How to plant an orchard with fruit trees and berry bushes

Apple tree in an orchard
Apple tree in an orchard

Fresh from the tree or bush, apples, pears and berries taste even better. Hardy varieties require little care and your own harvest is definitely organic. Here are some tips on how to start an orchard and recommended varieties.

The best time to plant an orchard is in late winter, as soon as the ground is no longer frozen. For young plants that come bare-rooted, i.e. without a root ball, a planting date during the dormancy period is obligatory. Potted fruit trees and berry bushes can, in principle, be planted at any time of year. However, as soon as the leaves appear, the water requirement of the bushes and trees increases considerably. If they have not yet taken root properly, even frequent watering is of no use. Due to a lack of root mass, they can hardly absorb the water and the nutrients and thus will wither away.

Choosing the right location is important

Before starting to plan an orchard, the following questions arise:

  • What fruit plants do you want?
  • What garden area do you have in mind for it?
  • Where is your garden located?
  • Why do you want to have an orchard?

As a rule, an orchard takes up about 1/3 of the total garden area. If your garden has an area of about 300 m² / 3300 ft²., you can comfortably grow different fruit trees or shrubs on about 100 m² / 1100 ft².

How much space do I need for fruit trees?

The cultivation of fruit trees should not be a snap decision. After all, an apple, pear or cherry tree ideally stands in place for decades, so the location must be well considered. A half-standard tree takes up 15 to 20 square meters (160 to 215 sq ft) of space, for a full-standart tree you need to plan at least 25 square meters (270 sq ft). For small gardens, choose slender bush trees that are only three meters (10 ft) tall. Apples, pears and most sweet cherries need another pollinator variety growing nearby. Advice on this is provided by qualified fruit nurseries.

Planting a fruit tree

To plant fruit trees, it is best to dig a planting hole into which the root ball will fit comfortably. This should be at least 1/3 bigger than the root ball. Insert the tree so deep that the root ball later lies just below the surface of the soil. Then, with a good hand’s width from the trunk, set the planting stake. Then fill the pit with excavated soil and gently tamp down the soil all around. When tying the tree, form a figure eight with the planting string. The string must be tight around the stake and trunk, but do not squeeze the bark.

What berry bushes are suitable for an orchard?

Currants, raspberries or blueberries take up much less space and provide a reliable harvest for 10 to 20 years, depending on the variety. If you plant several varieties with phased ripening, you’ll be well supplied from early summer to fall. Another reason for growing berries: The early bloomers are an important source of food for wild bees, bumblebees and other insects, which already start looking for pollen and nectar at temperatures around 10 °C / 50 °F.

Blueberries or blue huckleberries need acidic, humus rich soil. Those who can not provide this, simply grow the bushes in large tubs filled with rhododendron soil. It is important to use special berry fertilizers and water with lime-free rainwater. Some blackberry varieties are thornless and bear very large, sweet fruits. Pull the upright growing climbers along the fence or wire trellis, and you can harvest from mid-July to August without pause.

For raspberries, you have a choice between single-bearing summer raspberries and fall raspberries that ripen from August to October. The variety ‘Willamette’ can be picked as early as to mid-July. With the new varieties such as ‘Aroma-Queen’ or ‘Himbo-Top’ you can create a gapless connection and secure the harvest until frost. Currants are also available as standard. For a long life, choose the more robust bush form. If you plant one or two bushes each of an early, medium-early and late variety, you will have plenty to eat and enough for a supply of jam, compote or jelly.

Another, not so well known, berry is the Japanese Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius). The berries resemble of raspberries, but smaller. As the berries are a little sticky, most insects and other pests avoid the fruits. The vitamin C-rich fruits have a very intense aroma reminiscent of grapes, which is quite different from the more familiar domestic berries. Not only their appearance but also the pulp is orange-red. One bush can bear up to four kilograms (pounds) of berries in a productive summer. This plant is a true insider tip.

How to plant berry bushes

Carefully detach the root ball from the edge of the container. If the soil is very dry, water the bushes thoroughly in a tub beforehand so that the root ball does not fall apart when potting. Then dig the necessary number of planting holes with a spade. The planting distance is about 40 centimeters (16 in) for raspberries, and at least 150 centimeters (5 ft) for red currants, blueberries, Japanese Wineberry and gooseberries. The loose soil around the base of the bush is well pressed and watered with a watering can.

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