Planning and planting an orchard
by Anonymous Author
Establishing an orchard on your lifestyle block can involve a good deal of work, and sometimes money, so it’s worth doing some careful planning before taking spade to soil. If you get it right, it will reward you for decades with home-grown fruit and nuts.
It’s important to look at the conditions you have on your property before beginning planting, because it’s easier to work with the natural patterns of your land than against them. Study air flow, water flow, orientation to the sun, and where the prevailing winds and frost come from.
A slope is a great thing to have in an orchard, because it allows cold air to run downhill, and provides frost-free spots at the upper end.
Wet patches and very dry spots on your land are not necessarily a bad thing: you just need to put the right plants in the right places. Hazelnuts, for example, like a good sharp winter chill, so a hollow that harbours frost is just the right place for them.
Wet areas, particularly those rich in nutrients like the far end of your septic tank leach field, are great for plums. Citrus also like high nutrients but don’t like wet feet. Dry, windy areas are ideal for trees that are prone to fungal and bacterial rots, so these areas can house nectarines, peaches and walnuts.
Planting and maintenance
The layout of your orchard can be traditional rows, or something completely different. Rows can be fine, especially if you are only growing a limited range of fruit trees, but it can create large gaps between plants which may need a tractor for grass and weed control.
Consider not using a tractor in the orchard to avoid soil compaction and reliance on fossil fuels. Instead consider a food forest where planting is very mixed, and is based on the best microclimate for the species involved.
A minimum space of four to five metres between trees should be allowed, and large spreading trees like walnuts should be at least 25 metres apart.
Thinking about the mature height of each tree is also important. Tall trees need to be positioned so they won’t shade other trees.
To minimise grass and weed growth, use heavy mulching with organic material (a mixture of lawn clippings and dry leaves is good), applied during the wettest possible conditions to enhance soil moisture retention.
The final word on the subject of grass and weeds is not to panic. Grasses only grow to a certain height and then fall over in autumn.
As long as you clear around young trees and avoid fire hazards, they won’t do much damage to your orchard. Water conservation in the orchard is very important, especially if you don’t have a stream or bore available and are relying on rainwater.
It’s very helpful to have storage tanks located as close to the top of your slope as possible.
You can also use the ancient technique of building swales, which are essentially small ditches like miniature terraces, which retain water on the slope. And mulch heavily with organic matter to minimise evaporation from the soil.
Always investigate what cultivars grow well in your area before planting. For example, you may like Golden Queen peaches, but they may not do well on your property while another type of peach will thrive.
Contact your local branch of the Tree Crops Association to get information on appropriate cultivars for your area, and detailed advice on care for each type of tree.