How to Start an Apple Orchard

There are many things you need to consider before starting an apple orchard in your garden. You’ll need to plan the types of apples you will choose to grow, the size and placement of trees, the water system, and the control of pests and disease. In this article we will cover how to start an apple orchard in your garden. The key to a successful apple orchard is quite a bit of planning and research, research and more research.

Find out what types of apples grow best in your area, you can refer to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones web page. Also check with the County Extension office in your area as to what types of apples are the best to grow where you live. Apples vary in color, size, taste, harvest season, uses, storage and other characteristics. These are all factors to consider when planning your orchard.

Another key aspect to consider is pollination. Each variety of apple tree has a certain pollinator that must grow within close proximity to one another. Again, you can contact your local County Extension Office to find out what type of trees will pollinate each other. There are also self-pollinating trees available that have multiple grafts on a single rootstock.

Tree Size

The rootstock is the part of the tree that is underground. Rootstocks determine the size of the fully grown tree and are available in standard size, semi-dwarf and dwarf. The scion or cultivar is the part of the tree that is above ground. They are grafted onto the rootstock and determine the type of apples that the tree will produce.

Both semi-dwarf and dwarf sized apple trees will produce full-sized apples. You can consult a local nursery for prices and availability or you can order your trees from an online nursery but always keep in mind the above considerations. Sprouting apple trees from seeds is another option, but it requires skills and knowledge too involved to go into here.

Design the Layout

The size and shape of the area in which you wish to grow your orchard will influence the size and placement of the trees. Do you have a lot of room to grow trees and their appropriate pollinators or will the space limit the number of trees making self-pollinating trees your best choice?

The size of adult trees determines the amount of spacing required for each tree. Dwarf trees need at least 12 feet between each other, semi-dwarf trees need at least 20 feet and full-sized trees require at least 30 feet of spacing between them. Before your shovel even touches the ground, you should have a diagram of the exact layout of your orchard.

If the space available is extremely limited you can still enjoy apple trees by planting dwarf sized trees in large pots. This will save room and also enable you to take advantage of the available sunlight. Apple trees require at least 5 hours of full sunlight each day in order to thrive.

For moderately sized areas you can plant a row of trees along the border of your yard or garden. Apple trees can be trained to grow to fit into a particular area by using wires to control the direction of their new growth.

Watering System

The most common cause of failure is improper watering. Either to much or not enough water will affect the tree‘s success. A proper water delivery system is a must and should be planned for in the design layout of the orchard.

A drip irrigation system is one type of watering system that works well and is inexpensive and easy to install during the planting of your trees. Some research into different types of watering can be useful at this point in planning.

Soil and Fertilizers

An absolute must is healthy soil and good fertilizer. You can have your soil tested for its ph and nutrient levels. This small investment is the only way to guarantee that you have healthy soil. You can purchase a soil testing kit but why not get it professionally done for a few more dollars.

Although apple trees are very hardy they are still susceptible to diseases and pests. Educate yourself about the symptoms, causes and treatments of the most common problems associated with growing apple trees.

It cannot be said enough that the key to a successful apple orchard is in the research and the planning. Good luck planting your own apple orchard!