How to Grow Fruit Trees

How to Plant Fruit Trees:

Planting Instructions for Bare Root Nursery Stock

Planting Instructions for Potted Nursery Stock

Holistic Pest Management:

Holistic Spray Recipe

Top 10 Backyard Food Forest Planning Tips
 

1) What's your style? Conventional or natural?
With more and more talk on organics, natural farming and all things in between, we have never been more connected and able to share information and our experiences. You CAN grow fruit/food naturally, with no chemicals. I do not have a pesticide license, and I grow fruit trees. I respect that this is completely a personal choice, and both methods have some pros and cons depending on your metrics. However, if you haven't already heard about these amazing people/farmers, check them out and they will get your creative juices flowing:
  • Molly and John Chester, The Biggest Little Farm (documentary) 
  • Michael and Nancy Phillips, Heartstrong Farm (website and books) 
  • Stephan Sobkowiak, The Permaculture Orchard: Beyond Organic (documentary)
2) What do you want to do with your fruit?
Eat it fresh, dried, cooked, canned, as a sauce, brewed into cider or made into schnapps? The possibilities are endless and choosing which applications you want to grow fruit for is the first step in choosing varieties. Our catalogue contains this information to help you choose the fruit varieties you want.  For the more serious grower, researching more than just the use is important (to consider growing habits, etc.) but figuring out what you want from the tree in the end is a great place to start. 

3) How much time do you want to spend on your orchard?
Do you envision yourself tenderly picking each bug off your fruit, spraying some substance to dissuade would-be fruit pests, or completely letting nature do its thing? All are fine options, but I wouldn't recommend peaches or Honeycrisp apples to the 100% naturalist. If you are committed and super keen, grow whatever you like! If you are more middle of the road, like myself, consider choosing disease resistant varieties. Putting time and effort in to do your homework before planting will set yourself up to ease down the road. For example, don't plant the peach in the open pasture so you have to wrap it, mulch it heavily, and coddle it through winter, when you could have planted it in the shelter of the windbreak on the hill, where frost won't bite off its early blossoms. Also, look up your temperature zone. This is a good indicator of what you can or can't grow. That said, the intrepid gardener knows you can grow just about anything anywhere; where there's a will, there is a way! 

4) How long do you want to wait for fruit?
Most berries, peaches, apricots, some apples, and sour cherries will see some fruit in their first 2-4 years. However, you can expect 5-7 years for sweet cherries, some apples, and pears. Saskatoons can take up to 15 years to come into full production. That said, within each type of fruit, so much can vary. Apples are a good example; Norland and Yellow Transparent tend to bear within 3 years, and are called 'precocious', while other varieties, like Honeycrisp, can take 7 years or more. On top of that, how active you are as an orchardist will also make an impact. The diligent orchardist will prune and nurture their tree into bearing earlier, while more easy going folks may have to wait a bit longer if they leave it up to Mother Nature. The variety of rootstock plays a roll too, particularly for apples: dwarf rootstocks will bear sooner, where semi-dwarfs have more vegetative growth to make before they focus on fruit production.

5) How high do you want to reach?
Apple trees range from approximately 8' to 20' but within those values, dwarf apples grow about 8' to 10', semi-dwarfs around 12' to 15', and full size will approximately 15' to 20'. We graft the remaining types of fruit onto full size rootstock for maximum winter hardiness, thus: pears are around 16' to 20', plums are about 18' to 20', sour cherries 12' to 15', sweet cherries 16' to 20', peaches 12' to 16', quince 12' to 16'. Between each type of fruit, different varieties have different levels of vigor and will grow to slightly different heights, which can also fluctuate based on soil health and location. That said, you can keep your trees to nearly any size with diligent pruning; though fruit production might suffer if you are too aggressive. Make these pruning cuts while the tree is dormant in February-March. 

6) How many trees do you want?
Sometimes it's preferable to have more trees in a tight space for the collectors sake of maximizing cultivars (and the more pollinators, the merrier!), despite the additional work of staking your dwarf trees. Thanks to our ability to graft, 4 or more dwarf trees can fit where one semi-dwarf stands. Conversely, it also gets 4x or more expensive. But yet another thing to consider on the financial end: if you are thinking of getting (for example) 20 trees anyways, with the price difference between 20 trees with the quantity discount at 15% off and 50 trees at wholesale pricing of about 50% off, it might just be worth it in the end.

7) How much space do you have?
If you have lots of space, I encourage planting full size or semi-dwarf trees. They will last longer and they fit in well with organic/permaculture style orchards or food forests, where you can add helpful plants such as comfrey, horseradish, berries, etc. between the trees. Dwarf orchards are well suited to intensive plantings as close as 2' together and conventional management styles for ease of picking and spray regimes. Dwarf trees (avoiding tip bearing varieties like Golden Russet) are prized also for espaliering (training) against/or as, a wall or fence. Some spur bearing varieties that are particularly suited for it are Golden Delicious, Cox Orange Pippin, Egremont Russet, Freyburg, Belle de Boskoop and Liberty. 

8) What is your budget?
Besides the obvious price break for quantity and wholesale orders, something to consider when planting an orchard is how much bang for your buck you'll end up with. For example, planting peach trees can add up quick in dollar value, compared to the modest apple. But, how can you resist an aromatic, succulent, tree-ripened peach grown in your own backyard?!
Planting a dwarf tree will yield less fruit than a semi-dwarf, and live a shorter life. If you are trying to maximize the amount of fruit you will get to the cost, I advise sticking with semi-dwarf or full size trees, with some berries on the side (currants or raspberries, etc) which are easy to propagate more once you have a mother plant established, if desired.

9) What flavours/textures do you like?
Sweet, tart, mild, crunchy, softer, a bit of bitterness or full of flavour? Different types of fruit suits different needs, and one size doesn't fit all. This largely applies to fresh eating, but if you have a specific quality that you prize, do a little research and make sure your getting what you want.
This past season, the plums blew me away: yellow-skinned, super sweet, melting flesh (Mirabelle), little blue-skinned sweet, spicy and juicy (Krikon Damson), small blue-skinned flavourful and jammy (Mount Royal), big red delightfully sweet-tang and winey (Waneta), large purple-red skin with juicy sweet flesh (Yakima). And as always, everything has more pizzazz off the tree. You think Macs are soft? Eat one fresh off the tree and tell me they don't have a most satisfying crunch! If you are close enough, come out to our annual fruit tasting, the weekend after Thanksgiving. In 2019, we tasted just over 80 varieties of fruit, mostly grown on site in our test orchard, all grown locally! 

10) How would you organize your orchard?
Layout is important. Once you have your choices picked/as you pick your choices, take some time to make an accurate map. Google maps can be quite helpful in larger spaces! And update it as you plant it. Nursery labels fade faster than you think! I've planted my share of trees/plants over the years, and I make a map for anything that will last over a year. If you are planting more than a couple trees, consider spacing and what pattern (diamond, square, etc.) you want. Our test orchard is spaced in rows 12' apart, with 15' driveways between the rows. This works for all full-size/semi-dwarf trees. If you are planting dwarf, you can plant much closer- do some research when planting larger quantities of trees so you do it right the first time. Also consider how you want them organized; ripening date is a common way of sorting, but type of fruit, use, tree size, etc. are also valid ways of organizing.


In conclusion, it's all connected. I encourage you to think about all of these factors when planting food, and of course, to try something new. Push your limit a little every season. It keeps us supple and growing inside. I've killed so many plants over the years, but I've grown so many more than I could ever have imagined! I wish you all the inspiration and drive to see your dreams through while you plan your own food forest/orchard/backyard/field/place!