Tips to establish a backyard fruit tree orchard

Growing fruit trees has appealed to experienced and novice farmers alike for generations, but establishing a backyard orchard takes time and patience. Knowing how to get started can be a challenge. Below are a few tips to help you learn the tricks of growing your own fresh fruit that is ripe for the picking:

Getting started:

  • Dwarf varieties (typically 10 feet tall) are easier to maintain, and their fruits are easier to harvest.
  • Don’t plant trees too deep. The tree’s graft union should be planted 4 to 5 inches above the ground then the tree should be mulched (2 to 3 inches) to aid in moisture retention and weed control.
  • Young trees will need to be staked. For their first year, the trees should be watered if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week.

Purchasing a tree:

  • Trees can be purchased through mail-order catalogs as bare-rooted whips or in containers from local nurseries and garden centers.
  • Whips, often preferred for easier training and establishment, are best planted in March or April.
  • Container-grown trees can be planted any time during the growing season as long as sufficient water is supplied.

Where to plant:

  • Good soil drainage – to improve soil drainage create a mound of soil by combining current soil with amended topsoil.
  • Good air circulation.
  • Full sun (six to eight hours of sunlight).
  • Minimal wildlife intrusion.
  • Higher elevations more likely to escape spring frosts.
  • Distance from neighbors’ potentially diseased fruit trees.

Tree care:

  • Do an annual application of fertilizer. While fertilization needs vary by soil types, typically trees are fertilized each spring with a dry fertilizer broadcast under the tree drip line. Do not over fertilize because too much fertilizer will produce lots of leaves but little fruit.
  • Occasional pruning helps keep fruit trees open so sunlight – an essential element for photosynthesis and fruit bud development – can enter.
  • For pest control, start with a basic spray to control destructive codling moths and apple maggots then increase or decrease levels based on the results.

Fruit maturity:
Tree fruits reach maturity at different times depending on variety and climate, so monitor the fruits’ color for harvest readiness. The fruits’ undercolor or ground color also can be a good indicator. Watch for the green color to change to a little yellow green then to the respective ripe fruit’s normal skin color.

These tips are from the Ohio State Extension publication “Midwest Home Fruit Production Guide,” and were previously published in Our Ohio magazine. View the original story.

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