Build your orchard today

We just received the first of the new trees for our orchard: a peach, nectarine, and fig. Some apples are on the way via U.S. Mail. The trees are “bare root,” which means that they look a whole lot like sticks with roots. Their small size makes them good mail-order travelers, a handy option for all of us without a well-stocked local nursery.

While we have planned for months to plant new trees, holiday madness distracted us and we found ourselves scrambling on our orchard project. The tree holes are not ready. The orchard is in general disarray. The chickens, who are housed inside the orchard, have been the only caretakers of the orchard for months. I have a good dose of exercise, fresh air, and sunshine in front of me before these new trees will be planted.

If you find yourself in a similar jam, order your trees now and hold them while you work on your orchard. Even now, late in the bare root season, you will be able to find trees online and you can hold them just like the nurseries do.

If your orchard is not ready when the trees arrive, place them in well-drained moist soil and keep the root clump well-covered. Do not cover the trees above the graft area near the bottom of the trunk.

In the meantime, work on your tree holes when your soil is not frozen. I usually dig holes at least three feet deep and up to about five feet deep. I fill the holes with layers of leaves, manure, and soil until the hole is about two feet deep. Here in cattle country, cow pies work well for that manure layer, but a bag of composted steer manure from a local nursery is usually more convenient. The deep hole and layers are optional but provide the tree with additional nutrients for many years. Before the project is complete, we will make a chicken-wire basket to place in the hole and then place the tree in that basket. We fill in with soil around the wire basket and tree. The wire keeps pests from eating the delicate roots before the tree becomes established.

If you wonder how you will choose among all of the trees, look at some of the trees with multiple varieties on one root stock. For instance, we own a five-variety cherry which produces about six weeks of cherries for us and our bird friends.

There is nothing better than walking into your own yard, smelling ripened fruit—like you never will smell even at the best farmers market—and eating fruit right off the tree. Once your orchard is established, the satisfaction of fresh tree-ripened fruit takes very little effort and makes for good trade among friends.

Plan: Plant trees in a small space with space-saving practices from Bay Laurel and Trees of Antiquity. Choose one tree with several fruit limbs grafted on.

Shop: California-based Trees of Antiquity has a large selection of heirloom trees and a large mail-order business that serves us well. Bay Laurel Nursery in Atascadero is our “local” choice when we are visiting the Central Coast of California but has a big online business as well.

Plant: How to plant from Bay Laurel and Trees of Antiquity.

8 Responsesto “Build your orchard today”

  1. tai haku says:

    Awesome post – everyone should have an orchard of some sort! I want to take issue with some of the advice offered. Planting trees in a hole that has been pre-sweetened with organic matter and made more fertile sounds like a good idea and will produce good results….initially. However by putting alll the nutrients the tree needs around its roots straight away you are taking away the incentive it needs to produce a strong and exploratory root system. Better to just put it in an unamended hole and then mulch on top the next year.

    Also those multiple graft plants invariably produce limbs (representing one variety) that are stronger and overwhelm the others with unsatisfactory results (like the weaker varieties dying back/off) in my experience.

  2. Amanda Rose says:

    Thanks for posting tai-haku! This is one of those situations where I will “ask mom.” She’s the opinion leader in this house for gardening. This is how she plants trees and it’s been very successful, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. Your approach may be our default approach anyway since I haven’t started digging.


  3. tai haku says:

    Well my approach does have one definitive advantage in that regard – its less work and I’m very lazy!

  4. Amanda Rose says:

    LOL tai haku. It’s hard to be a lazy gardener as much as you might want to claim the label.


  5. tai haku says:

    Sadly so true…

  6. Amanda Rose says:

    I ask mom and she reminded me of the family story I am surprised I had forgotten.

    Our orchard is the “Hardcastle Memorial Orchard,” named for my aunt’s family. My aunt is my aunt by marriage, my mother’s brother’s wife. I grew up in a small town with the Hardcastles about four houses to the east of us and my uncle and aunt five houses to the west. The Hardcastles lived out of their garden. He was an avid gardener and she worked hard all summer preserving the produce.

    Each year he dug a compost bin that was about five feet deep and five feet square. All of the garden refuse went into that hole for a season. He layered the refuse with dirt. At the end of the season, he started a second hole and let the first one stew. By the end of the second season, he used the first hole to plant a new tree for his orchard. My mom claims that his three-year-old trees put on fruit like eight-year-old trees. She has never planted a tree in the same way since. We continue the tradition here. If it does nothing but burn calories for me, then I’ll remember the Hardcastles while doing it.

    It’s a terrible thing that grandparent-types always leave us far too soon.


  7. tai haku says:

    Well as the sayings go dance with what brung you and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. If its working for you in your area why change? Speaking of heavy fruiting on three year old trees check out our quince last year:

    Apparently they don’t do well in the states but how awesome do they look in fruit?

  8. Amanda Rose says:

    That is a beautiful tree, tai haku. You’re right, whatever works. For me, the biggest miracle of digging a hole will actually be getting myself away from this computer.