February 23, 2012 in Washington Voices

Plan carefully to enjoy the fruits of your backyard orchard

Pat Munts
 

With all the interest in growing backyard gardens it’s not surprising that people are also getting interested in creating backyard orchards.

Planting a backyard orchard takes a little planning and a long-term commitment to care for the trees. We live in a state whose fruit industry is important. Unfortunately, unmaintained backyard orchards are a source of pests that can get into commercial orchards.

Fruit trees need full sun and a steady supply of moisture to produce well. Shaded trees won’t flower and drought will cause small fruit. Each semi-dwarf tree will need a space about 15 to 20 feet square; dwarf trees can be put in slightly smaller spaces. Trees can be planted in traditional rows or scattered through a landscape. If they are scattered, make sure they won’t drop fruit onto patios or near play or pet areas. Wasps do like the sweet leftovers.

The trees will need to be deeply watered once a week so you will probably need to set up a separate watering system. Lawn and garden sprinklers often don’t get enough water deep enough into the soil. The simplest way to do this is wind a soaker hose around each tree a couple of times and hook it to a faucet timer.

When buying trees, look for straight trunks with evenly spaced branching. Avoid trees with trunk damage or a lot of broken branches.

Trees will come as bare root, in pots or in prepackaged bags. Potted trees will be the easiest to work with because they can sit for a couple of weeks before planting. Bareroot trees will need to be planted right away or healed into a bed and watered well. The advantage of bareroot trees is that you can see the root system; buy the tree with the biggest set of roots. Prepackaged trees are often sold as smaller trees with equally small root systems.

When planting your tree, dig a dish-shaped hole only as deep as the root ball but three to four times its width. With bareroot trees, spread the roots out in the hole evenly. For potted trees, loosen the soil around the edges of the root ball and dig down into the top of the root ball until you find where the roots flare from the trunk. Plant all trees so the soil level is at this flare point and no deeper. Fill the hole with native soil without any amendments like compost.

For the first year, your trees will just need regular, deep watering. They don’t need to be pruned other than to remove broken twigs at planting. Most trees won’t need spraying until they start bearing fruit which could be two to five years down the road. Wait to apply a balanced fertilizer until next spring. If you live in deer country, put fences around the trees before fall. Bucks love to rub their antlers on them and can cause a lot of damage.

Next week I’ll talk about the particulars of selecting different types of fruit trees.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. She can be reached by e-mail at pat@inlandnwgardening.com


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