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Planning Your Backyard Orchard – Beginner’s Guide (2021)

Beginner’s Guide to Planning Your Backyard Orchard will help get you started growing your own fruit trees to use the bounty in cooking, canning, dehydrating, and eating the fruit raw.

If you’re looking for more ideas on creating your food forest, Creating Your Own Tea Garden and How to Start a Victory Garden will help you get started.

Planning Your Backyard Orchard - Beginner's Guide - Apple tree full of ripe apples.

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

Martin Luther

The inspiration for this blog post is the abundance of fruit I’ve been gathering from my own backyard orchard.

Three apple trees, two pear trees, and two cherry trees are giving me so much fruit, I can barely keep up with preserving the harvest.

It’s a problem I’m happy to have.

Fruit trees are not only beautiful, they put food on my table and are easy to care for at the same time.  Why wouldn’t everyone want a few fruit trees sprinkled in their landscape?

My neighbor bought an acre of land next door to me a year ago. Her plan is to build a tiny home and create a food forest on that acre.

She still doesn’t live there full-time but she did manage to plant her small backyard orchard already.

Backyard orchards should be one of the first things you plant when buying a house because it can take a couple of years for the trees to mature enough to give you the bounty you want.

Creating a Cozy Life Group

Since you’re planning your backyard orchard, I’m guessing you like all things cozy living. I created a Facebook group called Creating a Cozy Life with over 57,000 like-minded souls.

It’s a group where we share recipes, pictures of things that leave you in awe, and ideas on how to make your life just a little bit more snug.  Join here to be part of the virtual cozy cabin.

Fresh Picked Apples in a Basket
Fresh picked apples in a basket

Why have a backyard orchard?

1. Instead of just looking at beautiful trees in your yard, why not grow your own food at the same time?

There’s nothing healthier than feeding your family freshly picked produce.

2. You leave a legacy when you plant a fruit tree.  Your home might not be the only home you own, but the next people who own your home will also be able to enjoy fruits of your effort too.

Planting a fruit tree in celebration of  births, birthdays, anniversaries and milestone achievements will leave you with a permanent reminder of happy days.

3. You will have enough fruit to preserve to last the entire year once all your fruit trees mature.

4. If you’re growing fruit trees to start a business selling your produce, I wrote an article on How to Start a Jelly and Jam Business.

Research the Type of Trees You Want for Your Backyard Orchard

Here’s the fun part…deciding what types of trees to plant.  You are going to want to pick the varieties of fruit that do well in your area.

There are cold hardy varieties and low-chill varieties.  You also want to consider the best trees that are disease and pest resistance.

You can contact your local garden center and ask for recommendations on fruit trees or you can simply ask your neighbors what type of fruit trees they grow.

Know Your Backyard Orchard Gardening Zone

Your garden zone is going to be a factor in making your decision on the varieties of trees you pick. You can find your garden zone here on Garden.org. You simply put in your zip code and it will give you your zone.

One of my favorite ways to determine what plants and trees works best in any area is to join a local gardening group. If you are pressed for time, you can always look for local Facebook gardening groups. They will be happy to answer questions you might have.

Keep in mind the times of the year you would like the fruit to ripen.  Will all the trees you plant ripen at the same time or would you rather have successive ripening?

Create a spreadsheet with the different varieties of backyard fruit trees you’re interested in growing. Note the trees fruit production schedule.

Keep in mind that you’re going to have to preserve the harvest from your home orchard. Will you have help? If not, you will have to keep that in mind when you note the different ripening times.

You also have evaluate how much room you will need for each fruit tree.  Some trees take up more space than others because of their tree size or root system.

Choosing between dwarf, semi dwarf trees, and standard trees

There are three different sized trees for you to choose from. Deciding which size to pick will vary on your needs and the amount of space you have.

Standard trees need the most space and they take longer to mature. They also outlast the amount of fruit bearing years compared to dwarf and semi-dwarf trees.

Dwarf trees mature at a much faster rate than standard trees and are perfect for a small space. The downside of planting this sized tree is they won’t produce as long as standard trees.

If you have the space, add a few dwarf fruit trees along with your big trees.  The reason for this is because harvesting fruit from your plantings might take longer than you think, so the small trees will enable you start enjoying the “fruits of your labor” (pun intended) while waiting for the large trees to produce.

Here’s an example of spacing and average wait for fruit:

Cherry tree

A standard sized cherry tree will take four to six years to mature. They need 35-40 feet spacing between trees.

Dwarf varieties can start producing fruit in as little as two years. Tree spacing fro dwarf cherry trees is 8-10 feet.

Most fruit trees require a certain amount of cold hours during the winter in order to bear fruit. If your area of the country doesn’t get cold enough for the fruit to set, you could wind up with a nice tree – but no fruit. That’s why knowing your gardening zone is so important.

Heritage Trees

Heritage trees are becoming quite popular.  They may not look the prettiest, but the fruit tastes amazing.  It will also be nice to have fresh fruit that’s not readily available in grocery stores.

As always, look for the type of tree that does best in your area.

I was recently browsing a website that specialized in heirloom fruit trees. It was so fun just to see the variety of fig trees they had available.

What Types of Fruit Trees Will You Plant?

Here’s some questions you might ask yourself before deciding what types of fruit trees you need:

  1. What are you and your family’s favorite types of fresh fruit?
  2. Will you be preserving the harvest with canning, dehydrating, and freezing? If so, what type of fruit will you need to fulfill your preserving needs?
  3. Does your fruit tree require a pollinator? When I decided on having a cherry tree in my backyard orchard, I found out that you had to have another type of cherry tree in order to cross-pollinate.

Pick a Location for your Backyard Orchard

You’re going to want to pick the best places on your property to plant your backyard orchard.  Deciding this depends how much sun the tree needs and the area in which you live.

Does your tree need full sun or partial sun?

Knowing how wet your soil is throughout your property, will also make a difference where you plant your backyard orchard.  

Most fruit trees don’t like wet soil.

An easy soil drainage test will indicate if the spot you have picked for planting your fruit tree is the right place. 

Dig a hole that is approximately 14 inches wide by 14 inches deep and fill it with water.  Allow the hole to drain.  

After the hole drains, fill it again with more water.  If it takes a day or less to drain the second time, you’ve picked the right spot for good drainage.

One thing I picked up by living outside of Seattle is to make sure you don’t plant your trees anywhere that is where water travels when the rainy season hits.

There were parts of my yard that the water run-off naturally gravitated to, and planting a tree where the water congregates during a rainy season would have been a mistake.

Planning your backyard orchard has to be well thought out so you don’t waste any time waiting for your trees to mature, only to be disappointed because of the location to plant your tree didn’t work.

How to Create a Backyard Orchard - Pear Tree

Amending the soil in your Backyard Orchard 

When you make a decision of where your fruit trees will be planted, you can test your soil with a simple soil testing kit in fall or early spring.  You can find a soil testing kit here on Amazon.  

Here’s a great video on how to take a soil test in your yard.  

Depending where you live, your soil will probably need amending and that can take some time providing how much change is needed.  (Sometimes years…depending how acidic it is.)

Soil that is too acid, will need limestone mixed in with it to create a proper PH level.

If your soil too alkaline, you will need compost materials or soil conditioners to decrease alkalinity.

Winter Care for Backyard Orchards

Thawing and freezing of the soil throughout the fall to spring season causes the soil to expand and then contract, according to Dr. Diana Cochran, an extension fruit specialist at Iowa State University in the Living the Country Life Magazine. This occurrence can damage roots.

Add a 4-6 inch layer of mulch to the root zone of all your young trees to help prevent root damage from happening.

Fruit trees are also vulnerable to rodent damage in winter. To prevent these hungry pests from eating your trees wrap them with metal mesh or commercial tree wrap 24 inches above snow depth and 3 inches below the soil, if possible.

Backyard Orchard Culture

There’s a way you can have multiple fruit trees in a smaller space. Instead of planting your fruit trees like commercial growers do, you plant them closer together and keep the trees small with pruning.

This video from Dave Wilson Nursery will teach you more about backyard orchard culture.

Backyard Orchard Culture from Dave Wilson Nursery

We’ve reached the end of 3 Steps on Planning Your Mini Backyard Orchard.  Pretty soon you will be on your way to canning and preserving your harvest.

Let me know in the comments below how your backyard orchard is going and what your favorite fruit trees are.

Make sure you join our Creating a Cozy Life – Hygge Style Facebook group.  You’re not going to believe how amazing it is.  Join here to be part of the virtual cozy cabin.

Pin this backyard orchard post below on your garden board on Pinterest. 

Thanks for stopping by.  I’m so happy you found us!  

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Leslie

Monday 8th of June 2020

We are planning on planting 9 trees in the next year. All will be in 3 rows of 3. Any tips? We will do 2 apple, lemon, orange, avocado, nectarine, plum, cherry and not sure on #9.

Kelly

Thursday 23rd of July 2020

Sorry about the long delay. I've been dealing with a cross-country move. MAKe sure you have 2 cherry trees - they need two to cross-pollinate. It depends on your area, but I love fig trees too! Kelly

Rachel

Monday 18th of May 2020

Hi I have beautiful pomegranate tree it had over 300 blooms on it and now maybe 10 they are all falling off any suggestions thanks

Kelly

Monday 18th of May 2020

Hello Rachel! I have never had a pomegranate tree. How wonderful for you! They do have problems with pests. I would see what you might have and see what plants you can plant at the base to keep those pests away. They can also have mold issues. I would ask locally what type of issues people have and how best to combat them. Kelly

Rachel Reese

Sunday 16th of February 2020

are dwarf trees easier to maintain for someone short and living alone.

Kelly

Sunday 16th of February 2020

Yes, dwarf trees are perfect for a smaller space. Just make sure the trees you pick are hearty to your area. Go to a LOCAL nursery versus a big box store. Kelly

Nicole

Wednesday 7th of November 2018

I planted 2 apples trees in my yard 2 years ago. 1 empire and 1 red delicious (my husband's choice). Any tips on getting them grow more fruit? How and when to trim? Thanks!

Kelly

Wednesday 7th of November 2018

Hello Nicole! Yes! You can add mulch periodically, but make sure it's away from the tree in winter - otherwise mice will nest in it and chew your tree. You don't want to prune a young tree too much because it will slow a tree's growth. Catch misplaced branches early by rubbing off the buds. I hope this helps. Kelly

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