I live at 6,000 ft. in Southern New Mexico where we have four seasons and spring and summer tend to be quite hot and generally arid, although summer monsoon rains often help with that. I've started planting a forest garden in my large back yard, but have been unsure about how closely to space the fruittrees I am planting. I believe that the soil and the garden in general will benefit from some relief from the intense sun.
I think the answer depends on the root stock of the trees, and how you will prune or manage them, if at all. Some species will grow a lot larger than others depending on root stock. Do you plan to have companion plantings around each fruit tree, and use that tree as the anchor for various shrubs and ground covers?
Mark Tudor wrote:I think the answer depends on the root stock of the trees, and how you will prune or manage them, if at all. Some species will grow a lot larger than others depending on root stock. Do you plan to have companion plantings around each fruit tree, and use that tree as the anchor for various shrubs and ground covers?
Yes, I do plan to have a fairly dense understory associated with the trees.
I would say 15ft apart, with every other tree having a max height of 10ft and the next one 15ft.
That said I think that a starting food forest should be 90% nitrogen fixers (clovers, alfalfa, etc)
Even before that I would try and get as much carbon (woodchip/straw/biochar) into the soil, maybe some rockdust.
Five foot apart for dwarfs, you could plant 5 dwarfs in the space of a semi-full size tree. Spend five times as much as a semi-full size tree and get less fruit.
I'd guess a semi-full size tree would be much hardier in most conditions, last longer, and produce more fruit. You would get first fruit faster on a smaller tree, however.
An option would be to buy a dwarf, and a semi-full rootstock like the M111 (apple) and use the dwarf as a source of scions. Plant the pair in the same hole. Graft a piece of the dwarf to the M111 rootstock. As they grow together you use the scion on the M111 as the support for the dwarf. The first couple years of fruit production comes from the dwarf. In time the semi-full outgrows the dwarf, but who cares, by then your getting production from the big tree.
I tried grafting this spring for the first time and had 100% success. I used a retractable safety knife out of the tool dolly and teflon plumbers tape to seal the tip. You can google grafting fruit trees and find loads of video's to show you how.
You can buy rootstocks for $5 apiece, plus expensive shipping, but perhaps you could buy a bareroot tree and a rootstock from the same source and get the two trees for an extra $5. I'm thinking Fedco Seeds in Maine, Cummins Nursery in NY state, or Grandpa's Nursery, all sell both.
Let me expand on my earlier post. First I have to say that I'm in SW Pennsylvania, not in New Mexico, so pardon my possible naive comments. But, I'm hoping the principals are similar for other fruit types.
I bought a semi-dwarf peach tree four years ago, and then the following year found another peach tree from the same source, Stark Bros, that had huge peaches. I bought a full size tree. Last year the first tree was 3 years old. We got maybe a half dozen peaches. This year the newer tree is 3 years old, It's got hundreds of peaches on it. The newer tree has a 3 inch diameter trunk, the older, a 2 inch trunk. I've been removing the smaller peaches from the new/big tree. Also some with insect/bird damage. The older tree had 18 peaches on it, when I counted them 2 weeks ago, and they're smaller. My one neighbor is amazed at the production on the tree. The neighbor on the other side, who does a lot of gardening and has a variety of fruit trees commented on how beautiful the tree is. I responded that I'm developing the impression that dwarf and semi-dwarf trees are usually ugly. If I'd bought a full size tree four years ago I'd have had the 100's of peaches last year, instead of half a dozen. So maybe buying a smaller tree, to get earlier production is a mistake.
The difference in trimming a full and a semi-dwarf is how far you extend your tree trimmer. If you annually trim the top you'll have a larger diameter tree the same height. But leave a short leader there to get the tree growing wider.
The more water you can retain in the soil the denser your planting can be. So I'd say the first thing to do is to draw up a detailed plan of the land profile and then think of strategies of slowing down runoff and helping water to infiltrate. That may involve changes the land profile on the big or small scale, and seeding or planting appropriate vegetation. In the short term a stone mulch can also help.
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I think spacing depends on canopy size, sun position in all seasons, root zones, nutrient needs, etc. I don't think it's as simple an answer as a number of feet between each, though you're probably safe with a larger number such as 15 feet. But, as has been mentioned, if they are dwarf or semi-dwarf, your distance between could be smaller. Another variable is the machine you're going to use between them if you're mowing. You want to be efficient in your mowing, so you want to also factor in the swath of your mower -- if you're mowing. Since this is a "yard" context, your mowing machine may not be a factor.