Starting an Orchard in Zone 5a

My wife and I just purchased a ~5 acre piece of farm land and are planning on turning most of it into a fruit orchard over the next half a dozen years.

We are planning on trying our hand at grafting an acre or so this first winter/spring (130 semi dwarf trees). We have very little experience in growing fruit trees, especially commercially. We are located in Northwest Iowa, zone 5a.

I am thinking about getting cold hardy scions (not sure what varieties for sure yet) and grafting them on G.890 rootstocks, or an equivalent, as they seem to be about what we are looking for with size, winter hardiness, and disease resistance.

What would be the recommended process to go about this? Would we graft and plant the trees right away in the late winter/spring, graft the scion onto already planted rootstocks (plant the rootstocks and let them grow for awhile before grafting), or another method? We do have pretty cold winters in 5a, so I want to be careful with the young trees as this will be a sizable investment.

Just looking for some suggestions from different users experience with starting a commercial orchard.

~Caleb Schrock


Graft the rootstocks, then plant them. Some will indeed die, sometimes even fully grown trees die. You just replace them as needed.

Your zone is not necessarily all that cold. I’m in zone 4a and know folks in zone 3 and bellow. There are apple varieties known to be hardy to zone 2. Inside of zone 5 there are thousands of varieties that are suitable.

Before planting you should look at what you have to work with. Now is the time to address things like irrigation, drainage, and to get an understanding on how air flows across the land and what low spots you may have that are colder.


i just planted a 3 acre orchard this spring here in z4a northern Maine. i grafted my apple scion to my bare root stock and planted the same day. all but 1 took. many here recommend planting and growing your root stock a season before you graft them over. if you go that route, make sure your pots are put in ground over winter or you could lose your trees. roots in exposed pots are 2 zones less hardy than the cultivar you’re planting. so a z4 tree’s roots above ground are only z6 hardy. i learned this the hard way. good luck with your orchard and welcome to the site.


For apples I found it easiest to bench graft. Some other fruits such as pears seem to do better grafting onto growing rootstock. I would get a soil analysis to know where the soil is at. What is the target for the produce? I haven’t purchased from them because the distance for me is too far but red fern farm is “down the road” Apple Scion Wood – Closed | Red Fern Farm > They sell scion wood for classic varieties. You may be able to get direction from them as well


You’ve received some stellar advice already. This might also come in handy, but perhaps there’s another more suitable to your region.

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Be sure to put up a deer fence before planting out any fruit trees or all you will have is a cow pasture.


Prior to planting anything at all, figure out how you will water it and protect it from animals. Fencing is probably your biggest initial challenge. You might want to check out Making Maggie’s Orchard for a project very similar to the one you are embarking upon. Welcome to the forum, you are definitely in the right place to learn and succeed.


I would seriously look at some different rootstocks - benefits and also downsides. Look through this site as well with threads talking about different rootstocks. There have been some concerns about the Geneva rootstocks.
I personally would take it slow and partially plant your acres , like you are talking about doing. Learn from your successes and also your mistakes along the way. I have a 2 acre site that I have fruit trees that I planted. What I was going to plant and what ended up planting are mostly completely different ends of the apple tree spectrum. I have chosen different rootstocks and also many different apple varieties from what I had thought about. It took me about 4 to 5 years to settle on what works here, for me. These are merely suggestions. I wanted to go faster at planting my orchard but I am glad I took my time. Making mistakes is understandable and part of the orchard growing process.
Good luck.


Why only apples. I think Miracle Farms over in Canada got an apple orchard and the people that bought from them asked now what else do you have. You can actually grow a lot in zone 5. Our limitations are our season to be honest. Zone 5 can grow certain apricots, cherries, peaches, some nectarines, paw paw (local market), mulberry (local market also) apples, pears, euro plums, asian plums and likely more that I am not thinking of fruit wise. Of course more cultivar mean a longer season for fruit. With you I wonder how much rain you get. That could determine more on the cultivars and rootstock you choose. Like others said figuring out protections and where to plant is important. When I was first buying fruit trees I did not protect my trees and lost my mulberry and peaches. Even back before the gardening craze that was around 300 dollars lost for around 5 or 6 trees.


MikeC I am planting in SE Ohio. What varieties have worked for you best?

I think i have about 50 normal fruit trees going… most i got from Cumberland Valley Nursery at around $7 to $9 each. Very happy with the price and how fast and well they are growing. I have paid a little of a premium not grafting my persimmons but i think thats money well spent because im buying from folks that make money grafting them…which is needed i think.

So between Vaughn and Cumberland it would be easy to get 50 or 100 trees going in the spring unless u really want to wait those extra years to plant them.

I save spots for upcoming varieties as well… its easy to plant a bunch of trees and not save a spot or 10.

I know some folks dont like cheap trees but im very happy with mine.

Save a spot for Clark’s Crab and oddballs that are really only talked about on here if u are like me. Also saving a spot for Lemon Queen peach which looks to become available again next year.

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Don’t put all your grafts on unproven and possibly problematic G series roots. B118 has worked well for me and M111 is widely adapted and proven


You’re getting good advice, and I’ll add a note of concern of my own. Maintaining fruit trees is a lot of work. Personally, I can’t imagine trying to manage an orchard of any size (say, more than a couple of dozen semi-dwarf trees) without quite a bit of equipment and paid help, which creates its own set of problems.

I won’t belabor the point, but you’ll need multiple sprays, loads of pruning/training, thinning, irrigation, predator control, harvest, storage, processing, sales and I don’t know what all else!

So maybe ask about others’ opinions along those lines and see what experiences they can share. And very good luck to you.


Our land is rich, black soil, but has a high sand content. It is essentially flat with no trees. The water table can be relatively high during wet years, but being in Iowa we do have dry seasons in the summer without a lot of rain. I am planning on putting in a well and irrigation system.

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Would you plant the rootstocks in the field like a normal tree and let it grow for a year before grafting on the scion the following year? We have a friend that is putting up a small greenhouse that we could possibly use for some trees, but it would be easier to plant the rootstocks and let them grow for a year or grafting the scion and rootstock together the same day and planting.

Thanks for your input. I will need to check them out, as they are relatively close to us and would be much easier than trying to ship. We are planning on getting our soil tested and applying what is needed this fall and getting it tilled in for the winter, if we can get ahold of the right equipment. We are planning on selling from the farm but my wife’s family has a farm in IL that has a large customer base already, and we would tap into that once we start producing. (Prairie Creek Pastures)


Thanks for sharing, I will need to look into that.

We are planning on fixing the fencing around the acerage this winter with an electric fence, so hopefully that will be ok. My wife also wants to get a goat on part of the land, so we need to separate that chunk off so hopefully it won’t get into the trees.

Thanks for the input, yes, that is the plan. We are going to get fencing and water figured out before next summer.

I have done a fair amount of research, and thought the G.890 seemed to fit my needs well with winter resistance and disease resistance, but I am open to suggestions as I don’t have any experience. Essentially we need a disease resistant semi-dwarfing rootstock that wouldn’t necessarily need support (although we will probably support them anyway as we get strong winds at times). It is sandy and has a relatively high water table. We also have strong winds at times. What would be some alternate recommendations that people have had good success with?