Where you place your dwarf fruit tree home orchard or even the one or two fruit trees you are going to grow make a big difference in how the fruit tree grows and performs. A major consideration is the soil. Fruit trees are no different than other trees and shrubs in your landscape, they need good soil drainage. Placing the home orchard where water will drain away very soon after a rain event will help ensure that the roots will have the needed soil oxygen to continue to supply both the moisture and nutrients needed to the canopy to support continued growth of the foliage and filling of the fruits. Soils that remain too wet will promote root and crown decay, putting further stress on the fruit tree and potential decline and death, especially if crown rot is the culprit. 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.
Besides needing good soil drainage, another 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 so the cold air settles away from the trees. The challenge is preventing the more frost susceptible flower buds from damage late in the winter and very early spring. We hear 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. By planting our trees in the best possible locations in the yard, we can reduce the risk. Stone fruits like peaches are the most susceptible to those late spring frosts.
Home orchardists can do a couple of things to reduce the risk of a late frost too. You can delay the spring growth of your dwarf fruit trees by mulching the soil in early winter well, 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 by a few days, helping us get past the chances of that late frost. The other activity that can be done is protecting those more sensitive flower buds from cold air by placing a temporary wind break up to break up or slow the cold wind. Being creative and make the windbreak out of common materials you already have or using 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.
About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.