Many people believe that if they do not have a fair amount of acreage, they cannot have an orchard of fruit trees. In a commercial sense, this is true. Several acres of trees are required for commercial operations in fruit growing, but private orchards can be as little as three or four trees on a hundred square feet or so of space. Almost any yard can accommodate that.
The plan is all about the growing zone and the size of the trees being used. Commercial fruit trees are generally large so they’ll bear more fruit per foot – important in commercial operations. At home, that’s not so important as is ease of maintenance and harvest. So smaller trees are the better choice.
It’s also possible to plant more densely at home as the impact this has on machinery and yields is not as important to the home grower. This means more trees in less space.
The important thing to know is that fruit trees are either self-pollinating or they are not. Be sure you know which you are getting so you know whether you need other similar trees in order to bear fruit. A cherry tree, for instance, will likely need other trees of the same family in order to bear cherries. On the other hand, many apple trees are self-pollinating and do not require others.
The home grower also has one other option that is important for consideration: multi-fruit trees. There are commercial grafts available that involve several types of fruit on one tree. These are usually started from an apple tree base onto which other fruit limbs are grafted to create as many as six different fruits on one individual tree. These are usually complementary fruits (apples, pears, plums, etc.) that can also cross-pollinate to make the tree self-sustaining. Although these multi-fruits can require more maintenance, they are often worth the effort for the payoff in variety from a small space.
Ideas on Fruit Trees to Grow
Most nurseries that cater to the general public will carry smaller varieties of favorite fruit trees, perfect for the backyard orchard. Pick fruits based on their compatibility (see above), how much you enjoy the fruit, and how much yield can be expected from a mature tree.
You should also think about when they bear ripe fruit and how this will interact with other trees you may have or planning to install. Nothing is worse than spending a weekend on a mad scramble to harvest all of your fruit at once. Most different types of fruit ripen at slightly different times, allowing you to stagger the harvest over a month or two instead of all at once.
Popular trees are various forms of apple, sweet cherries (bing is one of several varieties), pears, peaches, plums, etc. Unusual choices might include bananas, several types of nut trees, or even large bushy trees like the hazelnut.
How To Set Up a Backyard Orchard
Setting up your orchard will depend on your space and landscape. Most trees need good, well-drained soil and prefer slightly higher ground for drainage. Deep soil (up to six feet) is also important. So pick the area(s) you wish to grow your trees in and dig down as far as you can to look at that soil. If possible, have an expert examine it for you.
Once that is done, choose your trees and then plant them carefully, sticking to your plan so that you do not place cross-pollinators too close or too far (depending on your goal). For the first two or three years, you’ll likely have to stake the trees (and then re-stake and re-tie twice a year as they grow) to protect them from wind and you may need to fence or otherwise protect them from pests like deer and rodents.
Train the trees to grow upwards and for most types, you should train them to “trunk” – have a defined trunk with no branches – for the first few feet. This encourages rounder, less leggy canopies and better limb disbursement. Lower branches on untrained trees rarely bear any fruit and are often an energy drain on the rest of the tree as their branches must go the furthest to get to the sun.
After that, it’s all about waiting and doing simple maintenance to keep your orchard healthy. Enjoy!