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Designing an Orchard

An orchard is a long term project and your efforts will be rewarded by some forward planning.

Selecting cultivars on the right rootstock; choosing the right style of tree for your needs and planting the trees accordingly requires some research or a prior understanding of these issues.

Fruitscape offers an orchard design service, which offers the orchard as a kit according to your needs.

Please contact Fruitscape  to discuss your requirements.

Before you embark on your project ask yourself a few questions

  • What is the intended use of the orchard? Commercial, semi commercial, as a community orchard or for home use
  • What quantity of apples are you looking to produce?
  • If for market, have you identified the market and how soon do you need to supply?
  • How much labour are you able to put into the project?
  • Is the orchard to be in grass?
  • Is the orchard to be grazed? If so by what?
  • Is the orchard to be certified organic, non certified organic or conventionally grown?
  • Are you looking to grow Heritage varieties, apples of local provenance or just good apples?

A number of questions, but by considering them you will be better prepared for planning the orchard.

.In fairness, we should consider a few points.  So to start with lets consider.....

Location, Location, Location as the addage goes stands true for fruit trees too.   Ideally a south facing, slightly sloping site, that is not in a frost pocket and has good drainage.   The compromise location, is one where the tree can get at least 5 hours late summer sun, to develope the sugars in the fruit, but not in direct competition with other trees or vigourous plants.

When it comes to Soil type apple trees are fairly tolerant of most soils, though there are two which cause a problem - those that remain waterlogged and those on chalk soils. If drainage can be provided then it is to be recommended, though expensive. Strongly alkaline soils can cause chlorosis (yellowing) of the leaves due to pH and magnesium interaction. However by selecting lime tolerant cultivars, the problem can be lessened.

Apple Rootstocks

We recommend apple rootstock MM106 for the North of England because of its ability to regenerate and cope with our conditions in this country.   Our experience has shown it to cope with all locations and has the ability to be trained into cordons, step overs, espaliers, bush, pyramids and half standards.  Ideally the soil should be fertile, you do not need to laden the soil with manure, but if you have been able to plan ahead, a crop of potatoes before planting will, with your efforts, have helped clear the ground of perennial weeds and added some organic matter to the soil to aid moisture retention. The soil should not be given any quick fertilisers as they promote sappy growth and can effect the nutrient balance. Before adding lime, check the soil pH because lime can cause nutrient imballances.

Pollination requirements should be factored in too. Apples typically come into flower at the begining of May and flower for roughly ten days, peak blossom occuring on day five. Each apple variety flowers at a particular time; consequently apples have been divided into six groups 1-6 / A-F depending on which catalogue you read. For pollination to occur apples need pollen from varieties in the same group or from an adjacent group. For instance Ellisons Orange is a Group 3 and will be pollinated by other group 3s but also those in groups 2 and 4. This is because when Ellisons Orange is in flower, it is being overlapped at the start of blossom by group 2 and at the end by group 4s. Apples are not typically self fertile; when they are they fruit better when pollenated by another variety. When planning the layout you may choose to plant so that pollination groups are located in a similar area. However consideration should also be given to ease of harvest as apples of similar picking times may then be scattered. Further information can be found here

Rodent, Rabbit and Deer can cause havoc in an orchard by grazing the bark of the trees, especially during a hard winter and as such the trees need protecting accordingly. Whether it is practical to fence the entire area is a matter of choice, but given the investment in trees, should be put into the equation. Grazing livestock, will graze around the tree and any branches they can reach; they also have the ability to destabilise the tree by rubbing against it. Solid fencing around the tree should thus be provided. Having the pigs in the orchard after harvest can pose a risk if left in too long as they can start digging under the trees once the easy pickings have been grazed. They too love trees as scratching posts.

Answering the initial questions posed will help in deciding what style of tree to adopt. Knowing the tree style, what rootstock and what variety has been selected, will allow the determination of planting distances.

Please remember that Fruitscape offers an orchard design service, which offers the orchard as kit according to your needs. For further information please contact Fruitscape  to discuss your requirements.