The thought of having seasonal fruits growing in your backyard and knowing you only need to walk out to harvest them is exciting. However, like other plants, you must ensure you get it right, from the choice of fruit trees to the planting area and the care.
It is not hard to grow an orchard, but you need to choose fruit trees that thrive in your USDA zone. Do you want fruits for your family or for sale? You also need to consider the longevity of dwarf varieties and trees with deep roots. The type of soil and the period to maturity also matter.
An orchard is an excellent, long-term investment. Fruit trees require minimal maintenance compared to other plants. In this article, I’ll discuss what you need to know about orchards, how to grow them, and the precautions to take.
Factors That Make Orchard Growing Hard
At a glance, you may assume that orchards are easy to grow. After all, the fruit trees seem to be growing with little or no help. However, fruiting trees need a good foundation to keep producing fruits for years.
USDA Hardiness Zone
When choosing fruit trees for your orchard, your preference may not be a priority. You need to pick fruit trees that do well in your zone.
Fruit trees are sensitive to seasonal and temperature changes. Also, some fruit varieties are hardier than others and can survive freezing temperatures. Others, like citrus fruits, prefer warmer climates.
Some fruit trees will survive in the wrong growing zones, but they will not thrive. This deceptiveness will cost you time and space, yet you will not enjoy the fruits you hoped to harvest.
|USDA Zone||Fruits||Lowest Growing Temperatures|
|Zone 2||Coldest growing zone (-50°F/-45°C)|
|Zone 3||Plenty of snow with winter temperatures as low as -40°F(-40°C)|
|Zone 4||-20°F (-28°C)|
|Zone 5||-10° to -20°F ( -23° to -28°C)|
|Zone 6||-10° to 0°F (-23° to -17°C)|
|Zone 7||Mild winters 0° to 10°F (-17° to -12°C)|
|Zone 8||10°F to 20°F (-12°C to -6°C)|
|Zone 9||Subtropical temperature range 20°F – 30°F (-6.6°C to -1°C)|
When choosing the fruit trees to grow per zone, you need to get the variety likely to thrive in that region. As mentioned, some fruit varieties are hardier than others, so you need to get this right, especially if your zone has harsh winters and hot summers.
Dwarf vs. Standard-Size Rootstock
Another challenge you will encounter in your plans to grow an orchard is whether to grow dwarf rootstock or go for standard-size trees [Will Air Plants Kill A Tree? The Science Explained].
Dwarf fruit trees (grafted varieties) have become popular because they start producing fruit early and don’t take up much space.Commercial fruit growers prefer grafted fruits because they can grow many trees in small spaces. These fruit trees are also popular in urban areas because they don’t have deep roots and grow well in small gardens.
Standard-size rootstocks are the traditional fruit trees that grow tall and produce fruits for years. Once established, these trees don’t need much attention because they have deep and thick root systems that seek nutrients and water.
Dwarf fruit trees, on the other hand, have a shorter lifespan. Most grafted fruits stop producing fruits within a few years, or the fruit sizes keep reducing. You also need to keep fertilizing and watering the trees because they have weak root systems.
So, will you compromise and give dwarf trees extra care to have fruits within a few years, or plant standard-size trees and wait a long time to enjoy the fruits?
You also need to consider the long-term benefits of the orchard. You may need to plant new fruit trees in a few years if you opt for dwarf varieties. Conversely, standard-size trees are permanent and can be passed down to future generations unless you cut them down.
|Dwarf Fruit Trees||Standard-size trees|
Here is a great video discussing orchards and what you need to consider before growing one.
Soil Moisture and Water Availability
When choosing the location for your orchard, you need to ensure you have easy access to water. Many people choose orchards because fruit trees grow with minimal attention. However, you need to know the annual moisture levels in your region and determine if they will be sufficient for the fruits you intend to grow.
Stone fruit trees, such as plums, cherries, and peaches, are sensitive to wet conditions. They quickly rot or develop fungal diseases. Since dwarf fruit trees have shallow roots, they are also vulnerable to decay when exposed to damp soil.
If the soil in your area is constantly damp, you should consider growing fruit trees that favor high moisture. They include:
- Gala Apple
- Asian pears
Fruits that tolerate wet soil for a limited period include:
If your area experiences dry conditions for extended periods, you will need to water the fruit trees, whether you have dwarf or standard-sized trees. Consider the distance of the orchard from the water source and the best way to water the fruit trees.
An orchard that is too far from a water source may require a more significant commitment to irrigation. Do you have the time, or can you set up an irrigation system for easier management?
You can also consider digging a deeper and broader planting hole for fruit trees that need more water. The roots will spread out and grow deeper.
Some of these decisions are difficult to make and complicate your choice to have an orchard. However, if you can find an ideal solution, you will have an easier time growing an orchard.
Fruit Varieties and Spreading the Harvest Seasons
Another issue you will battle with is whether to plant the same fruit trees or have a variety of fruits. If you have a small garden, you can grow different grafted fruits.
When choosing fruits to grow, you need to select those that require similar conditions. This way, you will have an easier time providing the same care and growing conditions for all your fruit trees.
You also need to do a soil test to confirm nutrient and pH levels. Most fruit trees do well in slightly acidic soil with a 6.5 – 7.5 pH. The soil structure should also support root growth for easier access to water and air.
Another factor you need to have in mind is the harvest season. Are you ready to harvest lots of fruits at the same time? You need to start thinking of harvest challenges even before you plant.
If you wish to harvest fruits over a long period, consider planting early cultivars, mid-season cultivars, and late-season cultivars in your orchard.
|Fruits||Early Season Cultivars||Mid-season Cultivars||Late-season Cultivars|
|Liberty (early September)||Enterprise (early October)||Arkansas Black (late October)|
|Harrow Delight (early August)||Honeysweet (late August)||Starking Delicious (early September)|
|Flamin’ Fury PF-1 (late June)||Contender (August)||Blushingstar (late August)|
|Goldcot (early July)||Harglow (late July)|
|Montmorency (Mid-june)||Balaton (Late July)|
Planting an orchard is more than going to a nursery and picking your favorite fruit seedlings. You have to make multiple decisions that may see you choose fruits you hadn’t considered and, in some cases, sacrifice the fruits you wanted.
Growing an orchard involves making a series of decisions. Some require compromise based on the climate, size of your garden, and the care needed.
If you make a mistake, fruit trees don’t always communicate instantly. It may take years of waiting for fruits, only to be left with many non-fruiting trees because you made some mistakes when establishing the orchard.