Planting an Orchard

By Lorraine Spooner

I was recently asked by a customer to define ‘a traditional orchard’ and was surprised to learn from my research that this may contain as few as 5 trees to be classed as such.

All the more reason to plan a visit to the Plant Centre, where you will find a variety of our very own home-grown fruit trees. These strong trees in 35 litre pots are already 1.75-2.00 metres tall and planted now, in their dormant period, will ensure that all their energy is directed below ground to establish a strong root system, before they burst into life in the spring.

When choosing trees for your designated orchard area, it is important to consider rootstocks and flowering periods.

Planting an Orchard

Apple Rootstocks – these range from very dwarf, M27 to very vigorous, M25, the latter growing to over 5 metres, making picking the fruit quite a challenge.  At Nicholsons, we usually stock M26, a semi dwarf rootstock which will grow to approximately 4 metres and MM106, semi vigorous, which will attain approximately 4.5 metres.  With correct pruning, these trees can be kept within the confines of their planting site and will crop better if annually pruned to encourage fruiting spurs.

Flowering periods – All fruit is divided into 5 flowering periods from 1 – very early, to 5 – late. Some varieties are self-fertile and maybe planted on their own, but they will crop more prolifically with a compatible tree nearby.  If you plant a fruit tree which requires a pollinating partner, it needs to be either the same, earlier or a later flowering period.  For example, if your tree flowers in period 3, it will require a tree in either flowering period 2, 3 or 4 for successful pollination of the flowers and subsequent fruit formation.

Some apple varieties are triploid (as opposed to diploid); these are vigorous trees, producing large fruit and possessing natural disease resistance.  However, they are unable to pollinate other apples as their pollen is sterile.  They therefore require at least two compatible pollinating partners to ensure effective cross pollination and subsequent fruiting.

Some trees produce copious amounts of fruit of a smaller size, and thinning is advisable to remove this excess in early to mid-summer to improve the size, flavour and health of the maturing fruit that remain.

Planting an Orchard
Planting an Orchard

Young trees especially will benefit from their fruit being completely removed at this time, to allow the tree’s resources to be channelled into root development, rather than fruit ripening – which can be a challenge when your young tree is showing signs of prolific production!

You may encounter the ‘June drop’ where mature healthy fruit trees will drop a proportion of their embryo fruit naturally.  Branches can become so overladen with the weight of their crop that there is a risk of breakage, causing a misshapen framework and a weakened tree with increased susceptibility to pest and disease attack.

Individual tastes vary greatly, so it is worth undertaking further research as to levels of acidity and sweetness; texture; aroma; juicing capabilities; colour of skin and flesh and size of the mature fruit.

Many dessert apples also cook well, often holding their shape better than cooking apples due to their higher sugar levels.  Choosing varieties with good storage capabilities can extend the eating season well into winter.

Below I have detailed some apple varieties that we currently have in stock which would be compatible planted together.  All the following are in flowering periods 3 and 4, so would make successful pollinating partners for each other:-

Blenheim Orange, Charles Ross, Christmas Pippin, Cox, Ellinson’s Orange, James Grieve, Red Devil, Scrumptious and Worcester Pearmain.

As well as apples, pears, plums and cherries, your ‘traditional’ orchard could include other more unusual fruit trees, many of which have excellent nutritional value and superb taste.

Planting an Orchard
Planting an Orchard

Mulberry and Greengage for making delicious preserves;

Planting an Orchard

Quince and Medlar for jelly – the perfect accompaniment to cheese;

Planting an Orchard

Damson for producing your very own damson gin – it might take a few months to mature, but the result will be well worth it!