by how large your orchard is. Standard apple and pear trees should be set 20 feet apart and semi-dwarf trees can be spaced 12 to 15 feet apart. In an area 100 feet by 100 feet you could plant 25 standard trees or 50 to 65 semi-dwarf trees at that spacing.

Dwarf trees can also be planted in hedgerows 4 feet apart where space is at a premium. They take a lot of care when planted so close together but will give you a bountiful harvest. Even standard sized trees can be kept much smaller with pruning. This requires summer pruning as well as winter “dormant” pruning, but it can be done where space is at a premium.

You will also want to consider which varieties to plant for a long harvesting season. Cherries are the first to ripen, around the first of June, followed by apricots, plums, peaches and pluots which ripen at different times through the summer depending on variety. The first apples and pears ripen in late August and other varieties ripen through the fall months. Persimmons ripen around Thanksgiving. With careful planning you can have fresh fruit over a six month period.

Not all fruit trees will bear every year. Spring weather conditions frequently damage the crops of apricots, peaches and plums and even apples and pears have good and bad years. Plant enough trees so that you will have more food than you need in the good years, and in the bad years you will still get enough.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.