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Starting an Orchard; Planting

Starting an orchard

It is essential to choose the best site for your new orchard, be it a few, dozens or hundreds of trees and we hope that the following will help with your decision for its position, if you have a choice. Many sites will be suitable for our more traditional local varieties. Choose a south-facing slope for best light intensity; this will help with fruit bud formation tree growth and ripening. Avoid windy sites and shelter the trees from wind, where possible. Some varieties are more resistant to fruit being blown off: Ribston Pippin is good and Winston can hold its fruit after leaf drop and is very wind tolerant.

Avoid frost pockets if possible: a gentle slope helps drain frost to the bottom of the slope, so try to plant the most frost tolerant or later flowering varieties at the bottom of the slope. Varieties that flower later are: Lanes Prince Albert, Ashmeads Kernel, Newton Wonder.

Avoid poorly drained sites if possible, as standing water will kill trees. However, some water retention in summer is good, to allow the fruit to grow to a good size. So clays and clay loam are good.


Trees should be planted between the beginning of December and the end of March. The roots must not be allowed to dry out. Do not plant in waterlogged or frozen ground. The planting hole should be about two feet in diameter to comfortably accommodate the roots. Fork the bottom and sides of the hole to improve drainage and to allow the roots to spread out. Mix in a handful of phosphate fertiliser such as bonemeal.  Secure a stake in the hole before the tree goes in on the leeward, down prevailing wind, side of the stake. Firm the soil round the roots as the hole is backfilled. Do not allow the final soil level to go above the soil level that the tree was planted at in its pot or in the ground. It is most important not to have the soil level up to the graft site, as the grafted wood might try to put roots down and could change the trees growing characteristics significantly.

Attach the tree securely to the stake with a tree tie, fit a rabbit guard and apply a mulch of compost or well-rotted manure, but not against the tree. Keep an area of one metre round the tree free from weeds for two years; this will allow the tree to become established without competition. To aid cross-pollination, and therefore aid cropping, it is be beneficial to plant different flowering crab apple trees in an orchard. The flowering period is long, they don’t take up much space and some varieties can be used to make crab apple jelly.