Location, Location, Location
Choosing a site for your homestead orchard can be a challenge. Choose the right soil and your trees will produce year after year without much attention. Choose poor soil and you might lose a decade waiting to eat fruit. It takes three to five years for a tree to show you just how productive it’s going to be. If your soil is poor and doesn’t support your trees, you’ll have waited years to know and then have to replant in another area. Then it’s another three to five waiting again. You’re living the lyrics of Johnny Cash, stuck in the Folsom Prison of homesteading. “…I’m stuck in Folsom Prison, and time keeps draggin’ on. And those trees ain’t producing on down in San Antone…” (I just couldn’t pass that one up.)
Determining the Best Orchard Site
Locating your orchard has more to do with choosing appropriate soil and avoiding mature trees and shade than it does convenience or aesthetics.
If you want to maximize fruit production, plant your trees where the soil will support them. This may not be the best location based upon aesthetics, but you want to eat fruit while choosing to listen to Johnny Cash. You don’t want those lyrics ringing in your head after a lost decade, wishing after scraggly trees.
We want to help you choose the best soil for your trees. Always remember that marginal soil can be improved with raised beds for berries or vegetables, but evaluating any parcel of land is a challenge. Land varies so much, even over short distances, that every piece of property must be evaluated on its own.
On our homestead, we have a spring and a stream. The ground water is so close to the surface that our soil is often over-saturated, and even vegetables won’t grow in many areas. Moving plants as little as 10 feet to a drier area means we get to eat broccoli, and our potatoes won’t rot in the ground.
Wet soil kills fruit trees by drowning the roots. But you wouldn’t know the soil is too wet by looking at the grass above it. It all looks good. Turn that sod over and the soil is dark and rich, and you never guess that it kills anything of substance planted in it. It’s taken us years out here to learn that lesson. So here are some tips to help you choose carefully.
Soil Guidelines to Consider Before You Plant
- If an area of your ground puddles with water that remains for more than an hour or two after it rains, don’t consider planting anything in it. Place raised beds over the area, don’t put anything below the soil.
- Avoid planting close to large rocks that are above or below the soil. Fruit trees spread their roots far and deep, and large rocks and boulders give them nowhere to stretch. If you can’t move the rocks, move the trees – even if it disrupts your layout. Our orchard is beginning to look like a haphazard mess avoiding rocks and water. But our trees are finally producing!
- Fruit trees do best with full sun all day everyday. Do not plant them near or under mature trees. Some species such as Black Walnut will kill nearly EVERYTHING beneath it, especially young fruit trees.
- Space your trees correctly. Planting too closely will have trees crowding and shading one another. Ask your nursery for spacing recommendations.
- Follow your nursery’s planting and care guidelines to the letter. Every good nursery will guarantee their trees for one year. If the tree dies, they will replace it. Not all trees survive, and if you follow their guidelines, they will gladly replace it for you.
- If space is limited, consider dwarf fruit trees. Standard size plantings become huge and require lots of space and pruning. Choose these, and you’ll be harvesting with a ladder.
As you research, University Extension publications are an absolute wealth of most reliable information. When searching on Google, look for the extension .edu in your search results – then devour as much as you can.
Remember that fruit trees are one of the best investments you can make for your homestead. A well-tended orchard will feed your grandchildren.
- Homesteading Basics: Planting & Growing Fruit (crossroadshomestead.wordpress.com)
- Homesteading Basics: Orchard Fruit Varieties (crossroadshomestead.wordpress.com)
- Homesteading Workshops 2013 (wildbrowsesustainability.wordpress.com)
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