Some pointers before planting new orchard

So most of this year’s bare root trees arrived today (13 of them), and thus I’m planting very shortly. I’ve tried to do as much planning as possible but no time in the world will prepare me.
So I’m therefore looking at some pointers.

The picture shows an approximate size of the lot I’m starting with. The left side of the walking path is going to be a vegetable garden and the right side the orchard. There are many reasons why this should be reversed, but the left side has the majority of the sun and is larger, which is why I went with that. I have more than an acre in the back so there will many more trees in future years while the vegetable garden won’t grow much. The circles on the pictures are drain pits (approximate location) and the septic company don’t think I should worry about it when planting fruit trees.

The soil is very wet during the winter and very solid during summers and consists pretty much o clay.
All trees (13 of them) are on semi-dwarf root stocks and will be pruned every year.

Any pointers, ideas, warnings, etc are welcome. I will most likely plant them on Saturday.

What kind of trees are you planting and what do you want to grow?

The first flush of trees are Pluots, Pluerry, Plums, Apples, Cherries, Peaches, and nectarines.

I hope they’re not all on M111 and M7…just the apples. Anyhow, 15’ apart will work ok on the apples.
Not enough info to comment on the others.

Just the apples. Here is the list of the first flush of trees:


Being in Sacramento,some of the practices from Dave Wilson Nursery’s,Backyard Orchard Culture may

Plant larger trees on the north side and smaller ones on the south. Peach/nect on Citation will likely end up the smallest. My plums/pluots on Citation also don’t grow very large; once they start to fruit (which for my trees usually happens in 2nd year) they grow very slowly. For trees on Citation, 8’ to 10’ between the trees will be more than enough. Although at some point when you eventually replace those with trees on Myro, 12’ would be better. Apples on M111 will be the largest of the bunch, although apples on the West coast tend to be about 70%–80% of the typical East coast size.

I have clay soil, and I plant everything on the mound. I excavate a 4’x4’x4’ hole and then add 1/2 of a bag (25 lb) of gypsum and one wheelbarrow of compost, mix everything together and put the mix back into the hole (you can put clay, compost and gypsum into the hole in layers and mix them inside the hole). This produces a mound about 1.5’ high, which with time settles down to about 0.5’. This helps trees a lot. Using this method I can plant peaches/nects on Lovell or Ishtara (instead of Citation), which helps a lot with vigor.


I ended up digging 13 concave holes. 3 feet in diameter and about half feet deep in the middle. I have still the planting remaining so your response was timely.

My plan now is too loosen the soil in the hole but not remove it. Then take the soil/clay I escevated, mix it with peat moss and compost, and fill the hole with the mixture - which will create a mount about 1.5 feet tall in the middle (convex shape).
Does that sound like a good way to go?

Also, if they are mounded, will they need to be staked at first before the roots have established themselves?

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Yes, but i would use top soil and peat moss or just top soil. Put the compost on top as mulch every year. And maybe apples on any kind of dwarfing rootstock but none of the others will need staking. You want root flares to show, they will if mounded. Just cover the roots, do not bury them deep. If the roots show too much cover with compost. After a while the mound will settle and roots may be exposed,. again cover with compost. This has worked well for me.

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As far as pruning they work all over. I spaced mine at 8 feet. If I had more room i would have went more, but after 7 years the trees are small and extremely productive. BYOC works, at least the pruning. I don’t care for the 3 trees in one hole thing, too damp around here for that. So I graft. I prefer that anyway and it has worked great! I have four peach trees with about 15 cultivars, I love it!

Some of the advice above seems counter intuitive. You only have to go for a walk in the hills and notice that on the side of the hill that is the sunniest…the trees are the sickest and ugliest.

Or ask any logger or forester. A slight north-facing slope will make the best fruit orchard…or the best timber plantation. So, I don’t think 12 hours or full sun is needed…half as much works fine…even producing prettier and healthier plants…and prettier fruit…although the total poundage of the harvest may be a bit smaller.

Raised in the hills where the sun didn’t hit some plots until 10 a.m. and the shade covered by 5 p.m. in the middle of the summer…grows a mighty fine garden…strawberry patch…bush beans, etc.


Be sure to provide and maintain a weed/grass free zone around
each tree, in order for the tree to not have to compete for water
and nutrients. Three to four feet in diameter will do, and keep it

At this point, the diameter 3 feet and will be heavily mulched. In between many of these trees, there will be a flower bed, and the entire area will be covered in a very think layer of wood chips. The goal is to not have any grass anywhere. Having grass in California valley is not something I want.

What I envision is this


I wouldn’t recommend growing anything, not even flowers,
in the weed free zone. It’s still competition for the trees.

In the video you posted I use a different approach with plums and peaches. Rootstocks only matter for how well they are adapted. Dwarf or not matters little. Apples well that is different. I leave that for others to talk about. The video you posted is good, but I use a slightly different approach. So their is no absolute right way, what works for you is my approach. Knowing the options helps one decide your approach. Have you watched the Dave Wilson Nursery videos? Tom Spellman grows trees more like how I like to grow them. DWN demo orchard is in Hickman, CA.

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13 trees done. Now I just need to add some gooseberry bushes and various flower beds, and then I’m done for the year.


Nice work… I haven’t even started yet.

Looks great @MockY !

How high did you head those trees? I think that was my biggest mistake. Not heading mine low enough.

I have yet to prune them. It rained that day and rain is in the forecast for a few more days. I’ll head them to just above my hip and later remove most of the protruding buds as they develop (to select what branches I want), once the sun comes back.

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