Step 2: Designing the Orchard (Part I)

Hi everyone!  It’s time to move on to designing the orchard layout.  First I’d like to highlight key points from Step 1: Planning the Orchard.

Step 1 Highlights

    • Identify and implement how to organize information collected
    • Answer Important questions:
      • What do I want to grow and why?
      • What are my resources?
      • Why do I want a fruit and veggie garden?
      • Create a brief “Garden Statement” summarizing answers to the questions above
    • Education
      • Fruit trees I want to plant
      • Height and width at maturity
      • Spacing requirements
      • Rootstocks that do well in my area + basic care information
      • Assess outdoor space
        • Walk property and note items that need to be cleared or removed
      • Take measurements of both front and back yard
        • note property lines and easements
        • note outside measurement of house
        • determine position of home within the property
    • Sketch property and structures
      • Note requirements (i.e., views, gates, etc.)

Beginning the Design Process

To begin the design process, I grabbed the rough sketch of my property where I noted all of the measurements I collected, my home’s placement, structures, etc. and I walked my property again.  At this point, I indicated North, South, East and West positions on my sketch (later I used both Google Maps and the County Assessors site to verify my observations).

  • Visualize and Observe
    As I walked the property, with sketch in hand (referring to it often), I began to visualize my future fruit trees in different areas within my property.  Observing my property more intently helped to raise critical questions that I needed to answer.  I knew my orchard’s success depended on it.

Important Note: I took the time I needed to observe my property as thoroughly as I could to consider my options and needs and to visualize my future orchard.  Trust me; it’s better to spend more time planning and observing upfront than to realize that something was amiss as you plant your trees.  I wanted to get it as close to right the first time.  I know a huge portion of patience is required at this stage, but it will pay-off.  Planning and observation are “keys” to success.

Questions that came to mind…

    • Do I want any of my trees to provide shade for anything?
    • What microclimates do I have within my property?
      • Reflected heat/light from large paved areas or West facing wall
      • Radiated heat from a wall that absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night
      • Areas protected from or more exposed to frost/cold
      • Areas that are warmer or cooler
      • Any areas with increased humidity (i.e., swimming pools, ponds, etc.)
      • Shaded areas
      • Areas sheltered by the wind or fully exposed to chilly North West winter winds or hot summer winds
    • What areas have poor drainage and good drainage?
    • Are weeds out of control any place within my yard?
    • Do the areas I’m considering get full sun for 6 or more hours a day?
    • Is anything overgrown that could compete for water and nutrients?
    • Are there any neighboring buildings, trees, fences or other obstacles casting shadows onto my property any time of the day?
    • Where’s my access to water?  Will it be convenient if I’m using a hose?
    • What is my soil type?
    • Do I want to use raised beds or plant directly into the ground?
    • How will I get compost and mulch to my trees?

By answering the questions above and making key notes on my preliminary sketch along with knowing what fruit trees I wanted to include in my orchard and their basic planting and growing needs, I was able to identify optimal planting areas within my property.

  • Revisit Orchard Spacing Requirements
    Next, I needed to revisit my spacing decisions before noting them on my sketch. I knew I wanted semi-dwarf trees and I wanted to follow the UNCE Orchard’s model for planting each tree in a 10×10 space.  To easily perform harvesting and maintenance tasks of my 7 feet to 8 feet high “ladderless” trees, I decided it would be beneficial to have at least 2 feet to 3 feet of space between each row of trees. If I needed to drive large equipment through the orchard rows, I would obviously need more space.
  • Electronic Version of Sketch
    At this point, it was time to transfer my sketch to a graphics program on my computer.  There are several landscape design programs out there that will do most of the work for you with drag and drop options, or some folks prefer to use grid paper to layout their design.  I opted for a more DIY-approach.  It’s just the kinda gal I am.
  • Narrow Down Your Orchard Space
    To begin, I drew out several 10×10 squares (one square for each tree I wanted in my orchard).  Next, I typed in the name of a fruit tree on each square.  This allowed me to easily move around and rearrange the squares within my plan.  The purpose: to narrow down an area(s) I could plant my fruit trees.Things to remember when positioning your trees within your design…
    1)      Site and planting requirements for each tree
    2)      Required pollinators and additional varieties for better cross-pollination need to be placed close by (review each rootstock/tree variety for more info)
    3)      A Master Gardener in town highly recommended that I keep fruit trees planted in groups as follows:Stone fruits (Clingstone or Freestone) such as Nectarines, Plums, Apricots, Peaches, Cherries, and AlmondsSeed fruits such as Apples, Pears, Figs, Pomegranates, etc.
    4)      Planting Pattern – to layout rows in a square pattern or staggered

Hope that’s enough to digest for awhile. It’s getting late and I have a ton of running around to do tomorrow.  This weekend is another DIY marathon, so it will probably be another “zombieland” weekend for me 😛

Be sure to check out Part II of Designing the Orchard

God Bless,



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