Type your question here!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Starting a Small Backyard Orchard

Q. I'm looking to start a small backyard orchard of fruit trees next year here in Las Vegas. I was thinking of about 10 - 12 trees using the recommended varieties from your Xtremehorticulture blog.  I am still in the planning stages and would appreciate your recommendation on whether I should use bare root trees or container trees. 

Bareroot fruit tree. Notice
the "dogleg" on the trunk
where the fruit variety was
budded or "grafted" on to
an appropriate rootstock.
A. Bare root trees are only available during late winter or early spring before the leaves emerge from the tree. Bare root trees are typically small but establish very quickly if planted correctly. Directions for planting fruit trees can be found on my blog by searching “how to plant fruit trees” on the blog search engine.

            There is nothing wrong with planting container grown trees provided they have not outgrown the container. If trees are grown for too long in the container before planting, this can lead to future problems.

            Rows of the trees should run north and south so they don't shade each other. However if the trees are planted in a triangular pattern (trees in neighboring rows are offset by half of their planting distance) rather than a square pattern (trees are directly opposite each other in neighboring rows) it doesn't make much difference which direction the rows are running.

            The distance between trees in the rows depends on how big you let them get. If you elect to keep them small so that you eliminate ladders for pruning, spraying and picking then you can plant most of them as close as 10 feet apart. If you do elect to keep them smaller than this it will require more pruning effort on your part.

            Of course winter pruning will provide you with fruit wood that you can use for smoking or grilling or chip for surface wood mulch . No, this chipped wood will not cause more insects or diseases.

            On larger trees, like apples and pears, make sure you use some rootstocks that help keep them smaller. The rootstocks on my recommended list will do that for you. The distance between the rows should be no closer than 10 feet apart.

Semi or moderately intensive planting of apples on semi-dwarf rootstocks in the
former soviet union. The distance between trees is relatively close but because
they are using large scale tractors for spraying, cultivating and harvesting
the distance between the rows (the picture is between rows) is still relatively
large. This could be even more intensive (more $ per acre) if the
rows were closer together.
            If you want to get some small equipment down the rows then I would put the rows no closer than 12 feet apart and you might even consider 14 feet if you are using a small tractor or larger wagons for harvesting.

            Make sure you install your irrigation system and pre-dig your holes and amending the soil there before you begin planting. Plant directly into amended soil and thoroughly wet the soil with a hose several times after planting.

            Avoid container trees which have been in the nursery for a long period of time. Any of the nursery or garden centers will be a good place to purchase these plants if they have been recently delivered there.  

            Buy these trees just before you are ready to plant them. Don't buy and keep them at home for several days before planting. We all have good intentions but frequently these trees get neglected. When bringing them home, find a shady spot to put them until you are ready to plant. Do not keep them in the sun if temperatures are very warm or hot.


  1. Check out Dave Wilson's youtube page as well for information. Last year they started a sample backyard test orchard. It is like a much smaller scale of the UNR orchard.


  2. Reposted by Extrmehort from an email by Tom Spellman:

    Bob, On the question of planting a new backyard orchard. Your only recommendations are staggered rows. Please consider recommending espalier, hedge style and natural style plantings throughout the landscape. Most people do not want their backyard orchard's to look like a farm style orchard. The great thing about BYOC is you can do anything you want with your backyard. Your only limitation is you. Be original, be creative and make your edible landscape everything you want for both ornamental appeal as well as fruit production. In most backyards a 10', 12", to 14' tree spacing is just more wasted space. Check out the DWN web-site for more ideas and information on BYOC.

    Have a happy, healthy New Year and eat fresh tree ripe fruit every day.

    Tom Spellman at Dave Wilson Nursery