What Is Orchard Gardening? (+5 Tips to Start Your Own Orchard)

Kendrick Hulse

Countless fruit-bearing species are ubiquitous in home gardening.

But wouldn’t it be wonderful to grow even more of your favorite fruit in your garden?

Apples, pears, cherries, and peaches all have something in common: They grow on trees. 

That’s where a practice known as orchard gardening comes in.

Orchard gardening involves growing trees and shrubs for their fruit, nuts, or seeds. 

While large-scale orchards are used for commercial food production, many species can also be grown in the home garden.

These trees and shrubs may be grown for their appearance, fruit, or both.

Orchard gardening isn’t as challenging as you might believe.

But there are still a few things you should know before starting a miniature orchard in your own backyard.

How Is Orchard Gardening Different From “Normal” Gardening?

Orchard gardening isn’t necessarily different from normal gardening.

In fact, it’s commonly done alongside traditional vegetable or ornamental gardening.

Orchard gardening is all about the type of plants grown — i.e., trees or shrubs that produce edible fruit, seeds, or nuts. 

It’s important to note that, while food production is the main purpose of orchard gardening, it’s not the only one. Orchard species can be grown for their appearances, as well.

You also don’t need to grow multiple plants to partake in orchard gardening.

If a single fruit or nut tree is all you have space for, then that’s fine.

Some gardeners will even grow compact cultivars (like dwarf citrus trees) in containers on a patio, balcony, or sunroom.

Is Orchard Gardening Horticulture?

Orchards are unique in that they toe the line between horticulture and agriculture.

So the answer to this question really depends on the context!

While many make the mistake of thinking that growing plants for food always falls under the agricultural umbrella, this isn’t always true. 

Agriculture refers to cultivating a field. There is very little plant diversity in agriculture and the main goal is to maximize yield (typically to make a profit).

Meanwhile, horticulture refers to gardening of any type. Gardens differ from fields because of the higher degree of plant diversity and smaller scale.

If we look at commercial orchards with rows-upon-rows of fruit trees, it’s easy to see how such operations qualify as agriculture. 

In the specific case of orchard gardening, trees and shrubs are typically grown as part of a larger vegetable or ornamental garden — not alone in a field. 

Are There Different Types of Orchard Gardening?

Yes. It’s common practice to differentiate orchard trees and shrubs by what each plant produces. 

While orchard species can be broken up into different types, there’s nothing stopping you from growing several in your garden at one time. 

Fruit

Fruit trees are what likely first come to mind when you think of an orchard.

From apples to oranges, commercial orchards are where most tree-borne fruit comes from.

Nuts

With the exception of peanuts, the vast majority of edible nuts come from trees.

Nut orchards produce popular delicacies like almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, and walnuts.

Seeds

Seed orchards generally aren’t used as a food source. Instead, the seeds are harvested with the sole intention of growing more plants.

This is how saplings are produced for sale at greenhouses and seasonal Christmas tree stands.

Other

Some species are grown in orchards for another reason than fruit, nut, or seed production.

One popular example is the maple tree, which is grown for its sap.

What Are the Benefits of Orchard Gardening?

Food Production

While obvious, food production is easily the biggest benefit of orchard gardening.

With proper care, one or two plants can provide enough fruit or nuts for an entire household. 

Growing your own food is more affordable and more sustainable than buying fruit from the grocer. It’s also incredibly rewarding.

Even if homesteading isn’t your goal, orchard trees and shrubs can be an excellent source of food for native wildlife. 

Habitat Creation

Agriculture might be more efficient than orchard gardening but, as we mentioned, it provides very little biodiversity. 

The average garden is more diverse than a crop field but there is still room for improvement.

Adding fruit-bearing trees and shrubs to your backyard or garden is an excellent way to provide a habitat for arboreal insects, mammals, and birds. 

Many orchard trees also provide natural shade, which can benefit humanity and wildlife in multiple ways.

Visual Appeal

It’s easy to focus on the practical benefits of orchard gardening.

However, this gardening style can also be incredibly beautiful.

Incorporating orchard plants in your garden is a great way to add height and color (especially during fruit season).

Don’t hesitate to choose plant species for their good looks as well as their tasty harvest!

What Are the Downsides of Orchard Gardening?

Space Requirements

By far the biggest drawback to orchard gardening is the amount of space required

Most fruit-bearing trees and shrubs are quite big. Even one tree can take up a significant portion of available garden space.

With the development of dwarf cultivars that can be grown in containers, orchard gardening is not as space-restrictive as it once was.

But this is still a valid concern for anyone interested in growing their own fruit or nuts.

Pests and Disease

Pests are a nightmare for any gardener. When you add fruit to the equation, the battle against insects and other intruders grows tenfold.

Fruit of any kind will attract scavengers. In many areas, planting an apple tree in your garden will dramatically increase the number of deer entering your property.

This can mean more foraging damage done to the other plants in your garden, as well!

Many orchard species are vulnerable to specific pests and diseases — apple maggots, peach scab, pecan weevils, and fire blight are just a few examples. 

While some pests and diseases only target the fruit, many also cause damage to the trees’ bark, leaves, and flowers.

Routine Maintenance

Fruit- and nut-bearing trees can be an excellent investment. But it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting into. 

First and foremost, no plant will produce fruit unless its flowers are pollinated

Depending on the species, you may need multiple trees within a short distance for cross-pollination to occur.

If your orchard is kept indoors away from native pollinators (such as in a greenhouse) you may need to pollinate by hand.

Once your shrub or tree produces fruit, you need to decide whether to harvest immediately or not. 

On top of attracting pests, aging fruit will eventually fall from the plant. This can create a mess and lead to unwanted seedlings the following year.

Which Trees Are Suited for Orchard Gardening (Based on Location)?

These are just some examples of popular orchard trees that grow in different climates.

Keep in mind that many fruit- and nut-bearing species will thrive in a variety of climates with adequate care!

Arid Climates

  • Rose apple
  • Jujube
  • Pistachio
  • Caffra
  • Fig
  • Dragonfruit

Tropical Climates

  • Mango
  • Pomegranate
  • Guava
  • Cashew
  • Kumquat
  • Passionfruit

Temperature Climates

  • Pear
  • Peach
  • Hazelnut
  • Apricot
  • Pecan

Cold Climates

  • Apple
  • Cherry
  • Plum
  • Walnut

How Do I Start an Orchard Garden?

Don’t be intimidated by the thought of growing your own fruit-bearing trees and shrubs.

In many ways, orchard gardening is no different than raising vegetables or ornamental flowers.

Research is incredibly important when starting any type of garden — orchards are no exception.

There’s no such thing as knowing too much about the plants you plan to grow.

It also never hurts to start small. 

If this is your first time raising fruit- or nut-bearing plants, stick with one or two low-maintenance varieties.

You can always expand your orchard garden as your knowledge and experience grow!

Can Anyone Grow an Orchard Garden?

Yes — within reason. 

As with any style of gardening, orchard gardening requires certain resources.

Most people will be able to grow some type of orchard but may need to scale things down to fit what they have available.

Does Orchard Gardening Require Specific Skills?

Orchard gardening itself requires very little special knowledge.

However, it can be more physically demanding than other types of gardening.

Mature trees — even low-maintenance species — will occasionally suffer disease or damage that requires limb removal.

Since many popular orchard species grow quite large, you should expect to cut down and discard heavy branches and other plant debris as part of maintaining your garden.

Outside of knowing how to care for your chosen tree or shrub species, it’s a good idea to research the best practices for manual pollination

How Many Trees Do You Need For an Orchard Garden?

There’s no minimum number of trees needed to call your garden an orchard. 

Some gardeners might view an orchard garden as one containing a small handful of fruit-bearing trees.

Others may see no issue calling one or two trees a miniature orchard.

How Do You Prepare a Layout for an Orchard Garden?

When it comes to orchard gardening, a well-planned layout couldn’t be more important.

Fruit-bearing trees are a long-term investment. Many trees can survive decades, if not centuries, and it’s near-impossible to rearrange your orchard garden once everything is in the ground.

No matter the size, every orchard layout must consider four key factors:

Spacing

Many fruit trees can reach up to 25 feet tall at maturity. It’s important to keep this in mind when filling your orchard garden with young saplings.

Careful spacing is necessary even if you only plan to plant one or two trees in your garden. 

Over time, your beloved fruit tree could encroach on your home, power lines, or another permanent structure.

The last thing you want is to spend years growing a tree only to cut it down prematurely due to limited space.

Water

A reliable water source becomes more important the bigger your orchard garden is.

Just remember that large shrubs and trees require a lot more water than your standard tomato plant!

Sun

On average, fruit trees need 6 to 8 hours of full sun per day.

Without this, many species will suffer and fruit quality and quantity may drop significantly.

Available sunlight goes hand-in-hand with spacing, especially when planting multiple trees.

You must leave enough space between young trees to prevent one blocking sunlight from another as they mature.

Soil

Soil quality is a factor in all types of gardening. In orchard gardening, though, soil depth can be an unexpected obstacle. 

When planting fruit trees, a thin layer of topsoil isn’t enough. Many species need at least 3 feet of uninterrupted, high-quality soil to thrive.

5 Tips for Successful Orchard Gardening

1. Start Small

The term “orchard” conjures up an image of fruit trees spanning as far as the eye can see.

But that vision isn’t representative of most orchard gardening. 

Once you exceed a certain number of fruit trees, day-to-day tasks like irrigation, harvesting, and pruning become more taxing. Smaller operations are much more practical. 

It’s better to start with just one or two fruit trees.

This allows you to gain knowledge and experience without getting in over your head.

You can always add to your orchard garden over time.

2. Mind Your Climate

Just because a fruit tree or shrub will survive in your climate doesn’t mean it will produce fruit.

Many factors go into fruit production — don’t set yourself up for failure by cultivating species not suited for your local climate.

3. Dig Deep

If you’ve ever planted deciduous or evergreen trees, then you know how labor-intensive the process can be. Orchard gardening is no different.

You shouldn’t assume that the soil in your garden is suitable for growing fruit trees.

While your flowers and vegetables might thrive in the existing soil, their root systems are much shorter than a tree’s.

Young saplings are easier to plant than more mature trees. 

If you have your heart set on planting a tree that is several years old, expect to need professional help getting your orchard in the ground.

4. Plan for Growth

Just like your orchard’s roots will grow with time, so will the top of each plant. 

If planting multiple trees or shrubs in your garden, research each species’ mature size range.

It’s always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to spacing needs.

Be wary of other plants and permanent structures near your prospective orchard site. 

Large branches and roots can damage building exteriors, power lines, and plumbing.

Growing too close to an existing structure may also affect the tree or shrub’s health (and total fruit production).

5. Prioritize Pollination

Several steps need to happen before a plant can produce fruit.

First, the tree or shrub must be healthy enough to put out flowers.

Second, the flowers must be adequately pollinated by wind, animals, or human intervention.

Not all orchard species have the same pollination needs. 

The easiest fruit-bearing plants to grow are known as self-pollinators. These species can produce fruit from the pollen of their own flowers — only one plant is needed.

Other species rely on cross-pollination. Cross-pollinating plants won’t produce fruit unless pollinated with pollen from a different plant. 

While there is a chance that native pollinators will travel from another orchard garden to your own, there is no guarantee (especially in the case of uncommon tree and shrub varieties).

For the best results, you should not only include multiple plants in your garden but also spread pollen from flower to flower by hand.

Conclusion

Remember that an orchard garden does not need to be independent of other gardening ventures.

One of the best places to grow fruit-bearing species is in your existing garden.

You may even be orchard gardening already without realizing it. 

For example, dwarf citrus and fig trees are popular as both ornamental and fruit-producing species.

Many gardeners keep these plants in large containers or — if the regional climate allows — outside in their garden.

It’s easy to view orchard gardening as a completely separate hobby.

In reality, it’s not much different than growing flowers, vegetables, and other common plant varieties.

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