Over the last few weeks we cleared out the space in front of our house. We have some mature palm trees that were in the way… of our fruit trees! Cutting them down was quite the feat, but it’s done and time for me to get serious about planning an orchard. We have so many things to do before we could just go out and put the trees in the ground. We had to decide the trees we want, organizing where we want them to go, and researching the best ways to help them grow. So here are some ideas to help you get an area ready for your trees too, even if you don’t live in the dessert.
Planning an Orchard: Our plan
Measure the Space
See how many trees you can reasonably fit into your area. Our designated area is about 100×80 ft. We decided to put our trees 15 ft apart, and make the rows 18 ft apart. That will give us 6 trees per a row, and 4 rows. We have a couple objects in the way so we ended up with 20 spaces for trees. Our plan is to let some of the trees grow in bush form so the fruit is easier to reach, and we want to make sure we could still walk around them after they were mature. However, high density orchards are great too, and you can plant your trees as close together as 2 ft and make it a hedge.
Pick out your trees
I made a list of all the fruits that we love, which is pretty much all of them. Then I took off ones that I know don’t grow well here. The biggest problem we face is not having enough chill hours, typically only 300-400 hours per year. So I narrowed down my list to what does well here. Make sure you note if the tree needs cross pollination or is self fruitful. So I added doubles of some trees so we would get more fruit from them, or changed the variety to be self fruitful. I listed the tree, variety, chill hour requirements and when the fruit ripens.
If you live in Arizona, I highly recommend this book. Dave Owens is extremely experienced, and has a good list in this book of the trees and varieties that do well here.
The trees we will be planting: garden prince almond, gold kist apricot, anna apple, fuji apple, babock peach, Florida prince peach, Santa Rosa plum. The sub tropical will be: 2 starfruit, 2 loquats, 2 mango, 2 arivipa avocado, key lime, jujube. The hardy trees that grow well in most conditions here: navel orange, Arizona sweet orange, black mission fig, and conadria fig.
Plan their location
After my list was done I spent a couple days checking on the area at different times of the day. Noting where the sun was hitting, and what area had shade. I then drew out a rough map on a piece of paper and start writing down where the trees would go. I started with the ones that needed the most chill hours, as they need to go on the East or Northeast part of the yard. The sub tropical plants I picked out need frost protection in the winter, and sun protection in the summer, so they went in the middle as the other trees will provide that for them once they are mature. That left the more hardy trees to fill in the blanks and go where other trees wouldn’t do well. Then sleep on it! I looked at my map over a couple days. I even took it outside and stood where the trees were going to go.
Prep the Dirt
Set your orchard up for success, don’t skip this step! It is recommended to dig the hole and amend the soil 90 days before you plant your tree. We will be adding Mycorrhizae fungus, compost, and mulch to our native soil, and then fill the hole back in and water it before you plant your tree. A little tip, dig square holes. If you dig a circle the roots have a chance to continue in a circle and don’t spread out. If you dig a square it forces the roots to break out into the dirt. Watch this video for more info about prepping the soil for trees.
Here is the location of our future orchard. We are ready to dig in!
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