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Fruit Tree Spacing in a small area, help needed!  RSS feed

 
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Hello everyone! I am trying to figure out how many Fruit trees, if pruned correctly, could I fit in a 1000 square-foot area in an urban backyard setting?  I have been researching intensive planting of fruit trees and have drawn a layout of my garden to try and figure this out. But....  since I have never planted any fruit trees I have no clue as to how big how big these bareroot fruit trees can get if pruned to stay small early on. I want to plant as many trees as possible. I mainly want to plant apple, and peach but would love to fit in some other fruit trees.
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Food growing area in Chattanooga, Tn
 
steward
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My apple trees (planted by the previous owner) are on an 8' by 12' pattern.  They're fine in the 12' direction but they are fighting one another in the 8' direction.  They're semi-dwarf (I think) but are about 15' tall.  One curiosity you could look into are columnar apples.  They are basically a pool cue with apples on it.  No branches.  But they're expensive and the cultivars are limited.

Are you sure you need a bunch of trees?  A pair of full production apple trees can probably produce 50-100 gallons of apples a year.  I guess I'm saying that there's a chance you could put in two apples, two peaches, a pear and a cherry and have some room left for berry bushes.  If you pack the trees in closely, there won't be much sun left for the lower layers of the canopy - herbacious, shrub, etc.

Regarding pruning, I'm not sure what "correct" is anymore.  If you keep ten trees small so they fit in the space of 8, you might only get the same number of apples as you would have from the 8.

When I lived in the city, I found that it wasn't horribly hard to find other people with fruit trees who weren't harvesting the fruit.  One tree I drove by every day was loaded with apples.  I finally broke down and knocked on the door.  She said take all I want but leave her enough for a pie.  I went away with about four 5 gallon pails of apples and the tree was only 8' high.  Two other people had full sized pear trees (50' high) with supermarket sized pears on them.  I could've taken home a pickup truck bed full twice over from each tree.
 
pollinator
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I suggest "Grow a Little Fruit Tree" by Ann Ralph.  If your goal is variety of fruit more than quantity of a few fruits, she will help you understand how to do that.
 
gardener
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For a good variety in such a small space I would go looking for grafted trees that carry at least 3 different fruits per tree. These can be had in apple (3-5 varieties on one tree), such trees come in all the different fruits.
These multiple trees are great for growing a nice variety in a small area.

Full size trees need a spacing of 25 feet for easy access to each tree.
Semi dwarf trees need a spacing of 18 feet for easy access to each tree
Dwarf trees need a spacing of 15 feet
This spacing can be shortened if you plan to prune every year, if you plan to do no or alternate year pruning, you will want the extra space between trees for your ladder as the orchard ages.

 
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It looks like your orchard area is 24x48 feet, assuming your posts are 8 feet apart. I'd guess the left side of the garden is south or east. It looks like a morning picture so perhaps the left is to the east. That would mean the tree behind your marked area is going to be in a lot of shade. This is important to the layout of your orchard.

Generally I'd say you could plant 3 to 4 semi-dwarf trees along the 48 foot length, if the car port is to the north. I'd also say that if you have clay soil or poor sand/rocky soil that you could plant a row of dwarf trees as close a 3-4 feet apart in a row to the south of the dwarfs. This is closer spacing than recommended. But, it's my opinion that the generally recognized spacing is a one size fits all recommendation and is therefore based on a best case scenario which would be for a rich black loam soil. Dwarf trees get small by finding runting rootstocks so you get runt trees, which is fine if you have a small area, or small based on how much variety you want in a given space.

So assuming you have 4 semi-dwarfs on the north side and 12 dwarfs to the south of those 4, you could also plant some berries on the south edge of the orchard.

So the obvious question comes to mind, if I use a dwarf rootstock and plant close together it gets expensive to buy all those trees. So it might make sense to investigate buying dwarf trees on a quality rootstock that isn't so runted out that you could plant 3 feet apart. Investigate a dwarf tree on a semi-full rootstock which would be called an interstem rootstock. The semi-full root grows a healthy root system and then grafted to that is a size reducing piece off a dwarfing rootstock. Then grafted to that is the fruit variety you desire. If you're planting bare root trees and ordering by mail then it'd just take some googling to find the varieties you want on an interstem rootstock. It's usually just apples that are this much established.

As far as peaches go, I bought two peach trees, a semidwarf 4 years ago and a full size tree 3 years ago. The semi=dwarf produced peaches last year, which were delicious. The full size tree has its first crop this year. I've been removing peaches off the full size tree and there's still too many. The semi-dwarf tree has so few that I've only picked off a few damaged or fruit with an obvious problem. Were I you I might consider planting a full-size peach tree in the north west corner and keeping it well trimmed. My full size tree I picked out because it produced an extra large peach. The younger tree has a trunk that's more than three inches in diameter, in three years. It's about 8 feet tall after trimming and it seems the branches like to grow more horizontally which makes it easier to keep low enough to pick from than for instance some of apples which no matter how much you trim keep growing up.

So we would really need to know the compass directions of the plot you've set aside for your orchard. Knowing the soil type; clay, sand, rocky sand, or loam would also help. It would also help if we knew where you are and what the USDA planting zone is, assuming you're in the USA.


 
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There are many ways in which you can plan to plant a lot of fruit trees in a small space.  The main thing to remember is that your backyard orchard is not a commercial orchard, so you can create it to suit your needs.  You can plant multiple cultivars of apple or peach to stagger your harvest times.  One of my favorite resources on this topic are the videos put out by Dave Wilson Nursery.  This spring I planted 2 peach, 3 pear, and 2 plum, in which each tree is 4 ft apart.  I'll keep these trees pruned to stay within their 16 sq ft (4'x4') area.  For me, I'd rather have 3 peach trees that ripen at different times over 2 or 3 months than one peach tree in the same space as I fit 3 into, that ripens all at once.  There are many adaptations you can use, so have fun with it!

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=dave+wilson+nursery+backyard+orchard

Another method for apples that I have read about is the 'tall spindle' method'.  It looks like it would be great for a small space as well.

 
John Duda
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Steven

I made my comments based on what you stated were your objectives. You spelled out some, that you would prune, that you wanted apples and peaches. Obviously if you plant on a closer spacing you can get more varieties. That's why I suggested to plant on a closer spacing. I suggested the larger peach tree as I feel there's more reasons for planting than to eat out of hand. If you have 15 fruit trees you have choices. One is to provide some for canning, or freezing or perhaps for drying. It's my observation that I'm going to get a lot more peaches out of my full tree trimmed to the same size as the semi-dwarf. That's the reason for my suggestion. If you're thinking of a cherry tree I'd suggest a bigger size tree for tart cherries than for sweet cherries as I'd think you would use the tart cherries for pies and be more likely to store a large quantity.

I'd also suggest you space out the fruits you choose so that you have something coming ripe throughout the growing season, but then also having fruit for the coming seasons. I recently planted a baking apple, a dessert apple, a pie/cider apple and a storage apple. The storage apple I selected was the Black Oxford which is said to store till July of the following season. The pie/cider apple I chose is the Redfield which has a red fruit which makes a rose cider or adds its red color and flavor to a pie or to sauce. I've also planted dessert apples that I and my wife prefer, Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp and MacIntosh which I love.

What I'm thinking is that you need to make your size choices based on the need for quantity and for time. If you want a pie apple, you need to realize how many pies you might make. I wouldn't suggest a full size pie apple tree if your going to bake 4 pie apples each year. If you want a dessert apple, you don't want a full size tree and be overwhelmed. In my orchard I have apples coming ripe from July with a Yellow Transparent till late in the fall. I plant only semi-dwarf, usually, but have some existing full size trees that came with the property, but I have more room that your 1000 sq. ft.

I wish you luck with your orchard and hope that you find it enjoyable , the planning, the work and the consumption for you and your family.



 
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