Planning and planting an orchard

by Anonymous Author

There’s nothing like fresh fruit or nuts picked straight from the tree, which you have grown yourself.

However, establishing an orchard on your lifestyle block can involve a good deal of work, so it’s worth doing some careful planning before rushing into planting.

Planning

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 don’t shade other trees.

Apples are a reliable tree to have in any orchard. Plant a 
variety of apples that a good to cook with and ones that 
are great to eat straight from the tree

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.

Plant a ‘herbal ley’, which could include plantain, red clover, chicory and yarrow, for their nutritive value and companion planting, for example dahlias are helpful near apple trees because they harbour earwigs, which eat codling moth caterpillars. The final word on the subject of grass and weeds is don’t 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. 

Walnuts are a highly nutritional crop and are successfully 
grown all around Selwyn

You can also use the ancient technique of building swales, which is essentiallysmall ditches like miniature terraces, which retain water on the slope. 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.