There’s a proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Your own orchard will not only provide shade to future generations, but will bear fruit (both figuratively and literally) soon enough for you to enjoy it. A typical orchard will produce food for 15 to 30 years, so don’t be afraid to spend some time before planting – it’ll pay off.
Selecting a site on your property for your orchard is key to a successful, low maintenance crop. The best place to plant an orchard is on the higher side of a sloping hill. A light grade (around five or six percent) allows your trees to drain properly and naturally prevents over watering. Planting at the top of a hill leaves your orchard vulnerable to high winds, while planting in the bottom of a valley leads to flooding and frost.
Consult a soilmap to determine where on your property trees can best take root. Most fruit and nut trees prefer a fairly deep loamy soil (three feet – or even more). Obviously the best time to add amendments to the soil is before planting trees, so don’t be afraid to borrow or rent earthmoving equipment to till the soil of your site and mix in manure.
Of course, if you just want a pleasant place to pick some apples, you can plant trees haphazardly. If high production is your goal, plant trees in north-south rows – they’ll get more natural sunlight than east-west rows. Leave ample space between rows: you
won’t need to prune as often and you’ll be able to drive a between them. A rule of thumb: plant trees within a row as far apart as the fully-grown height of the trees and space the rows half again the expected height. For example, if you’re planting apple trees expected to grow ten feet tall, you’d want ten feet between trees within a row and 15 feet between rows.
While you can plant fruit trees from seeds, using grafted fruit trees from a local nursery will let you sit in their shade years earlier. It’s best to select multiple varieties (or cultivars) of a particular fruit to enhance cross-polination. The University of Missouri recommends the following cultivars for home orchards:
Apricots: Goldcot, Harglow, Wilson Delicious
Apples: Arkansas Black, Enterprise, Liberty and Summer Wonder Fuji
Peaches: Blazing Star, Blushingstar, Contender, Flamin’ Fury, Redhaven and TangOs
Pears: Harrow Delight, Honeysweet, Seckel, Starking Delicious and Olympic Giant
Nectarines: Emeraude, Fantasia, Flamin’ Fury and Stark Ovation
Plums: Damson, Earliblue, Ozark Premier, Redheart and Shiro