Orchard revisions 2010

Based on a lot of great feedback from folks on my original orchard plans, I’ve gone back to the drawing board, re-thought everything, and come up with something that is an entirely different different approach but come across looking amazingly similar to the original plan.  Go me.

The biggest point made to me was that it’s much more effective to keep trees the size you want by pruning than by relying on dwarf rootstock alone to keep the size down, so you’re better off forgetting the dwarf or “Li’l Big” type rootstocks.  The dwarf rootstocks also apparently have other problems and a much shorter lifespan.  Instead, get a regular or proven semi-dwarf rootstock that will grow well in your area and go from there.

The Dave Wilson Home Orcharding site also had some great pointers about growing fruit trees at home vs. for market.  At home, you don’t want 150 pounds of fruit…of one type…ripening the same week.  Much better to have 25-50 pounds of fruit and have multiple harvests to stretch the season out.  To achieve that, you do pretty much everything a professional orchardist would NOT do.  Plant the trees close together, prune them hard so they never get taller than you, and grow stuff under them so there’s competition for the nutrients and water.

I also reassessed my thoughts about stone fruit.  One is related to our microclimate: I know our flat, open yard is much colder than the surrounding area.  In town, the new zone is 5b, heading toward 6.  Out here, we’re a solid 5a.  We hit -15 every winter, and it’s not unusual to get to -20 overnight for several nights in a row.  There are no small hills to plant trees on that will let the coldest air flow down away from them in the spring, and the winds are fairly unchecked from the north.  My gut is telling me that stone fruits like peaches and apricots aren’t going to do well here.  I also planted an apricot four or five years ago, and it died this spring without even flowering once.  The other thought is that really, we don’t eat that much stone fruit.  I’ve got a craving for peaches like you would not believe, but a couple jars down cellar will take care of that.  I like the thought of apricots because they dry well…but again, how many do we actually need?  We’d eat a lot more apples if we had them, and both of us are keen to try pressing our own cider.

So.  The new plan will incorporate 3 apple trees on semi-dwarf stock, plus a few hybrid hazelnut bushes (also good for coppicing) and a carpet of wintergreen, if it’ll grow here (it usually likes acidic soils).  I’ll put the cherry bushes on the berm, and I’ll tuck one self-pollinating peach tree into the “nook” created where the garage, breezeway, and house form a lopsided U.  I know that’s a sweet, protected little microclimate, because the weeping cherry that was there shot up to about 20′ tall and 15″ in diameter in 7 years – too big for the space, actually, and we had to take it down.  If I put a peach there, I can keep it to 7′, or let it go to about 10′ and work on it from the roof.  (Note to my mother, whose knuckles just whitened around her mug of tea: trust me, the roof is a lot safer than a ladder!)



  1. Anonymous said,

    December 6, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Note from mother:
    Am I that transparent??

    • Emily said,

      December 6, 2010 at 12:10 pm

      Wouldn’t have you any other way! 🙂 Sure beats not caring if I play in traffic…

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