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Designing the Home Apple Orchard

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” — Martin Luther

Apple Trees in Blossom - Source: Vook via Wikimedia Commons, Creative CommonsAnyone wanting to have a home apple orchard can easily have one as long as you take into a few key considerations, like location, spacing of apple trees, varieties of apple trees, amending poor soil, and the pollination of apple trees.  Since the average American supposedly is given to eating about fifty pounds of apples a year, that’s about one hundred and fifty apples a year per person and certainly enough to warrant including an apple tree per family member in your garden if you have the space.  However, before discussing designing the home apple orchard, it is necessary to bust a few myths about apple trees.

Where To Put Your Apple Orchard

Like with any fruit tree, the home apple orchard design must consider the land that you have and you must work within that.  Select your site with the greatest of care.  Hindrances that would take away from you home apple orchard are simply challenges to overcome.  All you need is a plan to make the most out of the land that you have.  Don’t think that you have to have a lot of apple trees to have a family home apple orchard.

An easy guideline for deciding how many apple trees to plant is to remember that one apple tree will provide enough apples per family (roughly 200-400 apples per tree per year).

Plant your apple orchard in squares according to the number of trees you family needs.  Apple trees planted in squares are much more easily care for.  Remember a tree is searching for sun, food, and moisture as it sends it branches and roots quickly into the waste areas of sunlight and soil, and if trees are planted in squares this will aid that.

Generally, there are three preferred home apple orchard squares:

The first one is recommended for any small family orchard — The recommended number of trees is four, simply because most apple trees require another tree for pollination.  If your family is smaller than four people, you will still want to follow this garden design since the planting of early-bearing apple varieties is desirable among other varieties of apples, and given that apple tree health is dependent upon pollination.  In this one, the apple trees are set fifteen to eighteen feet apart as that is the recommended spacing for apple trees.  Thus, the amount of space you will need for your apple orchard design is only approximately 18’x18’ square.  This will give you 800 to 1200 apples a year (See illustration A below).

X               (18’ apart)              X




X             (18’ apart)              X

             Illustration A

The second and third apple orchard designs are recommended for larger families — Both require about thirty by thirty feet of space and will produce between 1400 to 2800 apples a year, which is more than enough apples to satisfy any family (See illustration B below).

X               (18’ apart)              X




X             (18’ apart)              X

              Illustration B

Additional Home Apple Orchard Considerations

Select a site for your home apple orchard in any soil that you have.  Apples will grow in almost every soil; however, remember that they don’t like light sandy soils or very black mucky soils.  Those soils will definitely have to be amended. With the sandy soils it’s going to take a lot of watering to keep the roots satisfied.

If you are lucky enough to have sloped land rather than flat land you have the ideal spot for planting an apple orchard. They give the best air drainage compared to level lands.

Select a variety that is recommended for your climate and soil.  Since apples generally require both colder winters and hot summers for optimum growth, stick to varieties (at least at first that are sold locally in home garden centers and nurseries where you live.

Selecting Apple Trees For Planting

While apple trees can be grown from seed this is not the preferred method.  First of all, the apple seeds you plant will not result in the apple variety they came from.  Second, apple trees from seeds are not as hardy, and will take at least six years for you to see an apple on your tree.  Instead, choose cultivated apple trees that are at least two years old if you live in a northern climate.  If you live in the south you can go with a younger tree.

 When To Plant Your Apple Orchard

Early spring is the time for transplanting your apple trees in cold or trying latitudes.  However in the South and other climates where the ground can be worked more easily, late fall or even winter is better for first time plantings of apple trees.

Plant your newly purchased apple trees quickly as the chief reason apple trees don’t survive is that the roots were exposed too long to sun and wind.  So if you don’t already have your site dug and prepared before purchase, keep the tree covered with earth or a wet sack until they are put in the ground.

Also remember to set them into already moist soil so that the roots come into immediate contact with moist soil.

Again, always mulch after planting to prevent evaporation and maintain an equable temperature to stimulate plant growth.

Pollination of Apple Trees and an Abbreviated Apple Tree History Lesson

Finally, it is important for you to know that the reason apple trees (aside from crab apples) aren’t native to North American and that is because honeybees were also not native to North America.  Early attempts to cultivate apple trees on this continent were difficult and produced only a few apples on each tree without a native variety of bees available to assist in pollination.

So, it is often reported that apple trees weren’t introduced until the early sixteen hundreds in this country.  Credit is take (or given) that this was by way of some grand on purpose design of the Pilgrims.  Now, there are many who have been fed the belief that apple trees came over on the Mayflower, and that it was the Pilgrims who introduced them.  And while it is true that apples and apple seeds did possibly arrive with the Jamestown settlers, the truth is that apple trees had been successfully grown on this continent long before English speaking settlers arrive.  The truth is that apple trees had been successfully grown by French settlers (Acadians) in Canada, who had wild bees of other varieties available to pollinate the trees.  Their apple orchards were established at least a full sixteen years before the Mayflower ever arrived.

That’s not all the story because the real truth as to when apples as we know them were introduced into this country actually occurred more than a hundred years before when Spanish Franciscan monks fanned out over the continent.  Not all of their plantings were successful, but in many of the places they went to find Catholic converts among native peoples — apples were cultivated.

Finally, keep in mind that the apple trees you plant today you outlive you by not just one hundred years, but under ideal conditions could survive for several hundred years.  That’s a lot of apples!