‘Tree placement and design depends on your preferences’
Apple trees grown from pips, seeds, can grow to heights of 25 to 35 feet.
Trees this large, called standards, need room for their roots and branches. If they are planted too close the roots collide and naturally inhibit growth.
Overlapping branches prevent sunlight from ripening the fruit.
In both cases, the trees are vying for the resources needed to produce a healthy crops.
One-hundred nine apple trees spaced 20 feet apart would fill an acre and would be capable of producing 20- to 30,000 apples. That is a lot of apple sauce, or cider, or table fruit. Take your pick.
Placing the orchard
The various apple, pear, apricot, nectarine and peach trees here are cast about various areas here.
The decision as to where to plant them has evolved over 15 years and I made some serious mistakes.
The first attempt at growing fruit was driven by a lack of properly ripened Asian pears at the local markets.
The fruit grown in South America, and maybe California, and is shipped in bushel boxes sleeved in styrofoam.
In my opinion, they are as tasty as the sleeves they are shipped in. So, I decided to grow my own from mail order whips from Miller Brothers in western New York.
Five out of six whips failed. So did Miller Brothers. Failure led to the question, “Why?”
The answer is, placement is at the top of the list.
As it turns out, the chosen area was the worst location I could have chosen. The trees were planted below a stonewall at a low point in the yard where cold air falls off a slope and sits.
This is deadly for developing fruit buds. Why one of the six trees survived is surprising.
After their early death, five were planted.
Two were apple trees grown from seed in a bushel basket. Had they survived who knows what fruit they would have produced.
And the plum trees I attempted growing, they did not either, but that is because the high aluminum content in clay inhibits root growth, so they blew over on a windy day.
Even if they had, the Plum Curculio, a weevil, makes it near impossible to grow plums.
The female deposits eggs by slitting the skin and inserting her ovipositor and an egg, which causes June fruit drop.
Another Asian pear variety grew successfully. So did two varieties of cherries, but the birds mostly ate them.
The lesson here, then, is, plant on a sloping hillside and don’t bother with cherries or plums.
There are several areas suitable for planting here. Each is its own microclimate.
One slope is for apples and another for mixed fruit trees. There’s another in the front of the farmhouse and the others above and below the stone wall.
The trees in front are protected from the northern gusts off Eel Pond, which is at the rear of the property. They also benefit from the sunlight and heat radiated off the house.
The peach and three variety Asian pear bloom a week before trees in the rear of the property. This is a good location.
The apple trees are planted in the rear of the property on a slope above and behind the garage. They receive eight to 10 hours of sunlight at high summer. Nearly perfect conditions.
If there is a frosty spring morning the cold air falls off the hillside, warming air rises and any early buds survive the overnight temperatures. The placement takes advantage of simple physics. When it rains it runs off to the trees and keeps them watered.
The mixed fruit orchard has no apples. The trees are drupes, stone fruit, and pome, Asian pears and perry pears.
All but the perry are self-fertile.
Having a mix of self-fertile trees improved fruit yields by 30 percent.
They receive the most sunlight — all day long. And, since it is a sloping hill, the same air movement applies — cold air falls off and into the incorrectly placed original orchard. But, before it does, it passes by a few more apple trees which seem to be safe from a springtime cold air pocket.
The remaining trees are planted in front of the original orchard. They are there because I can’t help myself from ordering new trees. I should know better than to flip through a nursery catalog in the dead of winter.
When and where trees are bought or ordered is critical.
If you want selection, buying young whips is the way to go, understanding that the pome fruit will take five to seven years, but the stone fruit are precocious and might produce as early as their second year in the ground.
The widest selection of trees comes from nursery catalogs.
Each variety, no matter what fruit, is suitable to certain conditions.
The descriptions will tell when the tree blooms, the best companion cross-pollinators and chill hours.
Fruit trees need a certain number of hours below 45 degrees in order to set fruit buds for the next spring.
Look for trees requiring 500 hours and more when planting in Litchfield County. And since the property here is at a 1,250 elevation, the trees in my orchard are suitable for USDA Zone 5.
Of course, there are larger trees available at the nurseries.
Varieties will vary from year to year and from nursery to nursery. Most are 1-inch caliper or so, five or six feet tall and have been grown in liners, black plastic buckets.
These are 2- to 3-year-old grafted trees and may be capable of setting fruit the second year after planting. Don’t let these babies set fruit. Remove it and allow the energy to be directed to strengthening the trunk and the emerging scaffold branches.
Larger trees, measuring 1.5 inches in trunk diameter, are pricy and limited in the varieties available. Large caliper trees are also very heavy, 2-inch and up, balled and burlapped trees weigh in at 300 pounds.
They are tough to wrangle by yourself. I’ve tried.
Tree placement and design depends on your preferences.
Orchards are typically planted in rows and spaced 15 feet apart measured from trunk to trunk. One row seems two dimensional, so most orchards have two or more rows and, again, 15 feet apart.
If you prefer a more upscale design consider the quincunx. Think of the five spots on a pair of dice. Using this design makes for a fuller appearance and when you are showing off your beautiful, productive, recently planted fruit tree collection you can stump guests when you say, “quincunx.”
Peter Montgomery is owner of Montgomery Gardens, Heirloom Apples and Orchards at 45 Kent Road, Warren, where he manages a mixed fruit orchard, consults, designs and installs orchards throughout New England.