Small Suburban Backyard Orchard (SE NY Z6)

Whoa - a renegade forum! I just stumbled across this via vague references at the other place. I’m glad to see some of the experts here, so if you don’t mind I will join you as a beginner. Although I’d only recently found the other place, I also wasn’t too keen on the changes, especially the impossible mobile format. I’m going to paste this here and delete the other one (I guess I can’t do that; been up too long I suppose). Viva la revolucion!

Hello all. I have a new to me house and yard (Zone 6 in N. Westchester Cty) and was given some fruit trees last year that I hope have survived the winter containerized and insulated (as shown in picture and thanks to advice from the Tree forum).

I am now planning my “orchard” and have done a bunch of reading here and elsewhere. Although I’m starting with only three trees there has to be an optimal layout, so I figured I’d ask. This is a bit of a long post for a simple question but I wanted to (A) double check my thinking and (2) start a thread where I could keep track of progress and perhaps come back with further questions on pruning, etc., and perhaps, some day, even questions on spraying, harvesting, etc. But first things first.

My goals here are primarily to provide these trees with a good environment and enjoy spring flowers and interesting trees. Sacrilege, I know, but trying to keep realistic expectations. If I can enjoy some fruit (before the squirrels do!) a couple years down the road that will be a bonus.

The site is pictured below. Picture taken at 8 a.m. or so, looking NW. It’s tough to tell in the photo, but there is a significant incline here. The pile of rocks is from a broken down wall that I will rebuild between the stump and the fence post (2 ft or so retaining wall). The orchard will be elevated a bit (pic is from 2nd floor). Between the little garden path and the edge of the property is roughly 20 feet; a bit more as the path angles away. Also, the norway maple here will be removed. The remaining trees along the property line will shade the rear of the orchard (‘dappled’), but as the sun moves around all should receive plenty of sun until late afternoon. I intend to plant trees in a sort of triangle. What is the optimal spacing? I’ve read plenty about cramming them in there (backyard culture) but I’d prefer to keep them well spaced for air circulation, disease mitigation and just general appearance. I think with 10’ there will still be opportunity for the trees to fill in nicely. I could go up to 15’ if recommended. I don’t want them too far apart, however. Hoping for a cohesive ‘look.’

The trees in question are elephant heart plum, harcot apricot and redhaven peach.

I’ve read here that the plum is the most tolerant of some shade, so planning on putting that back and to the right. I also see that this will need a pollinator, so that leaves room for me put another (Santa Rosa?) back there as well (or, I might learn how to graft which could be fun).

I believe if properly pruned the peach should have a more horizontal habit, while the apricot should be more ‘open vase’ and vertical? If so, I think that puts the peach front right (roughly right side of stone pile) and apricot back and to the left (left side of pile). This would create a bit of a layered effect.

It’s very difficult for me to picture how all this will look, being unfamiliar with how these trees should look, if properly cared for, in ten or more years. My googling shows me many young trees for sale and many ancient, overgrown trees, but none that look to have the perfect habit for me to visualize the eventual results. I suppose a trip to a local orchard could help, but “ain’t nobody got time for that.” That’s why I’m coming to you guys.

I welcome your thoughts and thanks for reading.

I don’t know if I could be much help but I’ll try.

Your backyard seems to have a lot of large trees. I wonder if there will be competition for nutrient between your young new trees and those big ones nearby. Once those big trees leave out, how much shade will they will? Your trees should get at least 6 hours of full sun, more is preferred.

As for your tree selection, Redhaven is a good peach suitable for our zone and climate. Although I don’t have any apricot, I’ve read quite a bit about it. Harcot should be fine. I will personally look into Tomcot. I’ve read that Elephant Heart does not do well in our humid East due to its susceptibility to diseases. Also, most J. plum needs cross pollination. Lots of people like Satsuma and Santa Rosa. I have Satsuma and Shiro for cross pollination.

I planted my trees a bit close (8-10 ft) apart. That’s a bit too close. If you keep your trees pruned to 8-10 ft tall, you don’t need to plant them as far as 15 ft. You can save space for more trees in the future. (fruit tree addiction is contagious).

There a quite a few here well qualified to give you sage advice. I’m not one of them because I’m here attempting to unlearn my practices and do things better. So, consider me a beginner, too.

I just want to say welcome to the forum. I hope reading the advice on here helps you as much as it does me.

I manage at least 50 orchards in Westchester and over another 50 in adjacent areas. Your place looks like South Salem.

You are correct to be concerned about squirrel and probably are not choosing the best candidates for scenic pleasure. Either you should grow fruit trees for fruit or trees that provide beauty with more tolerance of tings like peach leaf curl, bacterial leaf spot and black knot. Think about natives like eastern redbud, amelanchier and dogwood.

If your site doesn’t give the trees good exposure by at least 9 AM I would suggest abandoning your plan.

Growing for fruit is quite possible where you are if you have adequate light, but you will need a way to keep critters off the trees, either with electric deterrent or by installing baffles on trees trained with at least 4’ of straight trunk before first branches. A good dog can also work.

Unfortunately, your yard has a lot of shade. If I am right, the place that you show on the picture is surrounded by the house walls in the front, by the garage on the left, by the bushy growth on the right and by the tall trees on the back. And it is north facing slope. The soil under the tall trees will be drier due to the leaves reflecting rain (so called dry shade). In too much shade the trees will grow lopsided reaching in the direction of the light. You can remove as much bushy growth and smaller trees as possible. Closely observe your location and find the most sunny spots. Since it has too much shade already do not plant your trees very close to each other. And you need to plant another plum for cross pollination.

Antmary, I don’t know about the leaves “reflecting” or deflecting rain but their roots will certainly compete for water- especially if they include maples, which are often part of the mix here. All established forest trees are extremely competitive and tend to dwarf nearby establishing orchards even when on the north side.

The roots tend to extend far beyond the branches. When you cut their roots at the planting site, loosen the soil and mulch it, the roots return right where the new tree is with a vengeance. It’s like when you stub cut a branch and a riot of growth occurs immediately behind the cut.

Your concerns about trees growing out of balance towards light are certainly legitimate (a good point), but if we are going to talk about the trees getting fruit, I would suggest a different plum variety altogether. Elephant Heart can take about 8 years to come into productivity, which is almost unheard of for J. plums. In the east the fruit is also highly susceptible to something called pitch pockets that really messes with fruit quality. Of course, the few decent plums it does produce are totally amazing which has saved the one on my property and a few in other orchards I manage.

Most plums are almost impossible to grow here without a good eastern exposure due to black knot.

Alan, I am sorry for the wrong word, “deflecting rain” is the right expression. I have grown vegetable garden near the tall linden trees before. We provided the best care we could, but the productivity was always less then in the other plots receiving more sun. In my current home we had a heavy thicket of weedy mulberry and maple trees growing on the neighbor’s side. The place was shady, very dry even after rain and, yes, it had lots of roots in the ground. I hesitated to plant there anything until luckily to me they removed the trees.
CottageCheese, your south facing slope, occupied with trees looks like a good place for the garden. But it will take a lot of “obsession” to remove all of those trees. You can grow berries which are more shade tolerant like raspberries, blackberries, currants and more. Some trees like pawpaws, mulberries, may be persimmons? are also shade tolerant and have minimal fungal diseases.

First, thank you all for both the warm welcome, and the sage advice.

I understand what all of you are saying, and realize I may have more of an uphill battle than I thought. Having said that, these trees were given to me, so I feel obligated to make a good faith effort. The worst that can happen is that I fail and perhaps learn something along the way. I won’t feel quite as bad if my pruning practice yields ugly results! My only other option would be to sell or trade them, and where’s the fun in that?

I failed to mention that many of the trees you see are coming out. At least, that Norway maple in the lower right, and those two monstrous tulips (that are very sparse and dying way up in the canopy). I’m not a “slash and burn” guy, but I have no need for invasive or undesirable trees, especially if they are threatening my house. That leaves only a pair of fairly spindly maples on the property line in the picture which may cast a bit of shade, perhaps only towards the solstice (as the rising sun moves north), and only early morning. You see their shadows stretching across the brush pile - those should move clockwise as the sun moves during the day. It is true that the “orchard” will be in deepening shade as the day wears on, dappled by 3 and deeper by 4, from the trees up the hill and to the left. This is a very tall canopy however - you can’t see in the pic but that’s a steep hill against the far road, and those trees are 80 feet tall as well (and also being thinned).

Also, in case it wasn’t clear, we are discussing the area that is in the sun in the picture. My “back forty” or more like my back two tenths of an acre. It’s tough to tell, but this is elevated almost to the level of the rear eave on the garage. Point being, the leaves of these trees, even at a height of six feet, will be in the sun quite early in the morning, and most of the day. At least six hours - I’d say closer to eight between the equinoxes but I haven’t lived here in the summer, so perhaps I’m being optimistic.

Alan, a bit further south than South Salem, maybe central Westchester is more accurate, but north of White Plains.

Anyway, I do appreciate all the thoughts and will keep you updated. Given what you know about the site and the fact that the varieties of tree are set in stone, so to speak, any comments on my thoughts on layout? Again my difficulty here is not being able to visualize what these trees should look like in ten years, assuming they make it that long.

"I’ve read here that the plum is the most tolerant of some shade, so planning on putting that back and to the right. I also see that this will need a pollinator, so that leaves room for me put another (Santa Rosa?) back there as well (or, I might learn how to graft which could be fun).

I believe if properly pruned the peach should have a more horizontal habit, while the apricot should be more ‘open vase’ and vertical? If so, I think that puts the peach front right (roughly right side of stone pile) and apricot back and to the left (left side of pile). This would create a bit of a layered effect."

Thanks again, sincerely.

Plums are tolerant of shade as far as fruit quality and in fact my first Elephant Heart was in a very shady spot on my property- but it got early morning sun. Amazingly, it did much better than the one I have now that is trained over an airstream trailer (think major reflected light) in a spot with twice the sun exposure.

The shade plums were just as sweet but smaller and not at all prone to pitch pockets. Unfortunately the tree died- probably a weather issue.

Plan on doing at least two insecticide sprays and a late fungicide spray to get fruit from your trees. I posted a spray schedule on the topic “Spraying for peach and Santa Rosa plum”.

You can copy that spray schedule so you will be ready when the fruit comes. It will likely work there.