What Was Your Biggest Mistake Starting Out Growing Fruit?


I view many setbacks as lessons learned, and don’t mind. Many nurseries seems to sell a lot of area-inappropriate plants, so those have been false starts. Some lessons were hard-learned but the biggest thing was, I did not understand e destructiveness and disheartening effect of deer, their persistence (hunger!), or that they are a permanent feature. There are like an ongoing biblical plague of locusts. 300 pound locusts. I’m not just in zone 8a, I’m in Zone 8aD, for deer, and should have planned better.

Most of my orchard trees are in after-the-fact deer cages. The cage dimensions are roughly 8 feet by 8 feet, so fencing is 4 feet from the trees. That does not leave room for riding mower between caged, so the trees should have been at least 12 and probably 16 feet apart (4 feet from trunk a plus 4 feet mowing space plus 4 feet from trunk b). Depends on mower size. But mine are 10 feet apart, which means I have to walk mow, and Im not up to that like I used to. So weeds, including 5 foot thistles, Himalayan and native blackberries, get out of control. The cages need a steel mesh for strength plus a 1" plastic mesh so the massive “locusts” don’t pull branches through. Don’t believe websites that say your fencing can leave 6 inches open at the bottom for maintenance - deer can and do push under it.

Those cages are more difficult to maintain, interfering with pruning, weed control, thinning fruit,
and harvest. Plus they are ugly.

I finally started grouping some trees in larger cages, but never, never forget and leave a gate open. They are watching for that. My gates are all makeshift, and awkward to use.

I finally decided to go all-dwarf and preferably all-mini dwarf starting this winter. I’ll maintain most of my original orchard for the next 5 years, then selectively remove most trees or branches that I can’t handle. Some species are not available in small sizes but I can reduce the ones that are.

I failed to appreciate that miniature size trees are more productive per ground space, compared to larger size trees. So I can have more varieties, with longer harvests, easier maintenance including thinning, pruning, protecting, weeding etc, if I convert to very small trees. They just need to be in a larger fenced garden, together.

Bottom line- zone designation should include “D” for deer, and practices should be thought out with that in mind, from the start. I failed to appreciate that and gardening is a lot less fun sometimes as a result.

p.s. My new deer fence, by all rights, should be 8 foot tall. However, the county requires a permit and an engineer, even for this relatively small square foot area fence. I can’t afford that so am seeing if they can do 7 foot and, according to the county desk person, that does not need permit or engineer and she said I can attach “something” to raise the top to 8 feet to deter the animals. I will also have spring closures on the gates.


My biggest mistake is spacing because it’s the most difficult to correct after they grow a few years.


I don’t have lots of experience yet but already can echo a lot of comments above. To those I would add 1) planting more than I can take care of leading to young plants failing for lack of care at critical times and 2) not planning for diversity in terms of taste and harvest times (planting different trees that nonetheless have almost the same fruit taste/qualities and/or fruit all comes in at the same busy time).


Spacing. I followed textbook advice and planted 15 ft apart. I’ve now realized that I can plant fruit trees 6 ft apart, but it’s not a big deal for me because I can fill trees between the 15 ft spaces (now they’re 7.5 ft apart). I keep my fruit trees pruned to 8-12 ft high on dwarf or semi dwarf rootstocks (no deer in my yard) AND I make sure to alternate trees with narrow upright habit vs spreading habit. I’ve now doubled my fruit tree collection.

Proper site preparation. Planting trees on mounds or 8 inch raised beds made a huge difference in my clay soil. I used to think that my dry weather could be offset by planting deeply in my clay soil. That was a big mistake.

Disease resistance. DR varieties go a long way in overall long-term maintenance cumulatively. I’m getting tired of pruning fireblight strikes annually.

Discount putting bare root trees in pots for a few years. Most people told me to plant bare root trees directly in the ground. I found out later that I could get a headstart if I grew bare root trees, especially slow bearing apple trees, in pots for a few years before I establish a suitable permanent site. This could backfire obviously if I end up buying too many bare root trees and putting them in pots without have space to plant them in the ground, so careful planning is necessary.

Insisting on growing fruits “naturally” without some sort of chemical application. My eureka lemon tree paid dearly for this. There are always organic options available.


My biggest mistake was planting without planning creating a spacing issue. I planted too many trees too close to one another. They looked all right when they were young. Once the trees started to grow, they are cramped.

So far, I had to remove a few trees already to create room between trees, improve air circulation and minimize shading. If I am honest with myself, I should remove a few more.

To me, giving trees more space is not a real issue. Giving them too little space is an issue that leads to more issues.


If you put in bramble berries, put in the trellis or other support system first and a way to cover them from birds & ground pest second. THEN make with the plants. That’s my #1 regret.

#2 is not going for raised beds. The soil in my area is very clay heavy, like most of central VA, and amending the planting holes works but not all that well. I suspect I have some root development problems, and even tilling the berry bed with a big cultivator and adding a lot of gypsum & topsoil didn’t do all that much.

#3 is probably not using root pouches over plastic containers for my container plants.


My biggest mistake was to not do any research until I ran into trouble. I had a nice blueberry bush in a pot, it was just starting to produce nicely and then I decided to put it in the ground so that it’d flourish. I had no idea about alkaline soil requirements, etc etc. I watched pretty helplessly as it slowly died. I did try to change the soil chemistry, but that can be very hard when the plant is already in the ground.

Now I do a lot of research before I buy anything.

I do wish I had paid a little more attention to spacing. Right now most of my trees are spaced far enough apart so that some judicious pruning will keep them in check. The two fig trees I planted are far enough apart, particularly with some aggressive winter pruning. But then I went and put a banana plant between them. I’m pretty sure the figs have slowed down the banana tree pretty significantly. This is the first year that it’s put on a lot of growth and had more than 4 leaves at a time.


I think it also depends on multiple factors. Dave Wilson’s backyard orchard (high density planting) works well in dry California but careful pruning is required, not unlike espalier orchards. Several of my neighbors successfully plant multiple varieties in one planting hole as well.


There have been discussion about DW’s backyard culture planting method here from time to time. I am not sure how many people outside CA follow that method.

I’d say for those who prefer free standing trees like me spacing is important. It is difficult to redo something that takes 3-4 years to realize the mistake.


So you think your spacing was too close? I made that mistake often in the first orchards I installed for other people as well as my own. Two reasons, I wanted to try everything without knowing how to graft and I wanted to sell trees and didn’t think close spacing would be a problem.

My biggest mistake was believing Rodale’s “Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening” that led me to believe that organic production was possible in the northeast many years before the development of Surround.

What did I know- I was from California. Throw a pit in the ground, add water and harvest fruit in a few years.


My family always grew things like persimmon and pawpaw so i never started it rather it always was. My first apple trees were a trainwreck! The Kansas cottontail rabbits worked my apple orchard trunks over! Then deer came along and ate off all the fruit buds. I still try and grow apples but its tough in Kansas. Insects, diseases etc make it difficult. To say its frustrating is an understatement so i mostly stick to pears.


I also wish I had found the fruit forums earlier. Both this one and old one on gardenweb.

I will also second being careful when taking advice from books and people growing fruit in California especially when it comes to diseases and insect pests. Their climate is really different compared to the rest of the US and their trees grow either much faster or much slower depending on the species.

In addition, I wish I had found the Purdue apple disease resistance chart and the orangepippin website earlier- I find them really useful and if I had found them earlier I would have changed a couple of trees I planted to something else.


I also wish I had checked multiple sources for disease resistance for the trees I planted. For some cultivars you will find them listed as resistance to a disease in one source and susceptible in another. I think the reasons behind this is a combination of wishful thinking and testing/observing the disease resistance in different climates.



I’ve got to ask. How many blueberry plants is too many?


How many can you, extended family, and friend eat? If the number is significantly over that, 20%? Then it may be too many


Did you find this not to work? Which Hype specifically, Multiple Trees per hole, how close to plant with proper pruning etc? That info will go a long way to help new folks such as myself avoid that issue as well.



Not doing a knee high hard prune at planting for my non-espaliered \ spindle-axe trees.

Not waiting an extra year to prep the soil ahead of time where the tree was to.be planted as well as a nice perimeter around it

Not building a proper bed from the start which caused me to deal with excavating the plant, putting them in a temporary home and now fixing \ building a proper bed.

Vegetable Beds:
Not installing the drip irrigation tubing BEFORE filling the beds with soil since my lines are buried and come up under into the bed.

Waiting 20 years too long to get started!!


I planted a bunch of trees at 2, 3 & 4’ spacing, which is resulting in those trees not getting enough sun and consequently producing much less fruit. I saw whole branches completely lose their blossoms or drop their fruitlets. This issue was specially severe with pluots and apricots. All my new plantings are spaced at 6’ (I would even do 8’ if I have enough land).

High density planting might work in CA or other states with good sunshine, but is not working for me here where we get many overcast days in the spring and early summer.


Agree with @Ahmad. 3 or 4 in one hole is for CA or dry, sunny, arid areas.

I don’t understand why people buy 4 different trees (not cheap) to squeeze them in one hole when you can buy one trees and grafts as many varieties you want on it (scionwood is way cheaper).

Why buy 4 and prune off most of them to make it work?

Besides help Dave Wilson selling more trees, what else is the benefits when you can graft ? (grafting is easier than it sounds)


Let’s add that to the list for the OP.

#not learning to graft early on. :laughing:

I sucked at grafting, but honestly after joining this forum my interest has perked up again.


When I started bringing pots to the carport roof,a problem should have been realized.bb