Site Planning for a New Orchard/Berry Patch

I’m hoping to lean on the wisdom of the experience around here and maybe avoid making TOO many newbie errors.

My husband and I have purchased 10 acres and are in the process of building a house. The acreage in question was, effectively, untended for about 30 years. Satellite photo:


North is up, in standard convention. The little pink shapes are the planned house, barn, sugar shack, chicken coop, etc. Much of the land is currently overrun with Autumn Olives, which will likely mostly get cleared as we move through the building process. A lot of young ash trees near the front will also come out, as they’re all infected with the Emerald Ash Borer and unlikely to survive anyway. The West side of the property contains a decent sugar bush that will stay. The Northwest corner may end up with a pond, depending on how much excavation needs to happen. The North and Northeast contains about 3.5 acres of walnut plantation. The entire parcel is pretty much pancake flat. A small creek/“county drain” runs across the Southeast corner. The water table is about 4-5 feet down. The central section of the meadow is likely going to be pasture (sheep). I’d like to eventually graze them rotationally through the walnuts as well, in an effort to control the blackcaps, Autumn olives, multiflora rose, and honeysuckle that is rampant.

Currently, there is one stately old apple tree of unknown variety that I intend to save, as well as a couple fairly nice crabs along the creek. Much of it is also overrun with blackcaps, and there are occasional wild gooseberries in the woods… I’ve had the soil tested and it’s a little low in K, with a pH of 6.2. (Traditionally, this is blueberry country). T

I’d like to eventually have a few apple trees, a couple pears, peaches, sweet and sour cherries, and maybe a couple plums. (I’m planning a British-style hedge, starting on the North border, and I might just try to work some damsons into that). I’d also like a decent berry patch - red raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, red and white currants, blueberries, and saskatoons. (Strawberries will probably end up in garden beds behind the house. Maybe raised, to save on backs and knees).

What’s the best location for trees? How far from the walnuts do I need to stay? Where should I locate those berries? And do I need to worry about disease transmission from the wild plants?

This is West Michigan, zone 6a (although best treated as 5, from a hardiness perspective, as our land is in an area that is sort of river bottom). I’ll probably concentrate on some of the more unusual varieties that I can’t just buy at my local farmers’ market. I may experiment with some grafting, at least with the apples. Recommended varieties to try or avoid? Same for rootstocks?

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Pawpaws and blackcap raspberries both tolerate walnut trees just fine…so make the most of those lemons.

Michigan produces better apples than Washington…any of the U of Minnesota varieties, Cornell, Maine/Fedco, or the PRI varieties should all work…and many others besides………so looks like you are off to a good start.

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It its all flat just make sure the fruits are not getting shaded by anything and they are not too close to walnuts. 50’ is plenty far I would say, I have a walnut 50’ away and I see no effects from it.

There can be some disease transmission from wild blackcaps but I feel that is overrated - wild and domestic are not all that different genetically and the wild ones obviously are surviving. I had lots of wild ones around and they never caused me any disease problems. Berries tend to be better closer to the house as its many small harvests there just when you want to use them, as opposed to a big harvest for the fruit.

Make sure there is no standing water issue … flat land in a river bottom sounds like potentially bad on that count.

Good luck with your new orchard!

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plant on mounds if its too flat and water ponds there.

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Same with peach (and likely most stone fruit), which doesn’t seem to be the least bit effected by juglone. In fact i removed a black walnut tree and planted a peach right on that spot with no problems.

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Luckily, it drains exceptionally well. Lots of gravel pits around. Just a high water table and the river about 2 miles as the crow flies. (My husband sniffs that it’s a creek with pretensions, having been much more familiar with large rivers like the Mississippi and Illinois.) Historically, it was part of an old homestead plot that was long since broken up. The gentleman we bought it from planted the walnuts with the intend of building his own little place and then remarried and took a new job about 45 miles to the North. So there it sat. Overgrown and untended. I had to hack my way in with a pair of loppers the first time we walked it. There are also quite a few commercial blueberry farms in the immediate vicinity.

My other issue is what to (eventually) plant to replace the walnuts when they’re mature enough for harvest. (Hopefully Thousand Eye Canker won’t make it this far before then). I’m unlikely to live long enough to see a second planting harvested anyway. But I do like having that section wooded. Maybe betternuts, instead? They should tolerate juglone, if we end up harvesting in stages.

I’ve already got one standard size apple tree, and I’m not averse to them. (I don’t mind getting out a ladder, since I don’t plan to have 30 trees). I’m trying to see how available the Vineland 1 or V3 rootstocks are, since I think they’d be good choices.

Good to know peaches don’t mind juglone from the walnuts.

If spotted-wing drosophilia (SWD) is a problem there (most likely), then you may want to keep that in mind when picking which varieties of berries to get. Those that bear fruit late summer/early fall will be hit hardest by SWD, so the summer-bearing raspberries and blackberries might be less of a headache than the ever-bearing types. The fact that you have lots of wild berries on your property means that there will likely be a healthy population of SWD. I have this issue on my own property and once August comes around, the SWD population really starts to skyrocket.

You may have problems with the currants and gooseberries depending on how hot it gets. Even the most heat and mildew tolerant varieties struggle badly here in 7a Richmond, VA. It gets into the upper 90s and quite humid for a significant portion of summer.

I’d imagine that area is cooler, but at 6a I don’t know how much cooler. Currants & gooseberries may be moderate diasspointments there.

Persimmon and serviceberry also juglone tolerant

You can tap the walnuts for syrup as well.
Will hurt the value the wood so don’t tap any good timber form trees.

I’ve lost a service berry …. slowly but surely …. over a 5 year period ….about 15 feet from a large walnut in a backyard.
Could possibly be something else, but I’m thinking the walnut.