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Site Your Home Orchard in the Best Place

Posted by Sarah Fellerer -

The last two weeks have covered several aspects of growing fruit trees in a back yard. This week covers where you place your dwarf fruit tree home orchard. This can make a really big difference in how the fruit tree grows and performs. A major consideration is the soil in the area you are considering for your fruit trees. Fruit trees are no different than other trees or shrubs in your landscape, they need good soil drainage. Placing the home orchard where water will drain away very soon after a rain event will help ensure that the roots will have the needed soil oxygen to continue to supply both the moisture and nutrients needed to the canopy to support continued growth of the foliage and filling of the fruits. If the soil oxygen is displaced for an extended period of time, the roots are unable to move the moisture and nutrients up into the tree. Soils that remain too wet will also promote root loss through decay, putting further stress on the fruit tree.

Besides the soil needing to drain, another area that we don't often hear about is air drainage. Home orchardists can avoid those late spring frosts to a great degree by placing the trees on a slope or at the high point in the landscape so the cold air settles away from the fruit trees to the bottom of the hill or slope. The concern here is preventing the more frost susceptible flower buds from being damaged. We have a heard about a citrus crops in Florida being killed by cold weather; our dwarf fruit trees can suffer the same fate and in 2012 that is exactly what happened in all on Northern Illinois. We cannot do much about a hard frost or light freeze, yet by planting our trees in the best possible locations in the yard, we can reduce the risk.


Home orchardists can do a couple of things to reduce the risk of a late frost too. You can delay the spring growth of your dwarf fruit trees by mulching the soil very late in the fall or early winter well after we have had cold weather set in and after the ground is very cold or frozen. This activity will keep the ground frozen and the root system cold and delay the fruit tree from breaking dormancy even by a few days, helping us get past the chances of that late frost. The other activity can be done is protecting those flower buds from cold air by placing a temporary wind break up to break up or slow the cold wind. Being creative and make the windbreak out of common materials you already have or using the least expensive material you can buy. The windbreak only has to last for a few weeks and does not have to be set up in the fall. You may have to place the supports in the fall while the ground is not frozen, but the actual material used for the windbreak itself can go up later. If you have the space you can plant a permanent windbreak just like commercial orchards.

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