Maybe you’re a huge fan of apples, peaches and plums. Maybe you don’t like paying the hefty price for store-bought cherries. Perhaps you just love trees and would like to provide an ideal habitat for birds, bees and butterflies. Whatever the reason, establishing a backyard orchard can be a very rewarding experience, both for the earth and your belly. With some orchards living up to 15 to 30 years, advance planning and site preparation is absolutely essential. If you’re contemplating planting some fruit trees on your land, consider the following steps to ensure that you end up with a beautiful and bountiful yard.
Take the time to plan wisely.
When it comes to planting something in the ground, mistakes unfortunately can’t be reversed easily. That said, it’s important to consider all the factors and potential complications before digging the first hole. In fact, many with backyard orchards spend up to two or three years in the planning stage. To optimally prepare the site, it’s important to consider the future needs of the tree roots, the physical, biological, and chemical properties of the soil, and the potential utilisation of crop rotations to replenish organic matter. From a financial standpoint, fruit growing can be a high-risk venture, especially if you’re looking to produce fruit to sell.
Consider the location of the orchard.
Unlike herbs or small vegetables that can be grown relatively easily in things like containers, orchards require more to grow successfully. Ideally, fruit trees should be higher up on a gradual slope or on rolling or elevated land. It may be helpful to grade the block to ensure that excess water won’t build up around the tree roots, waterlogging the surface soil. However, if planted in areas that are too elevated, excessive winds and cold may damage young trees. Similarly, if planted too low, cold air can accumulate during the cold season and may contribute to frost damage. Lastly, growing trees in rows with a north-south orientation tends to provide better light conditions and therefore healthier fruit.
Ensure the soil conditions are right for planting.
A soil depth of at least three feet (almost one metre) is preferred for orchard trees. Also, soil should be aerated loam and well-drained. If you have the time and resources, soil tests should be conducted a few years in advance of planting to ensure that any necessary changes can be done. Soil tests will investigate water-holding capacity, pH, nutrient imbalances, and organic matter content.
Based on the results, irrigation systems may be installed, invasive weed species may be tackled, inputs like lime, phosphorus, and gypsum may be added, and measures may be taken to prevent against weather-related disasters. Some hard and dense surface soils may need to be broken up so that it will be easier for young trees to get established.
Additionally, a ground cover may need to be planted to suppress weeds and improve nutrient availability, organic matter, and water infiltration. It’s important to note that once trees are planted, it’s extremely difficult to disturb the soil and make changes to optimise the growing environment.
Consider what type of trees will be planted.
Orchard design and tree quality is something that should be given considerable thought. When choosing trees, it’s wise to consider their canopy coverage and if there will be any light interception. Different species will also have different flowering and fruiting times with some producing fruit much earlier than others. Additionally, ordering trees from a reputable source is important as it will ensure that what you plant has been virus-tested and has a healthy root system.
Timing and spacing of planting is important.
Initial growth of trees is dependent upon planting time. Studies have shown that when planted early, trees have increased shoot length and numbers and are less likely to become stunted. Planting early in the spring, as soon as the ground can be worked, is ideal. Regular fruit trees should be planted at least 20 feet from its nearest neighbor while dwarf trees only need ten feet between plantings.
Use smart planting techniques and ensure that adequate nutrients are available.
Even with ideal soil conditions, it is wise to spend some time breaking up the soil. To plant, dig a hole that is three times the size of the root ball, the bigger the better for fruit trees. Line the hole with some good-quality topsoil along with a compost that is rich in nitrogen, potash and phosphate. If there’s broken or injured roots, prune them prior to planting. Also ensure that the roots are kept moist during the entire planting process, it’s suggested to use a mud slurry for this purpose. Lastly, to keep out unwanted rodents and pests, a wire mesh fence may be helpful.
When it comes to planting an orchard it’s important to plan right the first time. So are you ready to plan your orchard setup.
Daniel has worked in the management, cutting, and caring of trees for the last 20 years. He works and helps run Bellarine Trees and is passionate about the environment and tree worker safety. He has a wife and two daughters and he enjoys playing tennis in his spare time.