Designing and Laying Out the Orchard
Commercial orchards are laid out in a twenty-five by twenty-five foot grid because the machinery needs that room. For the same reason there's a five-foot gap between the ground and tree canopy. We don't need that in a home orchard, it's too much work to tend to trees that size, nor do we want a truckload of fruit all at once when that huge tree bears fruit. Instead, we want a few pounds of fruit every week during a long growing season.
An Orchard in Your Back Yard!
Our first chore is to determine the ideal location and work from there. Fruit trees require sun or at least bright light, good soil, and access to water. If any of these conditions are not met you will have poor results.
At the same time you will want to make it easy for yourself. If you have to drag a hose or two over to them every time they need water, it won't happen as often as you would like.
In Rows or in Groups
The Fortuna Orchard is in the shape of a right angle hedgerow planted into a southwest corner of a back yard. The trees are eight feet from the fence and five feet apart. Five yards of soil was mounded up to raise the plants above the existing grade because the ground is heavy and quite wet during the rainy season. The mound was made six feet wide, and each leg is fifteen feet long. This mini-orchard occupies 180 square feet and has three feet of walking room on either side. Six varieties of apple trees were planted in 2005.
In a previous orchard the owner had planted four fruit trees in each corner of a five-foot by six-foot raised bed. This worked well for a number of years, but it was difficult to get to the center of the planting. This required some heavy pruning and removal of fruit-bearing wood. It would have been better to plant them in a row, or even two trees in one planting hole, about 18 inches apart, and two more in another.
Lay out the design on your paper and include fences and other items close to the proposed location, and access to water. Make sure the area gets enough light and allow for space to walk around the trees on two sides. Each tree will be about six feet by six feet, but you can plant them four or five feet apart and allow the branches to mingle a bit. In short, you can place these trees wherever they will meet the proper conditions of light, food and water. Be creative!
When you've got the place all scoped out and you've decided where your orchard's going to live, it's time to play in the dirt.