Starting Your Own Home Orchard
Have you been wondering why fruit just doesn’t taste like it used to? Maybe it’s time to consider starting your own home orchard. You just can’t beat the taste of tree-ripened fruit!
So, where do you start?
Grab a piece of paper and ask yourself some basic questions:
- Do you have a full sun position for fruit trees? By this I mean, does the spot you have in mind enjoy sunshine most of the day.
- A supply of water?
- A reasonable soil type in your garden?
- A desire to grow your own fruit trees?
If you can answer yes to these questions, you need a plan to determine what your options are, and how to go about implementing them. This may include a soil improvement strategy well before you consider planting.
Starting a Home Orchard: Ready?
Okay, so what fruits do you like to eat? Make a list of your top 10 favourites. Include those high-yielding trees with fruit that can be easily preserved in the freezer for the times of the year when fresh fruit is hard to source. I’m thinking of stewed Satsuma plums, Granny Smith apples, those famous Moorpark Apricots or some peach varieties like Golden Queen or Elberta.
If your idea of fruit trees is more about variety than quantity, you may next consider what form your trees are going to be grown to. There are many ways to grow your trees other than a single planted huge tree in the middle of the garden. There are now many dwarf fruit tree varieties. The advantages of dwarf trees are numerous. For one, there’s less pruning. They’re easier to net. Plus, closer planting means more varieties and easier pollination. You may be tight for space and only have full sun on your fence lines. Then maybe espalier is the way to go, training your trees in a two-dimensional fashion to save space and capture the sun that is available in your garden. Espalier can also provide a natural screen and is simple to net.
Double planting and double grafts are another way to maximise the use of the precious space. Multi-grafted trees can be problematic if one of the grafts has a more vigorous cultivar than the other graft, as they are both growing from the same rootstock. It is difficult to regulate the growth of one without affecting the other. Double planting can address this issue as they are separate trees, one can be pruned harder to balance the shape of the mirrored trees.
Don’t forget your citrus trees! If you’re running out of space, remember, citrus trees are evergreen and can form part of your landscape, even in the front yard without looking too conspicuous.
Home Orchard: What Next?
Next, look to see if the fruit you have chosen needs another tree as a pollinator, as some trees will need another variety to cross pollinate in order to produce fruit. Apples and cherries are notorious for this problem—if a compatible tree is not close to your specific variety. It is a good idea, if you can, to check your neighbour’s trees as they may provide you with a pollinator. This way, you don’t have to grow a tree you don’t necessarily want.
Next, check when the fruit will be harvested. In other words, what month? and what time of the month: early, mid or end? This will prevent you from having all your fruit in a very small window of time and nothing on many other months of the year. For example, Peach and Peacherine varieties can fruit from the end of November to the beginning December. Or from the end of December to the beginning January. Or from the end of January to the beginning February … even to mid-February and middle March! So, as you can see, choosing your varieties is an important planning decision.
Next, your site preparation. Check the pH of your soil and adjust it if needed. Dig square holes, not round ones, and hack into the sides to stop the tree roots from going around and around the hole and becoming root bound. Prepare the ground well before you are ready to plant. Feed the ground with humate and add some compost to build up the microbe population in the soil. Let the ground sit for a couple of months.
Ensure the site is not waterlogged in winter and that water can drain away from the tree’s root system.
Try to pre-order your deciduous fruit trees bare rooted if possible. They will become available early- to mid-winter. This is the best time to plant pome and stone fruit varieties. Citrus trees are better planted in September when ground is starting to warm up. I recommend no fertiliser when planting new trees except a very small handful of Blood & Bone mixed in the soil at the bottom of the hole.
When planting trees, mix a small amount of compost to activate the soil biota. Keeping your newly planted trees well-watered through their first two summers is vital in developing the young tree.
Remember bare-rooted trees are dug from the ground and in the process, many roots are cut off. Prior to planting, trim off any obvious broken roots and prune the top off the tree by about a third. Define what your main branches are going to be, then prune off all the spindly wood that is not on a main branch. This is your first lesson in formative pruning.
Pruning the young bare-rooted tree will take the pressure off it to feed its tall branches and allow it to focus its energy on growing a strong root system.
Once fruit has set on a young tree after flowering, remove the fruit before it starts to grow and become heavy. This will allow the tree to grow strong without bearing any weight on the young immature limbs. The leverage effect on the tree branch socket from a piece of fruit hanging on the tip of a branch may not be evident in a young tree; however, the fracture may cause a weak branch to develop and break off years later, when it is heavy with fruit.