I must confess… Just saying the word “orchard” makes me green with envy… fruit trees do NOT thrive here in Wyoming.
My dreams of a homestead orchard probably aren’t going to happen as long as we live here. So, I’ve invited Angi Schneider, author of The Gardening Notebook, to share her best tips for planning an orchard on the homestead.
Fruit trees and bushes are important on the homestead, with minimal effort they can supply your family with many pounds of produce every year. Unfortunately, growing fruit is often one of the most neglected things on a homestead, especially on a small homestead.
Growing fruit takes time. Sometimes there will be years between planting and harvest. So, the sooner you get those fruit trees and bushes in the ground the sooner you’ll have a fruit harvest. Fruit trees truly do take minimal effort, but it is not as easy as digging a hole and planting a tree.
There is some planning that needs to happen before you buy and plant your first fruit tree. That is why I am sharing what you need to do when deciding you want to plan an orchard for your homestead.
Sometimes, here on the Prairie Homestead, we attempt to grow fruit. Check out our video (above) to watch us try our hands at growing lemons.
Planning an Orchard for Your Homestead
1. Start Planning an Orchard with a List of Fruits
This is when you get to dream about all the fruit trees and bushes you would love to have on your homestead. Don’t worry about whether or not they grow where you are. Make a list of all the fruits your family enjoys and the fruits that you use for things (like jam or peach pie ).
2. Find Out What Varieties Will Grow in your Climate
- Use the Internet -You can start your search on the internet, many nursery sites list what trees do best in each gardening zone. If you don’t know what your gardening zone is, you can take a look at the USDA Plant Hardiness Map. Once you locate your zone you will have a better idea of what fruit trees will thrive in your gardening zone.
- Talk with Local Gardening Friends – Talking with others in your area that have fruit trees is a great way to find out firsthand what varieties grow well in your area.
- Check with Your Local Nurseries – Local nurseries have a vested interest in your homestead orchard being successful. They will be helpful in figuring out what type of trees do well in your area and supply you with your trees.
- Contact Your County Extension Office – Your extension office keeps records of things that can contribute to the success of your homestead’s orchard. One thing they keep track of is chill hours, some fruits need a certain number of hours per year below 45°F to produce fruit. The County Extension keeps these records so if you cannot find your hours online you can always call your local office.
These are excellent places to find information about the trees that might grow successfully in your area but don’t cross the others off your list yet. There are some fruit trees that can be grown in colder climates using non-traditional methods. Try growing dwarf fruit trees or other potted tree varieties; Meyer lemon and Satsuma oranges are two citrus trees that can be grown in colder climates, potted indoors.
3. Learn What Trees are Self-Fertile and Which Are Not
Self-fertile trees are exactly what they sound like – the flowers from this kind of tree will pollinate themselves. Here’s a list of the most self-fertile fruits:
- European plums (although they do better with two varieties).
Some trees are not self-fertile, which means two trees are needed to produce fruit. This means you will need to make sure that the two trees are different varieties that bloom at the same time. Two trees of the same variety won’t work as pollinators and neither will two different varieties that don’t bloom at the same time.
Now, that does not necessarily mean you have to have two trees on your property. Surrounding trees can be used to help pollinate the fruit trees on your property. Find out what kind of fruit trees your neighbor has and buy a different variety that can cross-pollinate. This is a great way to get fruit in an urban yard since the trees need to be within 50 feet of each other.
Not self-fertile and require a pollinator:
- Japanese plums
- Nuts trees
4. Know Your Homestead Orchard Conditions
Before you run out and buy fruit trees for your homestead orchard you should consider what the growing conditions are like where you are going to plant them. There are 4 things that you should look into before choosing a spot to start growing your orchard.
- The Amount of Sun
Most fruit trees like to be in sunny spots that get 6 to 8 hours of sunlight. You will need the right amount for your fruit trees to grow and produce ripened fruit.
- Soil Conditions
I am a huge believer in having your soil tested, it is better to know the condition of your soil so you know how to amend it. It is much easier to fix your soil before your trees are planted, rather than stunting them and trying to guess how to fix your soil later. You can get soil kits from your local extension office, a farm store or my favorite is this one from Redmond Agriculture.
- Standing Water
Look into whether to not your location has standing water for long periods of time. This could mean water is left for days after heavy rain or spring snowmelt. Think about the condition of your location throughout the year. (Trees and fruit bushes are planted for the long haul)
- Access to Water
Finally, you will want to consider how easy it is to get water to your tree’s location. Fruit trees require water and when it becomes hot and dry in the summer you will want to be able to provide it for them. You can provide water through hoses, buckets, and rain barrels. There are many options you will need to research what works best for your situation.
Just because you may not have the ideal conditions doesn’t mean that you can’t grow fruit trees. Take a listen to this Old Fashioned on Purpose podcast episode: A Lesson in Rolling with the Punches: Growing Fruit in Wyoming. In this episode, you will learn how to embrace your surroundings and change your expectations when it comes to growing fruit trees.
You can also learn some great tips about growing fruit in any climate by listening to my podcast episode: Can You Grow Apples in the Arctic?
5. Determine How Much Space You Have Available
Standard-size trees have about 20 feet spread, semi-dwarf trees have about 12-15 feet spread and dwarf trees have about 10 feet spread. Depending on what type of tree you are considering you may need to about a non-traditional orchard.
If you live on an acre or less, you can still have an amazing orchard but you might have it spread out in different areas of your property or consider smaller varieties. You can also use walls or fences and espaliering some of the fruit trees. An espaliered tree is a tree that you will prune in such a way that it fans out over the wall or fence. This is a great space saver and yet you’ll still get a lot of fruit.
If you live on an urban or small homestead you will also want to consider planting dwarf trees. Dwarf trees are trees that are grafted onto a rootstock that will not allow the tree to grow large so you get the same great fruit in less space.
5. Planning an Orchard on Paper First
This is the fun part! Get out some paper and colored pencils and map out your yard or acreage. Take your list of varieties and start putting them on your map. Go outside and walk the map to make sure your plans will work. Things to consider while you walk:
- Is there enough space for the tree variety you have listed?
- Is there enough sun for your trees
- Is there an adequate water source nearby?
- When the tree is full size will it cast a shadow on an area that you don’t want to be shaded? A vegetable garden for instance).
Make sure you keep this map in a safe place, like your gardening notebook, so you can refer back to it when it’s time to plant your trees.
6. How Much Fruit Can a Home Orchard Produce?
When you are planning an orchard you will need to understand how much fruit comes from one or two trees. Just to give you an idea of just how much fruit these trees can add to your homestead: a mature lemon tree can give you over 200 pounds of lemons, a mature peach tree can give you well over 75 pounds, and so can a mature plum tree. That is a lot of fruit!
So, unless you plan on selling your fruit or have a lot of friends who love to have freshly picked fruit, you don’t need more than one or two trees of each fruit. Diversity is key in the home orchard.
Are You Ready to Start Planning an Orchard?
An orchard is a long-term relationship, so you have time to plant everything you can in your area. To begin with, try to add just a few new trees or bushes each year. It’s a good idea to start with either the fruits that your family loves the most or the most expensive ones to buy. You will have a full-blooming orchard in no time!
More About Growing Your Own Food:
- How To Plan Out Your Fall Garden
- The Best Organic Fertilizers for Your Vegetable Garden
- How to Store a Yea’s Worth of Food for Your Family (Without Waste and Overwhelm)
- Canning Peaches with Honey and Cinnamon
Angi Schneider is a minister’s wife and homeschooling mom. She is passionate about growing food for her family and living a simple life. She blogs about their homesteading and homeschooling adventures at SchneiderPeeps.com and is the author of The Gardening Notebook which she wrote to help other gardeners remember all the great information they are learning.