Planning an Orchard on your Suburban Homestead

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


Ever since I can remember my one dream (or fantasy) has been to have a large orchard of my favorite fruits; chalk full of crisp juicy apples, sweet plums, pears, pluots, and peaches. I can see in my mind’s eye tall grasses and colorful wildflowers growing in between the trees, and let’s not forget the heady scent of blossoms floating on a light spring breeze. This is surely my kind of decadent.

But, on a small suburban homestead where space is at a premium and a large variety of trees is not practical, how do you make the dream a reality? Add to that the fact that most fruit trees take time to produce…sometimes several years, and the mind reels.

How do you go from dream to reality?  My answer…step-by-step, that’s how.


STEP 1:  Start with a Plan. As with most projects on my homestead they all started with pencil and paper. It actually started years ago with a master footprint of my property laid out on a large piece of graph paper. Once the perimeter lines of the property were drawn I penciled in the house, patio, walkways and stationary structures like the barn and the greenhouse. I also included large shade trees, raised beds, arbors and flowerbeds. At that point I knew the areas I could plant fruit trees in.

Needless to say, a small plot of land fills up fast, but it’s important to see where available space is in the greater picture rather than just digging a hole and planting a tree.

STEP 2:  DREAM! Dream Big. This is the time to go crazy. Make a list of all the fruit trees you’ve ever wanted, and especially the ones your family enjoys most. Don’t worry about whether or not the variety will work in your climate, just dream.

STEP 3:  Take your list and start researching. Check out growing zones for each tree. Some trees can’t handle hot dry weather while others shrink in humidity. You’ll also want to check the chill hours required to set fruit, especially for stone fruits, which need a certain number of hours below 45 degrees. This USDA plant hardiness chart will be helpful, while this chart at Grandpa’s Orchard gives a lot of good chill information. If you don’t see the variety of tree you want to plant just research it individually. No sense in going through the expense and work of planting an orchard only to have it fail.

Master Gardener programs, local nurseries, Cooperative Extension and local gardeners are also good resources for specifics about growing fruit in your area. And, they have a vested interest in helping you get it right.

Something else to consider…How much could your Orchard Produce?


As an example, a mature citrus tree can produce 200 pounds or more, while a mature stone fruit tree, like peaches or plums, will give you about 75 to 100 pounds of fruit. If you have multiple trees…that’s a lot of fruit!

So, unless you have a farm stand or family, friends or neighbors who you love to eat freshly picked fruit, you’ll need to think about preserving the harvest or limiting the number of trees in your orchard. Even a few trees can be a boon to your homestead production.

STEP 4:  Check out Tree Pollination. After you know what trees will do well in your area you’ll want to know which ones are self-pollinating and which ones need another tree in order to pollinate. Self-pollinating types include: apricots, pomegranates, citrus, figs, grapes, persimmons, most peaches, most berries, and European plums (although they produce better with two varieties).

Trees that are not self-pollinators will need another tree for pollination in order to produce fruit. The trick here is you need to have two different varieties that bloom at the same time. If one tree blooms in spring and the other in summer they cannot pollinate each other. In a suburban setting you do have the opportunity to pollinate off a neighbors tree, as long as it isn’t much more than 50-feet away. Find out what variety they have and buy a different variety in order to cross pollinate.

Trees that require pollination include: Apples, pears, Japanese plums, cherries and all nut trees.

STEP 5:  Space is always a consideration living on a small suburban homestead. But, that doesn’t mean an orchard cannot be in your future. With the surge in urban and suburban gardening and homesteading there is a plethora of fruit trees specifically for small areas. From dwarf to pole to espaliered trees you should be able to find what you’re looking for that will fit into your homestead plan. Remember also, that in a suburban setting you probably won’t have the traditional large orchard. Your fruit trees will probably be intermixed with flower beds, vegetable gardens, even planted close to a fence.

Dwarf fruit trees are regular fruit trees hybridized to grow less than 10-15 feet tall, while standard fruit trees can grow as tall as 10-20 feet with a spread about the same. Espaliered fruit trees are specially pruned to grow flat against a wall or fence, which makes them perfect for small areas. Pole fruit trees are just like they sound. They are fruit trees that have been hybridized and pruned to grow vertically like a pole. They too take a bit more pruning to keep them manageable, but it is well worth the effort to have your own productive orchard.

STEP 6:  Walk your plan. Take your master plan and your list of fruit trees and walk your property. See where you have space and if the space is enough for a standard tree or if you’d be better off with a dwarf, pole or espaliered tree. Visualize how big the tree will be full grown and if it will over shadow other important areas of the homestead like the berry patch or veggie garden. No sense making a future problem for yourself. Also check water sources and proximity to neighbors. Once you plant your trees be sure to put them on your master plan and keep it safe for future reference.

STEP 7:  Planting.  Don’t think you have to plant all your trees at once. An orchard is a long term project that will unfold over several years. Of course, if you just moved in and are setting things up this is a perfect time to plant and orchard and other long lived perennial plants like berries, artichokes and asparagus. Planting a few trees each year won’t take long at all before your homestead has a full grown productive orchard.


Before you know it you’ll have juice dripping down your chin or sinking your teeth into a crunchy apple. Now that’s what I call Heaven!!

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