A home orchard can provide you with delicious, pocket friendly fresh fruits, pollinators’ presence, shade and beauty. It only needs a small investment of money and a huge investment of time and patience.
Selecting Orchard Trees
Select trees that adapt to your climate. Consult your local Cooperative Extension about varieties of trees you can grow in your area. Visit USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to know your agricultural zone. Nurseries should give some pieces of information about the zones where their plants will survive and grow well. Place order for young trees, not seeds; seeds will develop into fruit trees but won’t necessarily have the same attributes their parent plants have.
Apples cultivation is best practiced in colder regions because the climate is favorable, though some species have been developed to survive in the warmness of the South. Dwarf apple trees, the first specie can be spaced 8′ apart and bear fruit within two to three years. Yearly harvest from dwarf apple trees is on the average of 2 bushels per tree. Semi-dwarf trees, second specie requires 15 -18′ spacing and it bears fruit within five to six years. Its yearly harvest is on the average of 4 bushels per tree. While the third specie called standard tree 8 requires 25-30′ spacing and it bears fruit within six to ten years. Although Standards trees happen to be the hardiest, but it is most capable of withstanding dryness and infertile soil.
Plant three different kinds of apples mindless of their sizes and get best pollination result. Summer apples ripen very fast but lack long term storage capacity and as a result, do not store well fresh; fall apples are used for various purposes and can adapt to any weather condition; winter apples ripen late but could be kept for long and survive in cold storage condition.
Pears will grow well in most of the US zones; most are adaptable to zone 4 while some to zone 3, though their fruit bearing ability may vary due to the zones. While some will bear fruits in every other year, some will bear fruit every year in cold zones. Standard pears need to be spaced 20-25′ apart; they bear fruit within 5-8 years and have an average harvest yield of 3 bushels per plant. For Dwarf or semi-dwarf pears, they need to be spaced 12-25′ apart; they bear fruit within 5-8 years and have average harvest yield of half bushel per plant.
Plant two different kinds of Pear today to get best pollination result. While some pears could be stored fresh and extended into midwinter, many others will deteriorate more quickly than ever imagined.
Cherries can survive and grow in the same zones as pears. Sweet cherries have maturity period of five (5) to seven (7) years. Pie or sour cherries grow fully between four (4) and five (5) years. All pie cherries and some sweet cherries can pollinate by themselves. Pie cherries are generally known to be stronger than sweet cherries.
Grow cherry trees having standard size, because smaller species have been recently developed, although, they still have some important issues. Remember to space trees 15-25 inches apart. Sweet cherries average harvest capacity is between 60 and 75 quarts per tree, this make sweet cherry to have more fruit bearing capacity than sour cherries. Fruits could freeze and can be well stored but cannot be stored fresh for a long time as with some apples and pears.
Plums will grow in all parts of the country; Japanese plums are better than the European’s when it has to do with adaptation in the South. Hybrid plums are very hard and cold but may not be able to pollinate properly. FEDCO, a seed cooperative, recommends that you plant American plums with the Hybrid plums as pollinators. European plums can pollinate by themselves; but when you plant two species together, you will achieve an improved performance. The European plums may be smallish in size, but they have great resistance to diseases than Hybrid plums.
Space the trees 20inches apart. 2 bushels per tree is their average harvest yield. Plums can be preserved in cans, converted into jelly or dried as prunes. They cannot stay long under a cold storage condition.
Peaches are best adapted to the South. Cold-hardy varieties have been developed; these can bear heavily in the North but may die in hard winters. The University of Virginia recommends planting standard-sized peach trees, as smaller varieties are newly developed and still have some significant problems.
Space trees 15-20′ apart and be prepared to support branches, which may break under the weight of a heavy crop. 4 bushels/tree is an average harvest. Peaches can be dried, canned or frozen but don’t keep long in fresh storage.
Selecting an Orchard Site
Keep these three tips in mind when selecting an orchard site:
- Choose a site with well-drained fertile soil and full sun.
- Avoid frost pockets and areas exposed to high winds.
- Don’t plant early-flowering varieties on south-facing slopes, where they may bloom too early and then lose their flowers (and thus that year’s fruit) to a late frost.
If you have a small backyard in an urban space, check out this video:
Orchard Planting and Maintenance
Plant in early spring while trees are still dormant. Dig large holes, twice as wide and fully as deep as the root system, and add compost and other soil amendments around tree roots. Don’t let roots get dried out as you get your trees into their holes. Water well. Once the hole is filled, surround the tree with organic mulch.
Fruit trees need to be pruned to remove dead wood and establish a healthy and accessible shape. Prune in spring while trees are dormant. Consult your Extension, the video below, or look online for pruning guides for each type of fruit tree. All fruit trees are susceptible to pests and diseases, varying by type and area. Consult your Extension.
Want to learn more information on starting a home orchard?
Here are some resources:
Tree Fruit in the Home Garden (pdf) Virginia Cooperative Extension
Fruit Trees for the Home Orchard: Varieties and Management (pdf) from New Mexico Cooperative Extension Service
Featured Image: credit to Flickr/liz west