Gardening in Orchard Rows

Are you using your orchard floor for gardening?

I know there are some permaculture and food forest type threads here with smaller plants in the tree rows, including but not limited to nitrogen fixers. Some are planting clovers or legumes in the row spaces for green mulch and later nitrogen (chop n drop).

But is anyone doing vegetable gardening in the row middles? Potatoes, beans, squash, okra, melons, tomatoes, etc…?

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I’m doing the combination of annuals In between widely spaced fruit trees and shrubs in my garden. I like the idea of it providing some microclimate, predator habitat, regular irrigation and fertilization for the perennials, but the major drawback is that it pretty much has to be a no till system, and if there’s one thing i love more than growing fruit it is losing top soil and chopping up earth worms and mycelium.


I currently have 2 orchard/garden setups.

One is a large elevated bed in the yard: apple and pear espaliers line the outsides, daylillies, blackberries, garlic and a couple figs are permanent…I plant veggies in the middle. Cardboard and wood chips for mulch and weed suppression. It’s coming along well and should hit its stride in another year or two.

My larger orchard is in a back field: rows of fruit trees and bushes are spaced 15, 20, 30 feet apart depending on variety. I also plant a half acre garden in part of this field. Currently red clover grows in some areas, brown top millet and weeds in others between the fruit trees. I can till and plant the row middles safely at this point as the fruit trees are young.

Not sure how long it will last before roots extend out, or if I might be fine in the farther spaced rows?

My understanding is that if you till the soil near fruit trees starting from when the trees are small and give the tree roots 1-2 yards/meters before tilling. As the tree grows the roots will get pruned from the tilling and focus on deeper roots, every year or so when the surface roots get chopped from tilling in the future they are still small enough roots to heal over better and not set back the tree too much.

Tilling around established fruit trees or too close to their trunk is a bad idea.


our strawberry patch is between plums and persimmons rows. I am interested to try a grain crop between Pear or Hazelnut rows since they are young still. 7 meter spacing between rows so I’d do 4 meter wide cultivation. Or I’ll just try one width of the tiller to one side of the tree row do help with weeds and get more Garden space. But so far our garden is big enough. I will try planting potatoes in hay with hay mulched honeyberry rows this year. Hay potatoes worked great last summer (100 year drought and no watering)

If you elevate the planting; you would be amazed at how far tree roots go.

Some plants are extremely competitive. Romance bush cherries will send roots everywhere and don’t care if there is a plant there or not. Other trees will stop sending roots if they get cramped down there. Depending on your soil and what you want that may be good or bad; it can dwarf your trees which if that’s what you are after well that’s good. If your soil is poor and your area doesn’t have enough water they carnivalize each other, but I figure if you are planting veggies that you will be watering anyways.

So raise the soil if you want to be nice to your trees or put them in the ground if crowding and/or molesting roots is not an issue.

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I would try that if my soil wasn’t so shallow. In many places I have 18”-24” of “soil” and then a bed of limestone. I imagine that the conditions I’m growing in are going to have to be overcome some day if we keep building apartment complexes on top of the best agricultural soils.


I do have deep river bottom soil. And the water table is shallow.

If you can’t dig down you can build up, that applies to both veggies and trees. Take an area with a foot of top soil, build up a wide row 3’ tall, and your trees will have four feet of soil to dig down into. Or just mound individual trees.

Hindsight being 20/20 I should have gotten a bulldozer to rip my lawn at least 2 feet down (I have the space it could have been pushed into) followed by several truck loads of top soil an extra feet or two deep.