Plant Your Own Orchard

Through the years I have found great satisfaction in growing my own vegetables and much enjoyment from growing my own fruit trees. Orchard fruits and nuts not only supply essential nutrition and fiber to a diet but also opportunities for joy and beauty. Growing vegetables can be very productive, but no food-production system is complete without a small orchard.

In one way, an orchard is easier to grow than a vegetable garden. Once planted, fruit and nut trees will produce for years. Some apple trees can still be productive after 50 years. On the negative side, you must wait two to five years before harvesting your first crop of fruits and nuts. So if you are thinking about having fruit trees, don’t delay in planning your orchard and getting those trees in the ground.

No matter where you live, there is a wide variety to choose from. However, some fruits do better in certain geographical locations than others. Apples grow better where winters are cold, while the stone fruits (peaches, apricots, plums) thrive in warmer climates. Pears grow well in a much wider climatic range, and nut trees are easy to grow and can be found in all regions. Citrus fruits and most figs require hot climates or a greenhouse environment.

It’s not easy to make the final selection, since there are so many factors that influence or limit your choice. These include:

  • Space,
  • Cold Hardiness,
  • Chill Requirements,
  • Pollination Requirements,
  • Disease Resistance,
  • Humidity Tolerance,
  • Drought Resistance, and
  • Dwarfing Rootstocks.

SPACE. The number and varieties of fruit and nut trees you plant is limited by the space you have available. The recommended orchard spacing for each variety is shown on the accompanying chart; however, there are several ways to overcome this limitation.

  • Incorporate the orchard as part of the landscape, such as a wind screen or property divider.
  • Espalier the trees against a wall or fence.
  • Plant dwarf or semi-dwarf trees.
  • For those who have patios or balconies, grow dwarf trees in containers.

COLD HARDINESS. If you live in a cold climate, choose only varieties that will not be damaged or killed by the lowest temperatures expected in your area. This is especially true for peaches, which cannot survive subzero weather and late spring frosts. Some cold-hardy varieties of fruits include peaches of the Candor, Reliance and Madison varieties; Macintosh apples; and North Star cherries.

CHILL REQUIREMENTS. The converse of cold-hardiness is found in some fruits that will not produce unless they have a minimum number of hours below 45 degrees F during their dormant season.

If you live in an area where the winters are mild and the summers are hot, select varieties that have limited winter chill requirements, such as Desertgold peaches; Kieffer pears; and apples of the Anna, Ein Shemer and Tropical Beauty varieties. Stark Brothers Nurseries (Louisiana, MO 63353) give special attention in their catalog to trees recommended specifically for southern or northern climates.

POLLINATION. Some fruit trees require two or more compatible varieties nearby for adequate cross-pollination. Sometimes, even though a tree blooms profusely, it will not set fruit unless the proper pollinating variety is in bloom nearby. Nursery catalogs will provide specific pollination requirements so that you can choose two varieties of the same fruit with overlapping bloom time.

DISEASE RESISTANCE. Some varieties are more susceptible to blight, fungus diseases and mildew than others. A little research to identify resistant varieties can pay off in better crops with less spraying. Some nurseries also will certify that their stock is virus free, an important plus.

If you are considering planting a pear tree, it is important to look for varieties that are resistance to fire blight, a disease that is devastating the pear orchards in this country.

HUMIDITY TOLERANCE AND DROUGHT RESISTANCE. Orchards in humid climates of the South and Southeast generally have more severe problems of viral, bacterial and fungus diseases; therefore, any tree with humidity tolerance is a better choice for those areas. Likewise, orchardists of the West and Southwest, where there is little seasonal rainfall, should look for drought resistant varieties.

DWARFING ROOTSTOCKS. The development of dwarf and semi-dwarf apple trees is significant enough to warrant special mention, for it is revolutionizing the apple growing industry. Handmade grafts join top sections of one variety with the rootstock of another, resulting in a highly productive yet smaller tree. Smaller trees can be planted closer together, resulting in more trees and apples per acre than from standard size trees.

Dwarf and semi-dwarf apple trees are a must for the home orchards, since they not only save space, but also eliminate the need for large ladders and special equipment for pruning, spraying, and picking. In addition, they bear fruit earlier. Study the available rootstock varieties closely since some have better disease and drought resistance, as well as other attributes, than others.

It’s entertaining and educational to browse through books and catalogs to put together your orchard selections. While catalogs are useful in learning about the variety that is available, sometimes problems with labeling, orders, or delivery can arise in mail order purchasing. Once I ordered peaches and got nectarines instead. I found this mistake three years after planting when the trees started to bear fruit.

Other resources can be found by asking your neighbors and the county agricultural agent to advise you on varieties that have produced well in your area. Local nurseries also can provide recommendations for your area’s best producers.

If you like to experiment and want to try varieties that aren’t even in the catalogs yet, then write for information from these organizations:

  • New York State Fruit Testing Cooperative Association, Inc. (Geneva, NY 14456).
  • California Rare Fruit Growers (California State University, Fullerton, CA 92634).
  • The Home Orchard Society (2511 Southwest Miles St., Portland, OR 97219).
  • The North American Fruit Explorers (PO Box 711, St. Louis, MO 63188).

The wonderful thing about planting an orchard is that you can look forward to years of not only eating and enjoying the fruits but the joy and beauty of seeing the new buds and blossoms appear during the spring.

FRUIT AND NUT CHART

FRUITS Tree height (in feet) Bears fruit after planting Suggested spacing (in feet) Average yield for 10-year-old tree
Apple
Dwarf (M-9) 10-12 2-3 years 6 x 10 2-3 bushels
Dwarf (M-26) 14 2-3 years 8 x 10 3-4 bushels
Semi-dwarf (M-7) 20 3 years 12 x 20 10-12 bushels
Standard 35-45 5-8 years 20 x 30 25 or more bushels
Apricot 20 2-3 years 15 x 25 3-6 bushels
Cherry
Sour 20-25 2-3 years 15 x 25 20 quarts or more
Sweet 25-30 4-5 years 18 x 25 50 quarts or more
Peach & Nectarine 20-24 2-3 years 15 x 25 3-5 bushels
Pear
Semi-dwarf 20 2-3 years 10 x 18 5-10 bushes
Standard 25-35 3-5 years 18 x 25 15 or more bushels
Plum 20-24 2-3 years 15 x 25 3-6 bushels
NUTS
Almond 10-15 2-3 years 15 x 15
Black Walnut 50 3-5 years 35 x 35
Butternut 50 3-5 years 35 x 35
Chestnut 40 3-5 years 30 x 30
English Walnut 40 3-5 years 35 x 35
Filbert 18 3-5 years 15 x 15
Hickory 40 5-10 years 30 x 30
Pecan 50-70 5-10 years 40 x 40

What you have in your mind?