Backyard Orchard – Getting started

We have always wanted to start a little orchard and thought it would be nice to have various fruit trees in our backyard. For some reason we never did it. This year we had a lot more time to spend at home and enjoyed adding a few more plants to our front yard as well as planting 17 Thuja Green Giant Arborvitae along the side of the property for privacy.

When we did the planting it was already early summer and we had to make sure the trees were well watered. It is not recommended to plant trees, especially burlapped ones in the hot summer months as you do not want the rootball to dry out and the roots need plenty of water to grow and establish themselves. I think we did well with the watering in June and this July seems to be a wet month with a lot of rain.

Apple Trees
New Apple Trees

We were thinking about getting fruit trees but knew it was already too late but were hoping we can get a few in the fall when it is a better time again for planting. A lot of the garden centers (usually from the big box stores) were already closing up for the season and many plants were on the sale. I think many of them were still overpriced as they did not look very appealing anymore. They don’t get treated too well at those “garden centers”.

Just by chance and not even looking for them, we found some Apple trees on clearance. Compared to some of the other trees, these did not look too bad. So we bought them. They were perfect for our little backyard orchard.

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Apple Trees

Planting Apple Trees

The two varieties that were available were Red Delicious and Mutsu Apple Tree. We planted them that evening as soon as we got home. The trees were in plastic pots but also had some burlap around them. It wasn’t like real burlap more like some woven netting that was already falling apart when I took the trees out of the pots. The soil seemed well watered and there were already many roots growing through the fabric. I removed all of it and planted the trees in the holes that we dug. They were slightly bigger than the rootball. We added some Triple Mix soil and made sure everything was watered well. It is important to put mulch around the tree to hold the moisture and reduce weeds.

There are a lot of rabbits hopping around our yard, so it is important to protect the trees with tree guards. We chose these Vinyl Tree Guards as they are easy to put on and cut to size.

Mutsu Apple Tree
Mutsu Apple Tree

Pruning Apple Trees

The trees looked like the grower had trimmed them last year in the fall but were able to put on a lot of new growth this year. I am a complete novice when it comes to pruning fruit trees and had to look up more information online. You are only supposed to prune trees when they are dormant, the time between dropping leaves in the fall and before new buds are growing in the spring. I was just going to leave the trees alone this year but have read that it is ok to prune them right after planting. This will help the tree to establish roots and slow down growth. Pruning the new shoots will encourage branching in the next year

I bought some new pruning shears at a local hardware store. I chose the Fiskars Softgrip Bypass Pruners as they are a good and well-known brand. Before pruning your tree, make sure that the pruning shears are sterilized to avoid spreading a disease your tree might have. First I had a good look at the tree and removed any damaged or diseased branches.

These two Apple Trees looked pretty good and there wasn’t really any damage. Then I looked for branches that were growing inwards towards the stem or too close to another branch. Any branches that were growing straight up instead of sideways, I cut off as well. It is important to keep one central leader and cut any competing leaders. You don’t want any other branches higher than your central leader. I saw some “suckers” growing at the bottom of the trees and removed them as well. After that, I trimmed any remaining “good” branches down to 2/3.

I will leave them alone for now until the spring of next year before they start growing again. There is so much info online regarding different pruning styles and shapes. I am hoping to learn a little more for the next year. The pictures were taken before I pruned them.

Red Delicious Apple Tree
Red Delicious Apple Tree

Full, Semi-dwarf and Dwarf Fruit Trees

While during a little more research on the trees that we bought, I found out that one of them is a Semi-Dwarf tree. Semi-Dwarf means it will only grow to about 13ft or 4m high. This will make it a lot easier to pick the fruit. The other tree is a standard full Apple tree growing to about 17ft or 5m high. It is really not that much higher but you do need a ladder.

The dwarf fruit trees reach a height of only about 9ft or 3m. They are great for small spaces but won’t be able to bear as much fruit as the other trees due to their size. The area that I chose for our little backyard orchard is about 40 x 40 ft. I planted the two trees about 10 feet apart. We could technically do a 4 x 4 grid but depending on the other trees we will be getting, we have to see how much spacing they need.

Apple Tree Pollination

Apple Tree Pollination is obviously important if you want to have fruit. There are some apple tree varieties that are self-pollinating so you don’t have to worry about it too much. The two kinds that I got need another apple tree variety to pollinate. The Red Delicious variety needs another pollination partner which I hope the Mutsu apple tree can do. Unfortunately, the Mutsu apple tree needs a third variety for pollination. So I have to make sure I will get another kind of apple tree next year. I think both trees are still fairly young and wouldn’t really bear fruit next year anyways but it is good to plan for that already.

Planted Apple Trees
Planted Apple Trees

Future Plans for Backyard Orchard

I am planning on getting a few more kinds of fruit trees. It would be nice to have some cherry trees, peach trees, and maybe some plum or pear trees. I will try to order some in the winter from some local nurseries. You usually have to pre-order and then they will ship them to you in the Spring. This year was already too late for that so I will make sure I’ll get some for next year. Here is a great book with lots of information about growing fruit and nut trees in your backyard -> The Fruit Gardener’s Bible

Depending on how many trees we will get, I’ll either plant them in a 3 x 3 grid which would be 9 trees, or a 3 x 4 grid with 12 trees.

I am excited about next year and hope our two new apple trees will do well through the winter. Please subscribe to my blog if you are interested in any updates about our little backyard orchard.

Thanks so much!