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Planting an orchard in the high desert

 
Ian Richards
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I have some acreage in the northern AZ high desert, and would like to put in an orchard this fall - a bunch of apple trees for brewing cider, and also pears, peaches, and nuts. I'm thinking about 20 trees total.

My thought right now is to get bare-root trees shipped in after they go dormant for the winter, and to put in a buried irrigation system. I'm in zone 5, but up at about 6000 feet elevation - it's pretty windy in the spring and dry all the time. We get some snowfall in the winter, and an annual monsoon season in late summer, but I anticipate needing to irrigate any productive trees at least for the first few years if not perpetually. That's fine; I have a well and decent water supply to do it with and I would really like some productive trees on the property.

The area where I'm planning to put they is in a 1-acre or so patch of fairly large (8-12ft) junipers that grow stronger than anywhere else on my property. The new trees will be partially shaded during the day (we get excellent sun during the summer, and the high altitude makes it a bit harsh) and at least partially sheltered form the wind.

Does anyone have suggestions for giving these trees the best possible shot at thriving? I have three nursery-bought potted apples right now, and only one is healthy. One died over the winter (not sure why - it produced just a couple leaves this spring and then bit the dust) and one was doing well bit has had about half its leaves die (again, not sure why). The third looks healthy with lots of deep green leaves, but hasn't really grown since it was planted 15 months ago. To be fair, all three were chewed over a bit by elk shortly after planting (after which I added fencing around them and haven't had that happen again).

From the reading I've done, it sounds like I should not really amend the soil around the new trees, and just mulch them heavily. I'm thinking about an in-ground drip irrigation system on an automated timer - what do you think about that? What is a good watering regimen to use?

Finally, any suggestions for varietals that are more likely to survive in my rather arid climate would be appreciated. Thanks!

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Tyler Ludens
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I'm not planting any more trees without putting large masses of wood around them, either buried wood or hugelkultur.
 
Ian Richards
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I'd be quite happy to do that. How much wood do you think, and how deep in the ground?
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Posts: 8865
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I dug down to a rock shelf, about 2 feet, and filled the hole with wood. Recently I'm trying piles of wood on the surface, but only for very drought-tolerant trees. I haven't planted these yet so I can't report results. Some people propose very large piles ( six feet tall) as being the most effective, but I'm not certain these have trees planted in them.
 
Kathy Burns-Millyard
Posts: 75
Location: Arizona low desert
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Hi Ian,

I'm near Tucson so the climate is a bit different, but I think there are many similarities. Sheltering the trees from the wind will be critical in the beginning. Animal protection is also critical. I'm still learning weaknesses in my animal protection efforts after almost three years.

On soil amendments to the planting hole: I'm under the impression that you don't add them if you're planting native trees. I didn't amend my acacia hole but I did for the plums.

On water: go deep infrequently. I make basins and water run off catches. From what I've read, you may need as much as 50 gallons a week per tree when it's hot. Do that once or twice a month during the dry cooler times.

I also found that in my area, if there are no native plants, weeds or anything else growing, then the trees will be deluged with critters, bugs, diseases and so on. Once I started growing a diverse mix of things, the trees seem to be doing better overall.

Hope that helps a bit,
Kathy
 
Mark Larson
Posts: 53
Location: Conroe, Tx
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It's a bit of a long film but you might check it out.

http://www.backtoedenfilm.com/

Also, check out geoff lawton's videos. Greening the desert and starting a food forest the permaculture way. Both very good vids. I was seriously considering going to West Texas to give it a shot but, ended up going East instead.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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