How to Plan an Orchard
An orchard can be any planting of three or more fruit trees. Domestic orchards vary according to the size of the garden and an individual’s personal requirements. Commercial orchards can be thousands of trees, selected and managed to produce maximum yield.
The first thing to consider when planning a domestic orchard is what size tree would work best in the space available.
The most vigorous rootstocks, such as M25 for apples or Pyrus communis for pears, will produce large, traditional, standard trees that are best planted about 30ft (10 metres) apart. Trees this vigorous can reach 20ft tall and whilst they may take a few years to produce a good crop, they will ultimately live much longer than trees on dwarfing rootstocks and provide lots of fruit for many years.
Semi-vigorous rootstocks are an excellent choice for a typical domestic orchard, MM106 for apples or Colt for cherries, for example. This size tree can be pruned as a bush with branches lower down or as a half-standard with a clear stem of a metre or so. Lower branches make harvesting fruit more straightforward but a taller stem makes it easier to mow between the trees. A planting distance of about 15ft (5 metres) is recommended. Semi-vigorous rootstocks are also ideal for training trees as espaliers or fans against walls or along wires.
Smaller trees on dwarfing rootstocks are ideal for growing more varieties in a limited space. They can be planted 10ft (3 metres) apart and tend to start cropping within the first few years. Some varieties can be kept in a container. Cordons and step-overs are also worth considering for small spaces.
For more information on rootstocks visit www.frankpmatthews.com/advice/fruit_rootstocks/
Once you have decided the most suitable sized tree, you can calculate how many trees will fit in the space.
The next task is to research which varieties will thrive in your location. Most fruit trees will do well in most areas of the UK, but some may not be very successful in coastal regions, high altitudes or northern parts. Earlier flowering varieties, such as peaches and apricots, prefer a warm, sheltered location so the blossom isn’t damaged by frost. Apples and plums are usually very hardy, pears and cherries do better in sunnier locations.
Deciding which particular varieties to plant will be mostly down to personal taste. Choosing a selection that produces fruit over several weeks will extend the cropping period. It is also worth checking which varieties produce fruit that stores well for later in the year.
Pollination is generally not something to worry about, unless the planting site is very remote. Bees and other insects travel long distances so there should be no issue in urban areas. You can aid pollination by including some self-fertile varieties.
Tree stakes and ties are recommended for the first few years whilst the trees get their roots down. After this they can be removed, except for trees on dwarfing rootstocks which can benefit from a permanent stake, especially in exposed areas. A sachet of rootgrow at planting and some liquid Tree Feed can help provide a good start. If the soil is poor, adding some general purpose compost is recommended.
If there is any risk of rabbits or garden strimmers then a guard around the tree trunk is essential! More substantial protection will be needed if there are deer or large animals such as sheep, cattle or horses.
Trees should be watered well in the first summer. The following years will require less watering and once the tree is established it shouldn’t need watering at all.
An orchard will provide plenty of fruit for many years and will enhance any garden. The trees also make great habitat for wildlife, so well worth planting.
If you would like assistance with planting an orchard on any scale, please email email@example.com