Hi friends! Lately, I’ve had a few of you ask about my orchard planting strategy. More specifically, why I laid out and planted my orchard the way I did. So with that in mind, I’d like to talk with you today about how I came up with my fruit tree planting plan. Basically, my approach to the pressing home orchard question ~ what will go where and why?
When planning out our front and backyard fruit orchards, we had several important decisions to make before putting pen to paper. Especially since we had already decided to take full advantage of the fact that our community was HOA-free. To do this, we decided to set up two separate and distinct orchard areas… the back yard and the front yard. It was so nice to be able to use our front yard this way without hesitation or without someone else’s permission. To celebrate our bureaucratic freedom, I did a little happy dance in our front yard, of course being careful not to trip over the bazillion-and-one large rocks and boulders we inherited from the previous owners o_O
In making the decision to use both the front and backyards for our orchard, we knew it would bring with it a number of planning challenges and questions that needed to be answered. Much of which involved lots of note taking, brainstorming, preliminary sketches, as well as hours of research. We wanted it to be as close to “right” as we possibly could get it.
From the very beginning, our hearts were set on growing a wide variety of fruits and nuts like peaches, apples, pomegranates, figs, apricots, almonds, pistachios and so much more. A good mix of stone fruits, seeded fruits and nut trees. We also wanted to leave room in the orchard for a few fruit trees that may appeal to us down the road.
Answering this question for ourselves was far from straightforward and involved a good amount of research, brainstorming and sketching things out on paper. So to just pass along a snippet of info or to simply hint at our solution would be doing a disservice to those who would like more direction with this topic. For this reason, I’ve listed out our complete strategy below.
What Will Go Where?
We started to address this question by putting together our wish list of fruit and nut trees. With our list in hand, we could easily begin researching each tree’s requirements and attributes. Also, keep in mind that at this point we had already decided to maintain both orchards as ladderless by keeping our fruit trees at around 8’ high and 10’ wide. So the need to know each tree’s maturity size was rather pointless.
As I began my research, I thought it would be helpful to gather the following information…
- Approximate harvest dates
- Category of fruit (stone fruit, seeded fruit or nut tree)
- Identify as Self-fruitful or Pollinator Required (+ a list of potential pollinator trees)
- Root stocks (we used the UNCE Orchard’s recommendations)
- Maintenance requirements (i.e., pruning, water, etc.)
- Photos of each fruit tree in bloom as well as with and without leaves
Next, I decided to seek the advice of a master gardener here in Las Vegas, Nevada who had extensive experience working with fruit and nut trees at the local UNCE/Master Gardener Orchard here on the north end of town. Her advice was to keep the seeded fruit trees in one area and the stone fruit trees in the other. This advice appealed to my analytical side and seemed quite orderly to me at the time.
With the advice still fresh on my mind, I decided to dig deeper into my research. I wanted my decisions to be based on well-thought out and factual information versus something that just calmed my need for organization.
As I continued collecting data, I decided to enter it into an Excel spreadsheet to make life a little easier for myself. I also found it helpful to make a separate list of things I wanted to address with the orchard. Things like…
- and Visual Appeal (both inside and outside my home)
Based on my research, I identified the following important considerations for fruit tree placement within a home orchard…
As I reviewed my list of fruit trees and information, I realized that several of the fruit trees I chose required pollinators. My research had revealed that for the best pollination possible, the closer the fruit trees were planted to their pollinator the better. This fact alone dictated placement for several of the trees on my list.
For Example: my Pluots (Flavor King, Flavor Queen, Flavor Supreme and Flavor Grenade) all require a pollinator such as a Burgundy Plum or a Santa Rosa Plum. Some of the Pluots can even be pollinated by another Pluot. I chose to go with the beautiful Weeping Santa Rosa Plum.
Other trees on my list that required pollinators were the Asian pears. My low-chill cherries also require a pollinator, but we planted these later in a couple of the “reserved” spots within our orchard.
While researching, I came across several knowledgeable resources that mentioned cross-pollination with the same fruit-type can produce better yields. I’m uncertain if this is truly occurring in my orchard or not. Currently, I have just one Aprium (apricot/plum), one nectarine and one peach tree that are self-fruitful and I had a bumper crop with all of these trees this year. So, unless my bees are tracking in pollen from other fruit trees in the area (which may very well be the case), my trees are super-stars at returning the love they’re given :D
Here’s an important consideration that a lot of folks forget to think through. Maintenance. Which trees are going to require the most attention and care? Will some of the trees require lots of summer pruning or have the potential for mushy fruit on the ground? Doing both a backyard and a front yard orchard? Where do you think you’ll spend most of your time?
For me, I knew that the bulk of my time would be spent in the backyard orchard since this is where my veggie garden is located and the bulk of our fruit trees would be. That’s why I wanted my front yard orchard to be lower maintenance than the back and chose seeded fruit like apples and asian pears. Both have a tendency to grow much slower than some of the stone fruit though my Hosui Asian Pear’s new growth reaches for the sun and requires minor summer pruning.
In my opinion, stone fruit trees are much higher maintenance than seeded fruit trees. Stone fruit trees require heavier pruning in spring and one or more summer pruning each year. And from my experience, these trees, especially my peach, can make a yucky mushy mess with its more frequent fruit drop. Keep in mind that any fruit tree can make a gooey sticky mess under its canopy if the orchardist fails to pick up the dropped fruit in a timely manner. Just saying.
Now to be only fair, I must mention that my aprium, pluots and plum are fairly “mess-free”. They are a preferred target for the birds and can drop bird pecked fruit on a fairly regular basis. To me, these trees would also be great candidates for a front yard orchard, except for the fact that they do require bird protection ~ which can look quite unsightly.
Keeping trees with similar maintenance requirements in the same general area can help make quick work of the “clean-up” process. After planting, I did find this to be true and I’m so glad we incorporated this into our plan.
I also found it extremely helpful, especially in the beginning, to have fruit trees with similar pruning requirements close by each other . It just makes pruning tasks go that much faster. Less “stop and think” action.
- Peaches and Nectarines
- Apricots, Plums and Pluots
- Apples, Pears and Quince
- Figs, Pomegranates and Persimmons
- Almonds and Pistachios
Citrus and cherries have their own set of pruning requirements.
Some fruit and nut trees require just a little bit different approach to pest control. Especially from the furry and feathery kind.
Early on, we knew that we would need to do some sort of bird netting setup on our fruit trees but had no clue as to what that really looked like at that time or how to account for it in our overall orchard design.
Our current bird netting frame system worked out quite well for us, in our backyard orchard, based on some of the other decisions we made in our orchard plan (see Harvest below). Because our bird netting frame is quite large and obvious, we have been extremely reluctant to use it in our front yard orchard. Our Black Mission Fig tree in the front can definitely use some help, though ~ and soon! It’s become a favorite dining spot for Mocking Birds of all ages to sink their beaks in and feast on our delicious sweet figs. When we’re lucky enough to be able to eat one, we can delight in how great they taste this year.
I think the key to our bird netting frame success and ease of use revolves around the fact that we took the time to consider harvest times in our fruit tree placement. It has worked out nicely being able to, for the most part, harvest our way consecutively down a row. There’s just something very satisfying about this process. Check. Done. Move to the left :)
Another important consideration is water. Based on my research, I confirmed that most of our fruit trees have similar watering requirements, except for a small handful of trees that require either less water or a different watering approach (i.e., pomegranates, citrus, avocado).
Forgetting to plan this out properly could become problematic. Planting a water-thirsty tree, like a fig, smack dab in the middle of an orchard full of drought tolerant, low water usage fruit trees would not be ideal. It could work if an additional water source was available or if the water-thirsty tree was on its own water-line (an irrigation planning nightmare in the making?). Both would require more effort on the orchardist’s part.
We knew we needed to do something different for our pomegranates, citrus and future avocado, so we segmented a section off from the main backyard orchard just for these trees. A separate water-line was dedicated to this area so we could adjust the water specific to their needs.
Let me first start this section by saying that I tried to come up with a gentle term for this, but I guess I have to call it for what it is.
Fruit pilfering is wise to consider, especially if growing fruit trees in an unprotected area for all to see, like a front yard orchard. It’s a very important consideration for those who are really bothered by the thought of others helping themselves to fruit.
With our decision to set up a front yard orchard, we felt fairly safe doing so since we planned to initially encircle our orchard with the bazillion hard to maneuver rocks and boulders in the front yard. Later, we plan to enclose our front yard with fencing or a wall of some sort and a gate. Also, our neighborhood does not have sidewalks, so onlookers have to admire our trees from afar.
It also helps to share fruit with neighbors. They can enjoy the harvest with you and will be more likely to keep another set of watchful eyes on the orchard :D
Aesthetics and Privacy
Most people either overlook this consideration or focus most of their attention on it. Both actions can easily come back to bite you in the ole’ rumpola and it may be next to impossible to try to work this into the plan after all the fruit trees have been planted :'(
Myself personally, aesthetics and privacy are important to me. I love looking out the windows of my home to see my orchard trees. The orchard is quite beautiful throughout the different seasons, but especially in the spring when all of the flowers are blooming. I also love the privacy that some of my well placed fruit trees provide us.
One of my requirements was to plant a fruit tree with exceptional beauty qualities just outside my kitchen window. Something extra beautiful that I could gaze upon from my kitchen while chopping up fresh veggies or washing my freshly harvested fruit. Hence the placement of my newly planted Spice Zee Nectaplum. It has gorgeous dark red leaves in early spring and turns a nice shade of green in summer. It’s especially nice that the new growth in summer comes out red then changes as it matures.
There’s a part of me that wishes I would have planted the Weeping Santa Rosa plum just outside the kitchen window with its lovely weeping structure, but I do have it planted fairly close by and can see it from the kitchen as well.
In addition to a few focal point trees in the orchard, we also wanted to shade the west wall of our home to help keep the house cooler during the summer months. Hence the pomegranates being planted up against that wall. We knew they could take the heat well and would grow quickly to provide the shade we wanted.
Other Needs To Account For
Finally, we gave careful consideration to any “special requirements” that some of the fruit trees on our list have.
- Wind protection (Pluots)
- Winter protection (Citrus and Avocados)
- Afternoon shade (Cherries)
A Special Note About Nut Trees
Before I conclude, I’ve listed a few points for those of you who are planning to grow nut trees.
- Avoid planting nut trees right up against a wall if squirrels or other rodents are a problem; it gives them super easy “private” access into the tree
- Beware of black walnut toxicity ~ it can hinder the growth of certain trees and plants around it (by several feet)
- Nut trees can be planted just about anywhere or with any other fruit or nut tree, as long as it has plenty of sunlight, the right amount of water and room to grow.
- Some nut trees, like pistachios, need a male tree that can pollinate several female trees
For the home orchardist, I feel it makes very little difference whether you group your fruit tree plantings by stone fruit, seeded fruit or nut trees –or- intermix your fruit and nut tree varieties… as long as you’ve properly planned and considered all of your likes and dislikes, options, tree requirements, etc. when making your final planting decisions. Planning is key!