Pennylvania - Starting an Orchard on an Urban Homestead, Grafting

Hi Folks! I’m new to the group. I’m in zone 6B, Pittsburgh PA. I live on a 5000 sqft lot in the suburbs, about 5 minutes from downtown.
I’m having a hard time finding the varieties on the rootstocks that I want, if I can find anything at all. I’m starting to wonder if grafting is the way to go.
I’m wanting to to apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, Asian plums, European plums, sweet cherries and tart cherries, and pawpaws.

What rootstocks would you recommend? I have clay soil that I will obviously amend during planting.I would prefer semi dwarf that has some disease and drought tolerance.


Congratulations on your new home and backyard orchard!

Planning is the most important part and figuring out your spacing is really important for rootstocks as well.
How much space are you planning on giving each planting? Or what is your total space?

This year everything is out of stock so if you can just get the correct rootstocks that would be good enough and you can graft next year to them the varieities you want. Also grafting will help you get multiple varities in a smaller area.

Are you going to do a greenhouse or veggie garden?

We need to ask people in Pittsburgh or near you what varieties and rootstocks do best as the east coast needs more sprays and has more pest and disease pressure. Maybe you could edit the post to add your location?


If you are not sure if you want to graft you could buy benchgrafts. A benchgraft is basically a custom graft that is supplied by a vendor that you grow out on your own. Maple valley Orchard offers benchgrafts and so does Skipley Farm.

Heirloom Apple, Pear, and Plum Scionwood

As was mentioned by RichardRoundTree you probably need to narrow down what training methods you are planning on using as well as the total space available. Even in the semi-dwarf size range that you are interested in for the same scion/rootstock spacing can vary from 4 feet for tall spindle training to something like 15 feet for central leader training. Otherwise you will get a bunch of advice that may not be helpful.

Also if you know what scion/rootstock combinations you want we may be able to point to vendors that have them. If space is small or you want a crop in just a few years you may want to consider dwarfs in the species where they are available.

In addition, some trees require more care than others in your climate. Apples and pears are going to be easier in general. Stone fruits like peaches and sweet cherries are going to require spraying in most cases and are harder to grow in your climate.


Thanks for replying Richard. I’m planning on 5 ft spacing. At that spacing, I can get in 24 trees.
What would I do with the root stocks until next year? Start a stool bed? I’ve considered doing that so I can propagate my own roots and not be at the mercy of the nurseries. I’d like to be able to do custom grafts for my neighbors, community gardens, etc…
I have extensive raised beds, that I high tunnel in the winter. I also have lots of berries. The front of the property is mostly perennial cut flower gardens.
Chickens and bees will be in this year or next.
Editing to add Pennsylvania! Thank you.


I’m actually pretty excited to do my own grafts. I grow about 95% of my edible gardens from seed.
I’m going to probably do a staggered open center and some modified leader, I would guess.
I’m trying to stay away from any very dwarfed root stocks so that I don’t have to keep them staked permanently. I would also like some longevity.
I’m not afraid to spray, I just have to keep it honeybee friendly. Those links are great! Thank you. :slight_smile:

Five foot spacing is really too narrow for free standing semi-dwarf trees. Five foot would be ok in many cases for semi-dwarf trees that are staked and trained to the tall spindle system at least for apples. Really in most cases dwarf apple trees would better at a five foot spacing with dwarfs you can go as low as 3 feet when it comes to spacing. Cherries and peaches are going to require a lot more space. Also note even free standing semi-dwarf apple trees require staking for a number of years in many cases.

For open center and center leader trained trees here is a good spacing guide. Going with narrow spacing requires different training methods for apple and cherry. I don’t think narrow spacing is really possible for peaches.

For semi-dwarf apples I would consider the following:

G30, G890, G969, and M7

For semi-dwarf sweet cherries:

Krymsk 5, Gisela 12

If you’re buying rootstocks you can graft them this year or let them grow for a year. Rootstocks are generally cheap $4 a piece or less. I don’t think it’s cost effective or time effective to stool them yourself in most cases except as an experiment to learn how stooling works.

Also my belief is if you have no trees you should buy trees. A semi-dwarf apple tree takes 5-7 years to really come in bearing and grafting your own trees will add 1-2 years to this. And sometimes grafts fail which adds additional years. If you want to buy a few trees and in addition start grafting trees that would work well.


I agree, 5 foot spacing for a semi dwarf tree is too little unless you are going to put in a trellis type system. You may want to drop down to a full dwarf like a b9 or m26 or g41.


Raintree still has Marianna 2624 and krymsk 1 rootstocks for plums. Burnt Ridge has Marianna 2624 and Myro rootstocks for plums as well as some plum scion wood for sale, check under “other products”. Cummins also has a bit of plum scionwood available. Search this forum for “Hot Callus Pipe DIY” for excellent bench grafting instructions. You could also plant a few of the rootstocks this year and graft a few varieties to them in a year or two. I don’t think you’d regret planting Marianna 2624 rootstock. It does good in heavy soils and is cold hardy. In a few years you can graft a bunch of different plums to it. Plums are the easiest stone fruits to graft. Research grafting on this forum and you’ll probably have an 80% success rate.


‘Adara’ plum (a clonal type of Myrobalan plum: Prunus cerasifera) is your stone fruit answer. You buy something like Marianna 2624 and krymsk 1 and graft ‘Adara’ to it.

Choose your rootstock (it doesn’t have to be Marianna 2624 or krymsk 1 but when you figure that out) and plant them to get rooted in well, & then you’ll graft after a year of growing/establishment. You’ll graft ‘Adara’ on what you choose as your rootstock of choice for your soil type. Then, you’ll graft cherries, plums, peaches, nectarines, Asian plums, and everything else you wish to graft onto the ‘Adara’. I don’t want to overwhelm you so I’ll stop here. This is to information about Adara/Puente.

You’ll need pawpaw seedlings in place to graft onto: Asimina triloba

You really should plant at least one American persimmon or a hybrid such as JT-02. JT-02 is basically a hardy ‘Hachiya’. ‘Prok’, an _American persimmon is always an easy go to recommendation for an American persimmon because it’s early, when orange in color and still a bit firm has lost its’ astringency & when it ripens further it’s even better, & it’s very large. Neither JT-02 nor Prok need pollination and alone or as a pair will produce seedless fruit.

You want to graft and do this, then it’s always best to plant your rootstocks whether clonal or seedling form & wait at least a year and then do your own grafting onto them. But, you need them to become established. Purchase 1/4" seedlings or clonal rootstocks. They’re the best size for the fastest establishment. If you can’t get 1/4" then get 3/16th’s. Don’t buy anything larger.

The only issue with your plan is you have 5,000 sq. ft. when you need 10,000 to do what you want to do, correct. The guy that started that started this group and not to exclude @mroot for his suggestions about tall spindles either, @scottfsmith has trees planted in these incredible tight spaces you’re talking of. You’ll now see that Scott’s trees are leafless from below about 6’ or “whatever” and that his trees have taken on “odd shapes” due to jam-packing. To grow fruit trees like this you must be a master pruner. You need to know how to keep a tree from getting out of control and not cutting off next year’s fruiting buds. A master pruner. One that knows how to prune Spring, Summer, and late-winter/Early spring to keep this marvel of a close planting proximity in full check. In case you didn’t know in a matter of 2-weeks time, a peach tree after it’s several years old might grow 4’ in all directions during summer… so there are a lot of things such as these to consider when you’re talking about 5 feet between trees.

This is Scott’s orchard or a part of:

from this post:

Sincerest gardening regards,

P.s. ‘Adara’ aka ‘Puente’ is only necessary when your stone fruit rootstock of choice won’t be compatible with something. Maybe you want to grow a cherry tree but you have a plum rootstock. That’s where ‘Adara’ performs its’ magic.


Well that is pretty tight but doable, I understand being tight on space as i live in denver and it was hard for the wife and i to get any space. Maybe allow some adjustment for different trees however. I would devote my best summer sun to my vegetable garden / high tunnel and put my fruit trees in areas that get winter shade and summer sun if i had the option. For me my backyard orchard is split between fruit and vegetable needs, a cats coliseum of murder and an area for my dogs to exercise as well as a space for snakes and beneficial insects.

I just cannot respect trees that are not free standing as i feel those are just vines, however i am prepared to help tie up heavy limbs for overloaded fruit harvests! You can use summer pruning and witholding water to help influence size no matter what rootstocks you end up choosing.

I went with 8 x 8’ for my apple trees and my best luck was with g202 and mm111 x bud9 interstem however i really think you should go with what works best with your area for rootstocks. My peach trees are just on lovell rootstock and i went with 10 x 10 with those. Cherry trees gisela rootstocks have been excellent and easy to keep my trees 6’ x 6’ and easy to cover for birds and g5 or g6 everyone all over the country seems to love. Plums i would go with the semi dwarf rootstock that works best for your area and they are easier at keeping summer pruned to smaller sizes. Maybe you could cut down on total trees and give your apples or peaches a bit more space and use grafting to split them in half?

Personally i would just try to plant all the correct rootstocks (ideally a few with the varities you want already on it) in the spots you want your trees right now and then the difficulty later on is learning to graft and timing the weather!

I’m also entirely no spray and organic and when i started i wanted to grow all the best fruits and after a few years of getting beat down by the weather and things i have decided to just grow all the things that love my environment and will accept no spray. I had to move a lot of my heirloom apple trees i wanted to newer more disease resistant varieties basically and anything you grow yourself is just not comparable to store bought fruit of course so something that works in your area can be pretty amazing. All the fruit you give people they will say its the best fruit they have ever tasted in their entire life anyways.

If i could do it again i would try to interplant as many different varieties as possible and not have the same fruits next to each other as it can slow pest insects but will not bother bees to fly a bit farther during pollination. I have added a lot more summer flowers and things to feed bees and natural insects and every year i get more that move in. It took me 3 years to draw in native mason bees 2 years to see trichogramma’s and other beneficial wasps after doing mass plantings of constantly flowering perennials but i look at it like a field of dreams and that if you build it they will come :grinning:


Welcome from a fellow Pittsburgh micro-orchard enthusiast!


I am in Berkeley Springs WV. I over bought apple rootstock (Bud 9 and various Geneva’s) if you are interested in coming to get some. I will also have various apple scions to choose from if you want to graft your own trees.


If it’s allowed, I need to put in a plug for Maple Valley Orchards where I bought my trees.


I might take you up on that!! :heart:

I’m debating on spacing them out more and just putting 3-4 grafts per tree. I’ve still got time to figure it out. Thanks for all the info!!

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I’d like to echo Dax on including a persimmon or two in your plans. I have Barbara’s Blush, Early Golden, JT-02, and Celebrity on order (fruitwood nursery in California and England’s Orchard @KYnuttrees in Kentucky) and I have Nikita’s Gift in the ground from Edible Landscaping in Virginia. They will be fairly pest free and should be easy to grow with less effort than, say, a cherry or peach tree. Not that I’m discouraging you from either of those!

Also check out my website for information on pawpaws and feel free to ask any questions! @urbangardener and I recently bonded over the fruit. He is also interested in starting some pawpaws to graft. We should start a Pittsburgh chat haha.


If you are not in the market for specific varieties; I would focus on self-fertile, late blooming, and disease resistant varieties. Another option is to buy feathered trees, and make them into multi-grafts. M111 with 3-in-1 may be preferable to 3 separate semi-dwarf apple trees. I found out this year that people are far less eager to take your surplus apples than your stone fruits, so I would be careful not to drown yourself in apples.
I wonder if it is a bad idea to grow sweet cherries in clay soil. It seems a little redundant to grow peaches and nectarines in such a small space. Peaches are just inferior nectarines with fuzz. Pawpaw and persimmon would probably be easiest to grow. Thornless blackberries would also be easy to grow, and bear fruit sooner.

I’d like to encourage you to think outside of the box a little and look into buying some low pest/disease pressure fruiting trees/shrubs. Honeyberries, Persimmons (as mentioned above), Bush Cherries such as Nanking, Jujubes, Currents, Elderberry etc. Some of them don’t take up very much space and might provide a crop when other “more involved” type fruit tree crops fail.


I suggest you grow early ripening figs if you are willing to spend some time winter protecting. The extra effort really is minimal if you plant them next to your house and they don’t need to be sprayed throughout the growing season. A homegrown fig is a true marvel compared to something from the store and I bet you can’t find a pick your own orchard of those anywhere nearby.

Raspberries are, additionally, very easy to grow and you can avoid SWD pressure by planting summer bearing varieties. I’ll also throw in a vote for persimmons and pawpaws. Pittsburgh is probably too cold for Asian persimmons, but many new hybrids and high quality American varieties should do well in your climate.

Greetings from the other side of the mountains.



I also live in Pittsburgh.
I have kieffer pear which is very productive ( but ok tasting).
i also planted apples plums peaches and figs. These are 2 to 3 yrs old and and have not produced any fruits. I am waiting for few more trees ( figs, pears & apricots). I am not an expert at all but would love to help you. Give me a holler

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