The objective of Backyard Orchard Culture is a prolonged harvest of tree-ripe fruit from a small space in the yard. This is accomplished by planting an assortment of fruit trees close together and keeping them small by summer pruning.
Backyard Orchard Culture Is Not Commercial Orchard Culture: For years, most of the information about growing fruit came from commercial orchard culture: methods that promoted maximum size for maximum yield but required 12-foot ladders for pruning, thinning and picking, and 400 to 600 square feet of land per tree. Tree spacing had to allow for tractors.
Most people today do not need nor expect commercial results from their backyard fruit trees. A commercial grower would never consider using his methods on a 90 ft. x 100 ft. parcel, so why should a homeowner?
Backyard Orchard Culture Is High Density Planting And Successive Ripening: The length of the fruit season is maximized by planting several (or many) fruit varieties with different ripening times.
Because of the limited space available to most homeowners, this means using one or more of the techniques for close-planting and training fruit trees; two, three or four trees in one hole, espalier, and hedgerow are the most common of these techniques.
Four trees instead of one means ten to twelve weeks of fruit instead of only two or three: Close-planting offers the additional advantage of restricting a tree’s vigor. A tree won’t grow as large when there are competing trees close by. Close-planting works best when rootstocks of similar vigor are planted together.
As a four-in-one-hole planting, for example, four trees on Citation rootstock would be easier to maintain than a combination of one tree on Lovell, one on Mazzard, one on Citation, and one on M-27.
In many climates, planting more varieties can also mean better cross-pollination of pears, apples, plums and cherries, which means more consistent production.
If trees are kept small, it is possible to plant a greater number of trees in a given space, affording the opportunity for more kinds of fruit and a longer fruit season. Most semi-dwarfing rootstocks do not control fruit tree size as much as most people expect.
Rootstocks can help to improve fruit tree soil and climate adaptation, pest and disease resistance, precocity (heavier bearing in early years), longevity, and ease of propagation in the nursery.
To date, no rootstocks have been developed which do all these things plus fully dwarf the scion.
Pruning is the only way to keep most fruit trees under twelve feet tall. The most practical method of pruning for size control is summer pruning. Tree size is the grower’s responsibility. Choose a size and don’t let the tree get any bigger. A good height is the height you can reach for thinning and picking while standing on the ground or on a low stool.
Two other important influences on tree size are irrigation and fertilization practices. Fruit trees should not be grown with lots of nitrogen and lots of water. Some people grow their fruit trees the way they grow their lawn, then wonder why the trees are so big and don’t have any fruit!
It’s much easier to keep a small tree small than it is to make a large tree small. Most kinds of deciduous fruit trees require pruning to stimulate new fruiting wood, remove broken and diseased wood, space the fruiting wood and allow good air circulation and sunlight penetration in the canopy.
Pruning is most important in the first three years, because this is when the shape and size of a fruit tree is established.
Pruning at the same time as thinning the crop is strongly recommended. By pruning when there is fruit on the tree, the kind of wood on which the tree sets fruit (one year-old wood, two year-old wood, spurs, etc.) is apparent, which helps you to make better pruning decisions.
Backyard Orchard Culture Means Summer Pruning For Size Control. There are several reasons why summer pruning is the easiest way to keep fruit trees small. Reducing the canopy by pruning in summer reduces photosynthesis (food manufacture), thereby reducing the capacity for new growth. Summer pruning also reduces the total amount of food materials and energy available to be stored in the root system in late summer and fall. This controls vigor the following spring, since spring growth is supported primarily by stored foods and energy. And, for many, pruning is more enjoyable in nice weather than in winter, hence more likely to get done.
Backyard Orchard Culture Means Not Being Intimidated By Planting Or Pruning. Fruit tree planting and pruning needn’t be complicated or confusing. When planting, be aware of air circulation. This is important for minimizing disease problems. Check drainage. If poor-draining soil is suspected, consider a raised bed to protect the trees from starving for oxygen when the soil is water-logged. Up to four trees can be planted in a 4×4 foot bed raised at least 12 inches above the surrounding soil. For more trees, shape a larger bed to fit the available space.
Reprinted from the Dave Wilson Nursery Website – Dave Wilson Nursery is a grower and supplier to nurseries and does not sell to the public.