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Down the Garden Path

Site Your Home Orchard in the Best Place

Where you place your dwarf fruit tree home orchard, or even the one or two fruit trees you are going to grow, makes a big difference in how the fruit tree grows and performs. A major consideration is the soil in the area you are considering for your fruit trees. Fruit trees are no different than other trees and shrubs in your landscape; they need good soil drainage.

Place the home orchard where water will drain away very soon after a rain event. This will help ensure the roots will have the needed soil oxygen to continue to supply both the moisture and nutrients to the canopy. This will support continued growth of the foliage and filling of the fruits. If the soil oxygen is displaced for an extended period of time, the roots are unable to move the moisture and nutrients up into the tree. Soils that remain too wet will also promote root loss through decay, putting further stress on the fruit tree. If your soils are on the heavy side, meaning lots of clay, then plant the fruit trees a bit higher in the planting hole. Even a couple of inches can make a difference.

Another important area that we do not often hear about is air drainage. Home orchardists can avoid those late spring frosts to a great degree by placing the trees on a slope or at the high point in the landscape. Then, the cold air settles to the bottom and away. The idea here is preventing the more frost-susceptible flower buds from damage in late winter and very early spring. We have heard about a citrus crop in Florida being lost to cold weather; our dwarf fruit trees can suffer the same fate. The trees survive, but the flower buds do not. With the cold weather we have had this winter, stone fruits like peaches have likely already suffered the loss of their flower buds. We cannot do much about a hard frost or light freeze, yet by planting our trees in the best possible locations in the yard, we can reduce the risk.

Home orchardists also can do a couple of things to reduce the risk of a late frost. You can delay the spring growth of your dwarf fruit trees by mulching the soil late in the fall or early winter. Wait until after we have had cold weather set in and hopefully after the ground is very cold or even frozen. This activity will keep the ground frozen and the root system cold and delay the fruit tree from breaking dormancy. Even a few days can help us get past the chances of that late frost. The other activity that can be done to protect those flower buds from cold air is to place a temporary wind break to break up or slow the cold wind. Be creative and make the windbreak out of common materials you already have or use the least expensive material you can buy. The windbreak only has to last for a few weeks and does not have to be set up in the fall. You may have to place the supports in the fall while the ground is not frozen, but the actual material used for the windbreak itself can go up later. If you have the space, you can plant a permanent windbreak just like the commercial orchards.