Planning my Backyard Orchard

Within the last 12 months my wife and I have become homeowners and since then I have been planning our backyard “paradise.” In a moment of euphoria I put in a number of fruit trees without doing an appropriate amount of research ( 2 apricots - Blenheim and Chinese - 2 pears - moonglow and seckel - 2 plums - French prune and Stanley - and 1 cherry - black gold. I will be putting in three Mirabelle plums this upcoming spring.

What I am looking for is some advice on fruit tree varieties I could plant that would be lower maintenance and that would do well in a higher density planting. Right now the trees I have planted are spaced about 12 feet apart. Something different from what is available in the market place would also be appreciated.

To give you an idea of what my climate is like, I am just north of Richmond, Virginia.

Any and all suggestions are welcome. I am a beginner to growing fruit trees, but I am an avid gardner, so some of the green space in the backyard will end up being devoted to vegetables. In addition, my backyard drains terribly, which is why I have everything planted in a raised bed.


You might think about pears, Asian pears, pawpaws and jujubes, all of which tend to grow smaller or narrower than many other fruit trees. You might also take a look at the One Green World catalog for more unusual fruits.

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For beginning fruit tree growers, this forum is the place to be. I have learned so much over the past year from the collective wisdom and experience represented here. I still use the search function several times a week. I encourage you to do the same!

As I’ve told others, if I can successfully manage an apple tree, then anyone can.

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What about berries? They are a great fruit to grow, easier than trees and who doesn’t like the taste. Agree paw paw and add mulberry and maybe cold hardy fig.

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I’ve seen native persimmons that didn’t mind standing in water for several months every year so your poor drainage might suit them.

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Pawpaws, persimmons and jujubes are mostly problem- free. If you can, you may want to taste-test them before growing them. I like persimmons and jujubes. I am not sure about pawpaw. The one I tried was overripe so it had a bitter after taste.

I would caution about growing berries and cherries. SWD (Spotted Wing Drosophila) have shown up in Virginia. They can damage several fruit varieties but berries and cherries are the most vulnerable.


Best tip I can give you is to space your trees adequately, I wish I would have spaced pretty much all my trees farther apart. What looks like plenty of space now, wont 5 or 10 years down the road…

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I don’t want to suggest any particular fruit for you to plant because my palette is probably different than yours.

I suggest that you be conscious of the following points and you should be ok.

  1. What do you and the your different family members like to eat.

  2. From that list select those that grow in your locale. Once you get the hang of this, you can experiment with zone pushing expecting that some will not make it and some will fruit sporadically.

  3. Ripening times. Whatever you choose select varieties that ripen over the entire season. Having new fresh fruit coming in throughout the season is a plus. Don’t ignore late season fruits that store well.

  4. HOW MUCH fruit can you use. Keep in mind that —> you are not supplying the local A&P. 30 trees that you don’t have enough time to care for may not produce as well or as much as 15 that you can take care of. ALSO, with thoughtful grafting one tree can provide different varieties or varieties that ripen at different times. Its not how many trees you have; it is how much fruit you get from them…

Keep these points in mind and you should have an orchard that will both feed you and be fun to keep.

Just my two cents.



Ditto what @MES111 said.
Think ‘what’ and ‘how much’ are you going to eat or store. As you get started consider that there are things that are hard to change (such as planting location, soil fertility) and things that are easy to change (variety - within limits)
Lots of enthusiasm here for growing BUT tastes, climate, soil can completely change the game for you. Def do a family taste test first as @mamuang said.
Begin soil testing and remediating from the get go. You’ll have better results sooner.
Just sayin’ :wink:
Whoops. Thought of a few more things my fellow Virginian may want to consider. You mentioned ‘higher density’ planting which usually is associated with certain pruning technique that you can begin on now. I started with open vase and have been reworking the pruning to more of a fruiting wall so the trees are easier to protect, which brings me to my next point. The occupiers of those woods want your fruit too. There are posts on this forum to give some ideas which you can incorporate into your planning.


Thank you everyone for the advice; it’s highly appreciated. I will try to address a number of the comments that you all made.

I do have some berries planted in containers that I will either transplant or keep in a container (think half-whiskey barrel containers). Right now I have black currants, two types of raspberries and a gooseberry. My main fear is SWD, which has been found in my county (Hanover County, VA), but not in the neighboring county (Henrico) where we practically live - the border is only a mile and a half a way. My hope is that we are out of the danger area, but you never know.

Another fruit-fly pest that has me worried is the African Fig Fly that has been moving north of Florida for some time. They will supposedly attack figs while still on the tree. Does anyone have any experience with this pest?

Jujubes are high on my list of things to try in the yard. The only thing that has me worried is taste and suckering. The suckering I can deal with, but it’s hard to invest the time and energy into a plant without knowing what the fresh fruit tastes like. Do any supermarkets carry fresh jujubes or dried ones? I suppose worst case scenario I could order dried jujubes off Amazon.

Persimmons are something that my wife and I both enjoy. An American persimmon would likely be too large for what we are planning, but I’m thinking one of the Asian varieties might fit. Is there a self-pollinating Asian persimmon that doesn’t get too large?

What kind of spacing on your trees do most of you have? My trees are currently spaced between 12’ and 15’ and my intent is to keep the trees around 10’ in diameter.

My family really loves to eat fruit, but we are looking to preserver a large amount of our harvest and give away the rest to our neighbors, friends and co-workers. For that reason I’ve tried to stay away from having more than one variety that fruits during the same time period.

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Your spacing should be fine.

From my experience in Zone 5b New York, the plums and apricots are going to grow like weeds. You will have to decide how tall you want them to grow.

Look up earlier threads regarding bringing branches down to horizontal or below to induce earlier fruiting.

There is a mental condition that runs rampant here. It is called “WHY JUST DO IT WHEN YOU CAN OVERDO IT”. With the size of your yard you are at hazard of contracting a very serious case of the malady

Be warned … there is no vaccine for it and no known cure: :smiley:



SWD is just about everywhere. They prefer Raspberry, Backberry and Blueberry in that order. As a general rule SWD hit late ripening fruit harder than early fruit.

Even with the SWD problem, it will be a lot easier to grow black and blueberries rather than apples or peaches in your climate.

VPI has a big research farm in Blackstone,VA which might offer some good information

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I agree. It looks like you probably have acidic soil (heavy, poorly draining, w/ evergreens in the background). Blueberries would thrive in your conditions. (SWD might also thrive). Apples on rot resistant root stocks may also do well for you. I’m not sure if Fireblight would be an issue to consider there. Persimmons might also work out for you. You probably won’t have much luck with peaches, cherries, or plums. If you do try plums, I would grow them on a more vigorous root stock. Best wishes.

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I have never met anyone who didn’t like jujubes just as I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like apples or peaches. Jujubes are not a marginal fruit. They’re a major fruit that just isn’t grown much in the US. People may not consider it their favorite fruit, but they like it. Dried jujubes are vastly different from fresh jujubes. Many people who love fresh jujubes don’t care for dried jujubes. Buying jujube fruit is not likely to be a productive experience. Generally the only jujube that is sold in the US is Li and it’s always picked early which is when it’s edible but very low in sugar, and not a good fruit for anyone’s first experience with a jujube.

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Drying fruit can be a mixed bag. I love dried cherries, apricots, nectarines,etc. But I don’t like dried plums even though I’m a big fan of plums. Not much of a raisen person either although I love grapes.

I’ve not tasted jujube either fresh or dried. Would like too though. I have a feeling I’d like them fresh but not dried.

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Dried jujubes often have flavors that are not noticeable in fresh jujubes and those flavors are not always my favorite. They have a texture that is different than dried dates and I don’t like that texture probably because I expect them to have the texture of dried dates. I’ve talked to people who grew up eating jujubes and they think the texture is perfect and that the texture of dates is inferior.

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Welcome to the club! You can read a bit about my experience so far on poor draining soil with a variety of trees.

#1 - PROTECT those trees! You will need fencing for deer as well as rabbit/mouse protection. You could probably just add a couple posts to your existing fence and add wires with flags at 8’ to keep them from jumping over. Trunks can be protected with hardware cloth or spiral guards. Sunburn protection by painting with latex paint (Painting trunks for sunburn and rodents - #41 by clarkinks).

You don’t say what your solar orientation is. I am hoping that your backyard faces north because the shadow those big trees will cast will limit how some of your fruit will ripen.

What root-stocks did you use? You will want something with crown and collar-rot resistance.

Consider also planting some grapes. Backyard grapes are so much better than store bought.

Finally, don’t worry about planting too many trees. Order some scion wood and start grafting this spring. Apples are super forgiving and you can easily have 3-4+ varieties per tree. A mature tree will give you 70+ lbs of fruit each and I prefer to have 20-30 lbs of several different varieties maturing at different times over a 4 month period than a huge amount of 1 type ripe all at once.

Have fun. Experiment on what works for you, in your soil, in your climate, in your hands, for your taste-buds. People can give you guidance but until you actually try it you can’t be sure.

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Light is very important to consider. Lots of fruiting plants can actually do well in only 6 hours of light. Some even less, so it’s important to know what to plant where.

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The fence that my trees are currently planted on is a east-west running fence that is on the north side of my property. They receive a lot of light but they miss out on the late evening sun and the early morning sun. That part of the yard definitely receives more than six hours of sun a day. My tomatoes love it.

I’m not certain what root-stock I’m planted on (it wasn’t listed at this nursery and how I went about getting my first trees is one of the things that I would change were I to do it again). That’s part of the reason they are in 10 inch raised bed. My hope is that should keep them safe.

Also, for any number of reason, we don’t actually have to contend with deer in my neighborhood (there are a number of fences and other barriers they would have to go through to get to my backyard). We have yet to see a single deer since we have moved here.

Edit: One of my issues along the fence has generally been that they receive too much sun and heat during the summer time. I would be worried about giving anything “full” sun during July and August here.

Fruit tree leaves can take any amount of sun, if the tree is adequately watered. The leaves will protect the branches. Just make sure to white-color trunks and be careful when summer pruning to not expose bare branches.

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