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What Is Backyard Orchard Culture?
Backyard Orchard Culture:
Families today have less space for fruit trees, less time to take care of them and less time to process or preserve large crops than in the past. Accordingly, today's family orchards should be planned and managed differently. The objective of Backyard Orchard Culture is the prolonged harvest of tree-ripe fruit from a small space. This means planting close together several or many fruit varieties which ripen at different times and keeping the trees small by summer pruning.
Backyard Orchard Culture Is Not Commercial Orchard Culture
For years, most of the information about growing fruit came from commercial orchard culture: methods that promoted maximum size for maximum yield, but required 12 foot ladders for pruning, thinning and picking, and 400 to 600 square feet of land per tree. Tree spacings had to allow for tractors. Most people today do not need or expect commercial results from their backyard fruit trees. A commercial grower would never consider using his methods on a 90 ft. x 100 ft. parcel, so why should a homeowner?
Backyard Orchard Culture Is High Density Planting and Successive Ripening
Maximizing the length of the fruit season means planting several (or many) fruit varieties with different ripening times. Because of the limited space available to most homeowners, this means using one or more of the techniques for close planting and training fruit trees - two, three or four trees in one hole, espalier and hedgerow are the most common of these techniques. Four trees instead of one means ten to twelve weeks of fruit instead of only two or three. Close planting offers the additional advantage of restricting a tree's vigor. A tree won't grow as big when there are competing trees close by. Close planting works best when rootstocks of similar vigor are planted together. For example, for a four-in-one-hole planting, four trees on Citation rootstock would be easier to maintain than a combination of one tree on Lovell, one on Mazzard, one on Citation, and one on Geneva.
In many climates, planting more varieties can also mean better cross-pollenization of pears, apples, plums and cherries, which means more consistent production.
Backyard Orchard Culture Means Accepting The Responsibility For Tree Size
Small trees yield crops of manageable size and are much easier to spray, thin, prune, net and harvest than large trees. And, if trees are kept small, it is possible to plant a greater number of trees, affording the opportunity for more kinds of fruit and a longer fruit season. Most semi-dwarfing rootstocks do not control fruit tree size as much as people expect. Rootstocks are for soil and climate adaptation, pest and disease resistance, precocity (heavy bearing in early years), tree longevity and ease of propagation. To date, no rootstocks have been developed which do all these things in addition to fully dwarfing the scion.
The only way to keep most fruit trees under twelve feet tall is by PRUNING, and the most practical method of pruning is SUMMER PRUNING. In BACKYARD ORCHARD CULTURE, tree size is the grower's responsibility. Choose a size and don't let the tree get any bigger. A good height is the height you can reach for thinning and picking while standing on the ground or on a low stool.
Two other important influences on tree size are irrigation and fertilization practices. Fruit trees should not be grown with lots of nitrogen and lots of water. Some people grow their fruit trees the way they do their lawn, then wonder why the trees are so big and don't have any fruit!
Backyard Orchard Culture Means Understanding The Reasons For Pruning
Most kinds of deciduous fruit trees require pruning to stimulate new fruiting wood, to remove broken and diseased wood, to space the fruiting wood and to allow good air circulation and sunlight penetration in the canopy. Pruning is most important in the first three years, because this is when the shape and size of a fruit tree is established. It's much easier to keep a small tree small than it is to make a large tree small.
Pruning at the same time as thinning the crop is strongly recommended. By pruning when there is fruit on the tree, the kind of wood on which the tree sets fruit (one year old wood, two year old wood, spurs, etc.) is apparent, which helps you to make better pruning decisions.
Backyard Orchard Culture Means Summer Pruning For Size Control
There are several reasons why summer pruning is the easiest way to keep fruit trees small. Reducing the canopy by pruning in summer reduces photosynthesis (food manufacture), thereby reducing the capacity for new growth. Summer pruning also reduces the total amount of food materials and energy available to be stored in the root system in late summer and fall. This controls vigor the following spring, since spring growth is supported primarily by stored foods and energy. And, obviously, pruning is easier (and more likely to get done) in nice weather than in winter.
Backyard Orchard Culture Means Not Being Intimidated By Pruning
Fruit tree pruning needn't be complicated or confusing. In BACKYARD ORCHARD CULTURE, pruning is simple. When planting a bareroot tree, cut side limbs back by at least two-thirds to promote vigorous new growth. Then, two or three times per year, cut back or remove limbs and branches to accomplish the following.