Has it been your dream to grow your own fruit, but you don’t know how to start an orchard? We’re going to teach you how to start an orchard and get you on the way to growing your own food.
Adding fruit trees to your yard or homestead is wonderful to provide food for you and your family that doesn’t need to be replanted year after year. They can also become a great way to supplement your homestead with a bit of cash if you want to sell your excess fruit.
Here at Rosevine Cottage, we’ve got a wide range of fruit trees that we planted through the years from peaches, pears, plums, cherries, and apples. An orchard is a lot of work but having homegrown, organic fruit is absolutely worth the work for us.
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How To Start An Orchard: Where To Start
Starting an orchard can feel really overwhelming trust me we felt the same way when we first started ours, over the last 20+ years we’ve learned a lot, so we’re going to break down some basics you need to know so you don’t make the same mistakes that we did when we first started.
What Is An Orchard?
What is an orchard you ask? An orchard is a grove of trees that produce fruits like apples, peaches, or even oranges. Some are private, some allow customers to pick their own fruit, and others harvest and sell their produce.
How Many Trees Does It Take To Make An Orchard?
There is no definite answer on how many trees make up an orchard, the answer is not going to look different for every person. Just like a homestead is as unique as the person that creates it, an orchard is going to be unique.
Decide what your end goal for your orchard would be and go from there. If you live on a mini homestead or in an urban area maybe that looks like 2-3 fruit trees in your yard. If you are looking to grow on a larger scale that could look like 100-400 trees over an acre. Sit down and flesh out what your end goal for your orchard is.
- are you wanting to provide food for your family?
- are you looking to do farmers markets?
- do you want to do a large scale orchard that sells to the public?
Now that you know what you want from an orchard, here are some more things to consider when planning how to start an orchard:
- how many trees do your need to reach that goal?
- what kind of fruit do you want to grow?
- does that fruit do well or survive in your climate? Example we live in middle Tennesse, we can grow apples and pears and even some types of plumbs and peaches and even nuts. However we can not grow citrus.
- which varieties of the fruit you want to grow in an orchard do best in your region? Example here in middle Tennessee we can grow certain types of peaches and plumbs easier than others due to the humidity and moisture.
How Much Does It Cost To Start An Orchard
The price tag when it comes to how to start an orchard may vary on where you live, the condition of your soil, and how established of a tree you are wanting to buy. Expect to pay $10 to $50 per tree, plus soil amendments, and sprays for your tree. If you are planning on starting an orchard as a business you will also have to factor in living expenses while you wait for your fruit trees to mature.
How To Start An Orchard Myths
Debunking home orchard myths when it comes to how to start an orchard:
- You do not need a ton of room to start an orchard.
- Growing organic fruit is not impossible.
- No, you don’t have to come from a farming background.
- Growing your own fruit isn’t hard, however it does require yearly/monthly maitnance and care.
Starting Your Orchard
To start an orchard, there are a couple of things you need to figure out when you’re planning how to start an orchard:
- What kind of fruit you want to grow – decided on the type and then break it down into species you want to grow. Do research on what is the best type of fruit trees to grow in your area, it’s always going to be easier growing something that is native to your area then fighting with a tree that doesn’t like your weather (we learned this lesson with our plumbs).
- How much space does each tree require when fully grown. This will be the end decider on how many fruit trees you can put your property (you can technically squeeze them closer than is recommended but you’ll have to deal with crowding and mowing issues later.
- Most fruit trees require a pollinator to set fruit, so it’s best to plant 2-3 trees.
How Many Fruit Trees Do You Need For A Family Of 4?
For a family of four two dwarf trees would work. Or if you eat a lot of fruit or you plan to preserve it go with two standard-size fruit trees!
How To Start An Orchard: Planning Out Your Orchard
Where To Put An Orchard
Before you get your hands dirty and embark on your how to start an orchard journey you need to decide where you are going to put your orchard and what your end goal is. Do you want to be able to sell your produce, do you want to provide for your family and some friends. This will decide how many trees you end up growing.
An orchard will be around for a while, so don’t put it somewhere a pond will be in the future or anywhere else you’ll have to tear them back out. This will just waste time and money. Avoid placing them under power lines and directly on property lines.
Your orchard should not only have good soil but good air and water drainage as well. Planting your orchard on a slope is the best location if you have one. Try to avoid low-lying sites, these will harbor the coldest temperatures in the winter, making your fruit trees there more likely candidates for winter-killing than others in the area. Planting on a northern slope will delay blooming and subsequent fruit. Planting on a southern slope will speed up both.
The ideal place to plant your orchard is on the small hills surrounding a valley or depression. Fruit trees with early frost-sensitive blossoms can be planted halfway up the northern slope, the less sensitive trees halfway up the southern slope. Try not to plant your orchard on the hilltops where the wind can damage them or in the frost-retentive bottomland. Rows of trees planted on hills should follow the contour system.
Don’t plant your fruit trees right up against your home as many of them can grow pretty large and can cause issues with your home. Make sure the site you’ll be planting has good drainage.
Some fruit trees are not self-fertile and will require a pollinator to produce fruit. They will need two sources of pollen, you will need at least two types of trees that grow a different variety of the same fruit.
How To Start An Orchard: Orchard Layouts
The next thing to do when laying out your plan for how to start an orchard is figuring out a layout. There are multiple ways of planting fruit trees so there is no one perfect orchard layout. Find one that works best for you and your property. We chose to do straight lines around the outside of our property to also give us privacy.
Some orchard layout options include:
- Single line
- Contour or terrace
How To Start An Orchard: Deciding On What Type Of Fruit To Grow
Now that you learned the where when it comes to how to start an orchard let’s talk about the trees you want to plant. The first step to deciding on what fruit to grow is deciding what trees are best for your land.
Citrus require tropical or subtropical conditions while trees like sour cherries and apples require cold winters in order to thrive. Pick trees that thrive in your hardiness zone as well as the length of your growing season. Trees that have shorter growing seasons are more likely to thrive up north. While fruits that ripen later in the year (like November) will do better in southern regions of the US. There are many varieties out there so do some research and find one that will work for your area.
Do your research before you buy fruit trees, research the nursery and the varieties of fruit. It’s really important to buy from a reputable source. Buy your fruit trees early in the year (April – early May) if you have a short growing season, if you live somewhere with a milder winter then try buying them in the fall. Prices will vary on fruit trees depending on if they are grafted or not, and the demand in your area. You can often find fruit trees on sale at your local garden centers just before your first frost or freeze when they are shutting down the garden center or making room for live Christmas trees.
Growing An Orchard From Scratch
How To Start An Orchard: Preparing Your Soil
The soil in your orchard should be as good as you can make it, do a soil test, and see what your soil needs to nurture your trees. If you want to plant fruit trees right away and your soil is hard clay or sand, you’ll have to build it up for each individual tree. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but just be patient. Fixing your soil is a long-term project, not something that will happen overnight.
Depending on how poor your soil maybe it may be worth it to backfill the hole where you are planting your fruit trees with improved soil, compost, rotted manure, ground rock phosphate, and rock potash. If you can try to do this around 4 feet deep so that the roots will grow into it. *Note when we planted our orchard our soil was clay, we didn’t go 4 feet deep with our amendments, however, over the years we’ve amended the soil and our trees are doing wonderful*.
When you are planting an orchard check around your property and see if you can’t find a location with soil of good enough quality to use just as it is. What you want is a nice medium loam rich in organic material, but also with some sand.
How To Start An Orchard: Planting Fruit Trees
Growers in warmer climates will want to plant their trees in the fall before the first potential frost date. If you are starting an orchard in a colder climate plant your trees in early spring so that they can get established before the cold weather arrives.
Follow the directions on the tag of your fruit tree to plant your tree, make sure you water well after you’ve planted your fruit trees. The minimum size for a tree hole is three times the size of the root ball. In the case of fruit trees, the bigger the better. Usually, you want a hole about three or four feet in diameter and two to three feet deep. Pile the topsoil separately, since this is what should go back into the bottom of the hole along with well-aged nitrogen-rich compost and ground rock phosphate, and rock potash. Avoid using fresh manure because it can burn your tree. Spread most of the extra subsurface soil elsewhere and grow a cover crop over it.
If the soil you are removing is almost solid clay soil, and you’re replacing it with the ideal light, humus-filled one, the improved area around the tree will act as a sponge. Water retention will be too much. In this case, put a tile drain at the bottom of the hole. This is simply a single row, or a cross, of sections of drainage pipe, usually four inches in diameter, spaced out on top of a layer of gravel across the floor of the hole. It leads the water away from the root area, culvert-fashion, to the surrounding subsoil.
Any injured and broken roots must be pruned back. Spread the roots out evenly on top of a layer of enriched soil replaced in the hole to raise the tree to its proper level. Make sure you keep the roots moist while you work. Pro tip: It’s a good idea to mix up a bucket of compost slurry *compost and water* and pour it over the roots while you’re planting your fruit tree keeping them moist, minimizing air pockets, and helping to settle them in. Fill the rest of the hole, tamp down the soil and give it a heavy dousing of water or light mud slurry. The tree should sit in the center of a slight depression about a foot in diameter.
Fruit trees are vulnerable to damage from deer and other wildlife, so keep that in mind when planting. It can be little tricky growing fruit trees when a deer snacks on them. But you can use things like fences, or repellents to help protect them. About 1 foot out from your tree put up a two-foot-high wire mesh “collar” to keep out field mice, rabbits, etc. Outside of this mini-fence cover, the ground with an inch of rotted manure extended all the way to eight feet from the tree. Cover the circle in turn with about a foot of hay mulch.
How To Start An Orchard
Starting an orchard is a lot of work, but it is really rewarding! Having a successful orchard depends on good planning and healthy trees, we hope you’ve gotten well on your way.
Now that you know how to start an orchard, you need to know how to care for it:
- Spring Orchard Care: How To Care For Fruit Trees
- The Best Orchard Supplies For A Homestead
- How To Prune Fruit Trees To Keep Your Orchard Healthy
- How To Care For Fruit Trees | 4 Ways To Get A Better Harvest
- Homemade Fruit Tree Sprays: Organic Dormant Sprays
- 4 Easy Homemade Fungicide Sprays For Fruit Trees
- How To Thin Apple Trees
- How To Thin Peach Trees
Did we answer you’re how to start an orchard question? If not drop them in the comments and we will try to answer them!
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