Backyard Orchard Culture, a New Approach to Growing Fruit Trees in Limited Spaces

apples on tree

This article is an introduction to the gardening technique of Backyard Orchard Culture – a system of high density planting of fruit trees which allows for a wide variety of fruit to be grown in a limited space, and harvested over a prolonged period of time.

Typically, most people grow fruit trees the same way that they are grown in large scale agriculture. That is, full sized, and spaced far enough apart to drive a tractor between them…

Now, if we look at a farmer’s requirements, the aim is to get the highest possible yield per tree, for a single variety of fruit, so, for this reason,  they will grow many identical full sized fruit trees. The trees will be 15-30 feet high and almost as wide, and will be expected to produce something like 200-300kg of fruit per tree, all at once, over a very short period.

When we consider these facts, we can already see the problems this entails for the urban backyard fruit grower:

  • Limited Space – a typical backyard cannot accommodate many full sized fruit trees. You might not even be able to squeeze in a single full sized fruit tree if it is a small backyard, which is fairly common nowadays!
  • Limited Variety – if you can manage to squeeze in two full size fruit trees, you only get to eat two types of fruit, no more.
  • Overproduction – a regular family will be hard pressed to use a huge amount of one type of fruit, even utilising techniques such as preserving, drying, etc. Not to mention the possibility of getting completely bored with eating so much of the the same thing over and over.
  • Very Short Productive Season – basically, it’s a glut, then a famine… All the fruit comes at once, over a few short weeks, and then there is nothing!
  • Difficulty in Harvesting – collecting fruit that is sitting 15 or more feet above the ground is not an easy task, even with the right equipment, and is usually more trouble than it is worth.
  • Difficulty in Maintaining – spraying a full size tree is a nightmare, and may be physically impossible in the context of a backyard scenario. Pruning a very tall fruit tree is no better, and spreading a net over a fruit tree to protect the fruit from birds is not a viable option when we’re talking about full size fruit trees.

So, how does the technique of Backyard Orchard Culture solve these problems? Simply by using small trees! Yes, seriously! There’s more to it though…

The Benefits of Keeping Fruit Trees Small

backyard orchard of young trees

By restricting the size of the fruit trees through various methods, to a size of your choosing, and planting them closer together, you gain these benefits:

  • Optimum Use of Limited Space – you can literally fit dozens of fruit trees in an average backyard, and a respectable number in the smallest of backyards!

  • Wide Variety – this system, on account of the efficient use of space, will allow you to plant a wide variety of fruit trees, so you can eat all different types of fruit from your home garden, rather than just one or two. Having multiple varieties also means that you can have trees which are pollinators for each other, ensuring better pollination and consequently, better yields.

  • Sensible Production – the smaller trees will obviously produce much less fruit than full sized trees, but they will produce enough to provide for a family’s needs without wastage.

  • Extended Productive Season – since you can plant more trees closer in together, you can have several varieties of the one  fruit, that produce over different times in the season. This will give you fruit over a longer period, rather than having one tree producing for only a shorter period.For example, instead of one apricot tree that produces mid season, you can plant three different varieties in the same space, and early, mid and late season bearing apricot tree. This will give you an adequate supply of fruit over an extended period rather than a huge amount all at once. Plus you get a range of different varieties to make it more interesting!

  • Ease in Harvesting – you decide how tall the trees grow, many choose to keep them as high as their arm will reach, so you can simply walk past and pick the fruit at your leisure.

  • Ease in Maintaining – when the tree is not much taller than you are, tasks like spraying, pruning an netting are fairly straightforward tasks that don’t require any fancy equipment to accomplish.

OK, this all sounds great, but you’re probably wondering, what’s the catch?

At this point I’ll mention my very own Universal Rule of Gardening, which runs as follows:

The more you want to control the growth of your garden, the more effort it will take to maintain it

Well, there’s always a cost, and in this case, it’s pruning

Why Prune to Keep Trees Small When We Can Use Dwarf Trees?

pruning fruit trees

To keep the trees small, it’s your responsibility to train them to the right size and structure when they’re young, and maintain them this way through regular pruning.

You may be thinking, why not just use dwarf trees?

Well, you can, but “dwarf” trees are not necessarily dwarfs at all… Some dwarf trees, such as dwarf citrus trees may only grow to 5 feet high, which is ideal. Many other “dwarf” trees though will grow to 12 feet high, which is not exactly that small. So, even many of the dwarf varieties of fruit trees will need pruning!

The Backyard Orchard Culture technique also make use of espaliered trees (trees grown flat against a wall or trellis) to take advantage of small spaces.

While this may not sound like anything new, the real innovation is the way the trees are planted. I did mention that Backyard Orchard Culture is a high density planting technique, and that is the key. With this system, trees are planted very close together to limit each others growth, as they compete for nutrients and water. The size is maintained with pruning.

How Close Are Trees Planted to Each Other in Backyard Orchard Culture?

The spacing of the trees in backyard orchard culture depends on then pruning style used, how the trees will be trained, and there are various options, such as:

  • Two-to-a-hole or many-to-a-hole planting
  • Espalier
  • Cordon
  • Hedgerow
  • Compact vase or central leader form

Spacing for Many-to-a-hole Plantings

Trees are typically planted 45cm – 90cm (18″ – 36″) apart, in various arrangements for two-to-a-hole or many-to-a-hole plantings, as shown in the diagram below.

recommended tree spacing for many-to-a-hole tree plantings

They can be planted two, three, or four into a hole, as espaliers, hedgerows or columnar cordons.

Here are some examples:

Trees can be combined in a many-to-a-hole planting to form a single canopy in a garden bed.

They can also be aggregated together to create a group of many-to-a-hole plantings.

backyard orchard culture high density planting

The two-canopy planting shown below is comprised of 8 separate trees, and the one below it, ten.

backyard orchard culture high density planting

Trees can be planted in a row using this system of high-density planting to create a hedgerow, screen or fence.

backyard orchard culture high density planting

A row planting can also be combined with a long espalier planting to create a corridor between fruiting trees.

backyard orchard culture high density planting

Source of planting layout designs: Dave Wilson Nursery, Hickman, CA

High-Density Fruit Tree Planting Considerations


These are examples of techniques used to maximise space when planting trees. You can put two, three or four trees in one hole, as well as espalier trees or grow them as a hedgerow (a long continuous hedge with many stems/trunks).

When planting multiple trees this close together, if you can, make sure they use similar rootstocks (commercially bought fruit trees are grafted onto various rootstock to give the trees specific properties) to ensure that they are equally vigorous and grow at the same rate, otherwise some will grow faster and outgrow their neighbours. If you are planting the trees a few feet apart, this is not an issue.

My personal strategy is to determine how large I wish the tree to grow, make an allowance for a foot or so of space on each side, then calculate the spacing.

In the example below, you can see how 5′ wide trees with a 1′ gap between them will need to be planted 6′ apart.

backyard orchard culture high density planting

When planting this way, you have two or more distinct trees clearly visible.

If using the “many in one hole” technique of planting, with the trees 18″ apart, the trees blend into each other to look like one big tree with multiple trunks.

The Four Key Elements of Backyard Orchard Culture

There are four basic principles in Backyard Orchard Culture, and each are equally important to make this system work successfully.

  1. Trees must be kept to a reasonable size, and it’s our responsibility to keep trees manageable.
  2. Trees need to be pruned, and we need to understand the reason why we prune trees.
  3. Trees need to be trained in their first three years to establish a framework of branches and form the shape of the tree.
  4. Thinning the crop through pruning to produce a consistent crop of quality fruit each and every year.

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

1. Responsibility for Tree Size

The only way to keep your tree to a manageable size is by pruning.

The decision to keep a tree smaller than its full size means you have the responsibility to keep it that way, through pruning, for the life of the tree! Choose the size that you want a tree to be, and make sure you don’t let it get any bigger than that.

A good tree height is one that allows you to pick the fruit while standing on the ground or on a low step-stool.

A helpful hint which will save you a lot of pruning – avoid excessive use of nitrogen fertiliser and excessive irrigation! High nitrogen levels and high water availability can stimulate excessive vegetative growth (shoots and leaves) and reduce fruit quality.

2. Understanding the Reasons for Pruning

Most deciduous fruit trees (trees that lose their leaves in winter) require some sort of pruning.

When a tree is pruned properly, it will produce high quality fruit much earlier, and the tree will live significantly longer.

There are many benefits, pruning a fruit tree:

  • Assists newly planted trees to get established.
  • Promotes the development of a strong framework of branches on young trees, so they are capable of supporting a good crop.
  • Develops and maintains the size and shape of the tree.
  • Encourages the growth of new fruiting wood, to keep the tree productive.
  • Reduces the incidence disease by removing broken, dead, or diseased branches.
  • Creates spacing between branches. This allows air circulation through the tree, which discourages disease development. It also allows light into the centre of the tree, prevent shading and maximising photosynthesis.
  • Makes spraying, thinning and harvesting easier.
  • Enhances early productivity.
  • Increases fruit size and quality.
  • Promotes flower bud development throughout the tree canopy.
  • Reduces the tendency for biennial bearing.

3. Pruning for the First Three Years to Establish the Tree Framework

Pruning is most important in the first three years of the life of a fruit tree, because this is the time when the shape and size of the tree is established.

It is definitely much easier to prune and train a small tree to a small size than it is to try to prune a large tree down to size (which has to be done in small steps over several seasons, otherwise severe pruning might kill the tree).

In Backyard Orchard Culture, pruning process is fairly straightforward.

Below is an outline of the pruning process as carried out over the first three years:

Pruning to Establish Tree Framework – First Year

Bare-root trees

  1. Right after planting a new tree, cut off the top so it is only 24 to 30 inches (60-75cm) high to encourage low branching and to equalize the top and root system. It can be cut at 15 inches to force very low scaffold limbs, or higher, up to four feet, depending on existing side limbs and desired tree form.
  2. Cut any side limbs back by at least two-thirds (or 1 to 2 buds) to promote vigorous new growth.
  3. After the spring flush of new growth, cut the new growth back by half. (you can distinguish new growth as it will still be green flexible wood and will not have turned woody and hard yet like the previous years growth)
  4. In late summer, cut the subsequent any new summer growth back by half.
diagram summer pruning at planting time
Figure 1. Pruning at planting time
summer pruning at spring time
Figure 2. Pruning in spring
summer pruning at summer time
Figure 3. Pruning in summer

Potted trees

  1. When selecting potted trees for planting in late spring/early summer, select trees with well-placed low scaffold limbs. These are usually trees that were cut back at planting time to force low growth.
  2. Cut back new growth by half now, and again in late summer.

Multiple trees in one hole

Two/three/four trees in one hole.

  1. At planting time, cut back all trees to the same height.
  2. Cut back new growth by half in spring and late summer as above.
  3. In the first two years especially, cut back vigorous varieties as often as necessary.
  4. Do not allow any variety to dominate and shade out the others.

Pruning to Establish Tree Framework – Second Year

Pruning is the same as the first year.

  • Cut back new growth by half in spring and again in late summer.
  • For some vigorous varieties, pruning three times may be the easiest way to manage the tree: spring, early summer and late summer.

Pruning to Establish Tree Framework – Third Year

  1. Decide on the height of the tree and don’t let the tree get any taller than that. If there are any vigorous shoots that grow above the chosen height, cut them back or remove them completely.
  2. Remove any dead or broken branches.
  3. Remove any diseased branches well below the signs of disease.
  4. Ensure that the smaller branches that bear the fruit (which will be 1, 2 and 3-years old) have at least six inches (15 cm) of free space all around them. If two branches begin at a point close together and grow in the same direction, one should be removed. When limbs cross one another, one or both should be cut back or removed.

To develop an espalier, fan, or other two-dimensional form, simply remove everything that doesn’t grow flat. Selectively thin and train what’s left to space the fruiting wood.

Many people tend to avoid pruning because they fear they will do it incorrectly. It is important to realise that there are various ways to prune a tree and no two people would do it in the same way. A lot of it is a matter of personal judgement, and ultimately, the best way to learn how to prune by just doing it!

Correct Pruning Technique – How to Remove Branches

When removing branches smaller than your thumb, use a good pair of hand clippers (secateurs) or a hand saw and carefully cut off the branch at its base without damaging the collar.

The branch collar is a distinctive bulge at the base of the branch, where it connects to the trunk.  It is actually interlocking layers of cells of the branch and the trunk, and is the part that will heal the wound left by pruning. The branch collar seals off the wound, minimizing disease and decay. 

Proper pruning leaves the branch collar intact.  Branch collars vary widely from tree to tree, and from species to species.  Some are large and very noticeable, while some are much harder to distinguish.


Correct Pruning Technique – How to Saw Off Thick Branches Using the Three-Cut Method

When removing large branches, to prevent tearing off the bark and damaging the tree as it comes off, use a three-cut method of pruning as shown below.

tree pruning three cut method
  1. First, undercut the branch a few inches away from the trunk to prevent bark tearing.
  2. Next, move a short distance from the first cut farther out on the branch and remove the entire branch. This will eliminate the weight of the branch, so you can make a final pruning cut.
  3. Start the third pruning cut on the outside edge of the branch-bark ridge and cut through the branch to the outside edge of the collar swelling on the underside of the branch.

Remove only the branch, do not damage the trunk. Don’t cut the branch flush with the trunk or parent limb, be sure to leave a collar (a short stub).

4. Fruit Thinning for Consistent Cropping

Thinning fruit is usually done to prevent fruit drop, broken branches and biennial cropping, and is done at the flowering stage or when the fruit is very small. Thin clusters of fruit, leaving 2 to 3 fruits in each cluster, and space out fruit along the branch 15 to 20 cm apart by pinching out all flowers or fruit in between.

Pruning at the same time as thinning the crop is strongly recommended. By pruning when there is fruit on the tree, you can tell which kind of wood (one year-old wood, two year-old wood, spurs, etc.) the tree sets fruit on, which helps you to make better pruning decisions.

How Summer Pruning Works to Control Tree Size

There are several reasons why summer pruning is the easiest way to keep fruit trees small.

  • Pruning reduces the total number of leaves, which are the part of a plant that carry out photosynthesis, (the process by which plants use sunlight, carbon dioxide and water to create their own food). Since days are longer in summer, plants receive more light, so more photosynthesis occurs during this season. Pruning reduced photosynthesis, which reduces the amount of food materials and energy available, which reduces the overall capacity for tree to put out new growth.
  • Reducing photosynthesis also reduces the total amount of food materials and energy available to be stored in the root system in late summer and autumn. This controls vigour the following spring, since spring growth is supported primarily by stored foods and energy.

Time-frame for Establishing a Backyard Orchard

One thing that I quickly realised after planting a backyard orchard is that it is not going to yield its produce as fast as annual vegetables do, it really takes time. From the previous instructions on pruning, it is evident that it will take around three years of pruning to train many varieties of tree to form a sturdy and healthy framework of branches to bear the weight of fruit they will carry.

Additionally, trees take years to mature, and the amount of fruit they produce increases as they grow in size and in age. So it is important to be patient with such an endeavour, as you are establishing a natural system that will be productive for decades and possibly longer than a human lifetime.

With that in mind, the sooner you plant your trees, the sooner they will be productive, which is a good reason not to procrastinate and get planting!


  1. Dave Wilson Nursery, Hickman, CA – Copyright 1994, 1999 Dave Wilson Nursery
  2. “How to Prune Trees” – NA-FR-01-95, USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry –  Peter J. Bedker, Joseph G. O’Brien, and Manfred M. Mielke
  3. “Pruning Shade Trees” – Kim D. Coder, Extension Forester, Warnell School of Forest Resources, The University of Georgia, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service
  4. “Tree Pruning Guide” – Part ISunshine Nursery & Arboretum

143 thoughts on “Backyard Orchard Culture, a New Approach to Growing Fruit Trees in Limited Spaces

  1. Wow, you answered all my questions and now I can begin to prune my current apple trees and buy more fruit trees with confidence. thank you!

  2. this is a great article. I just recently bought a house and have a small landscape yard. I removed most of the original yucca trees there and planted five different fruit trees. I have being worry if I planted them to close.
    Many thanks

    1. Why not prune the lower branches off and grow a dwarf fruit tree directly under it, in a pot if necessary? Then it’s like having two trees in the one spot.

      1. Pruning the lower branches out will raise the canopy up too high, making it hard to net, spray and harvest, you’ll just be feeding the birds! Also, fruit trees generally require direct full sun and don’t grow under the shade of other trees, when they don’t get enough light, they stop fruiting.

  3. Hi
    What a great website especially on planning and fruit trees.
    I have a nectarine tree that is six years old but is now 15 feet high should I remove and start again or can it be reduced in size at this late stage?

    1. Hi Gary,

      Reducing the size of a mature tree is tricky, it takes a bit of work and lots of patience, and it’s not something you can do all at once.
      Only reduce it’s height if you really need to. If you do, you’ll need to gradually reduce the size of the tree over several progressive seasons (years).
      Only remove up to a third of the tree in any one year. The whole process may take up to 3 years to complete, to reduce the height of the tree.


  4. I have been researching BYOC and I have to say you have done a great job of putting together this article. I would appreciate your opinion on how to layout my site, the area is 25′ n-s X 60′ e-w with a 6′ block wall on the east end and a 6′ block wall with 30′ tall pines on the south side, the pines are spaced so that they filter the sun rather than create dense shade. I am looking to create an orchard for home use, moderate canning and use marginal/excess for my wives exotic birds and my chickens. I live in Las Vegas and the area is currently my chicken yard that I scatter the excess seed from my wives bird shop in to feed the chickens and grow to till back into the soil.


  5. Hello! Thank you for sharing all this knowledge with us, for free. It’s a titanic work and you could have won seriously money. I want to ask you for your permission to let me try to translate your work in my language, Romanian. In our country this domain is barely trying to start and there are some people who charge 200-300E for a weekend class. I also think this knowledge should be available for all, for free. Feel free to contact me on email. Thanks again, Sorin.

  6. Nice work. In Minnesota we prune only in winter when the insects and diseases are dormant. Like many permaculture techniques, it is site specific treatment based on local conditions. We prune ruthlessly in winter relying on the bud count for fruit and new growth. Leaf and fruit thinning is all we do in summer.

    Have you seen the apple wall system? Much like you speak of the trees are 18-24 inches apart, but pruned to 12 inches for a tall thin and trellised system. Washington state USA has many huge orchards like this that increase productivity 2-3 times a standard orchard.

    I am going to look into my design closely and start incorporating this practice more. I have only done it at my place. I am not sure “normal” people will do the maintenance.

  7. Hi there. Thanks for this article. I recently planted 4 bare root, standard sized fruit trees. It was mid-Spring (early Nov, I’m in Auckland, New Zealand) and they all had some leaf growth on them already. I cut all the main leaders back to about 60cm. The 2 apples and 1 plum have responded really well and produced quite a lot of new side growth (which I haven’t pruned back yet – perhaps I will do that in late summer?). But the peach is only sprouting new growth from one spot. When I got it, it had quite a few little side branches – about 3-5mm diameter – all the way around that look like they have already been trimmed back to about 10cm in length. I left around 5-6 of these fairly evenly distributed branches below where I lopped the top off. But only one of them has resprouted. Is there anything I should do to encourage more even new growth, or should I just wait and it will sort itself out? Thanks!

    1. Hi Lucy, I would just wait and see what the tree does. If the peach has only sprouted from one point, and this point is very close to the soil level, then it could be the rootstock sprouting before the graft above it (most commercially sold fruit trees are grafted). As long as the graft is alive, it will sort itself out, and the suckers coming up from the rootstock are trimmed off. If it is sprouting well above the soil level but quite low it could be that the wood above the sprout has died off. The tree will regrow in this case given time. Best to wait and see what happens!

      1. Thanks! I will just relax, then!
        It has sprouted from the scion wood, near the top where it was cut back to. Should I still prune the new growth back inby half in late summer, do you think?

      2. If the branch starts becoming a big long whip, then you might need to cut it, just remember, you are pruning to create the scafold branched, the really big main limbd, so prune it at the point where you want that branch to start branching itself. Being a new shoot, chances are you might only need a winter prune on it, let the tree build up some leaves and gather energy to put into the roots, only prune if necessary.

  8. I’m trying to decide if I should purchase regular size trees or semi-dwarf. Can you tell me the pros and cons of each to help me decide. I do have a very small yard. Thank you!

    1. Hi Marcia,

      The size of the tree is determined by the rootstock it’s grafted onto, and the sizes vary considerable from full dwarfing rootstock o full sized trees and eveything in between. Some species of fruit trees are inherently very large, such as mulberries, cherries and nut trees, while pomegranates will only grow to 4m (12′) as full size trees. Also, some trees can be dwarfed better than others. for example, a dwarf citrus or peach will only reach about 2m (6′) while a dwarf cherry is a 4m (12′) tall tree!

      The disadvantage with dwarf trees is that they usually cost a lot more, and take about 5 years to get to theor low height. I also find that on the dwarf peaches and nectarines that the nodes on the branches are ridiculously short, so the fruit ends up tighly bunched, which can be remediated by thinning the fruit in the early stages. The advantage of dwarf trees is that you have to prune them less or not at all. Personally, I use dwarf trees only in the low beds, closest to the sun, so they can’t ever shade out anything behind them, and use semi-dwarf or full size trees for the rest.

      Hope this helps


  9. I enjoyed your article. I didn’t think I had enough room in my regular sized suburban back yard for more than one or two small trees. It has encouraged me to take the plunge.I have one question, though. Does planting four trees in one hole as opposed to only one tree increase the yield? If so, by how much approximately?

    1. It will increase the yield a bit more because you have four separate sets of roots instead of one, I can’t really say by how much, but they will compete with each other for water and nutrients which will help keep them smaller and more manageable, so you will get less than four full sized trees. The main benefit is that your cropping season can be extended, or you can have more varieties of fruit from the same space.

  10. Love all the info but finding it hard to convert inches to metric. Stopped using those measurements in 1972! Could we have both if we must see feet and inches?

    1. I try to include both imperial and metric measurements in most of my articles as we have readers worldwide, and this system originates from the US, hence the imperial measurements.

      Since you asked, here is the updated text for the pictures with the metric conversions incluuded:

      10′(3m) x 10′(3m) area
      4 trees in 1 hole
      18″ (45cm) apart

      8′(2.4m) x 9′ (2.7m) area
      2 trees in 1 hole
      18″ (45cm) apart

      5′(1.5m) x 10′(3m) area, 2 trees espaliered

      10′(3m) x 20′(6m) area, 2 sets of 4 trees in 1 hole, set 18″ (45cm) apart

      12′(3.6m) x 20′(6m) area, 2 sets of 4 trees in 1 hole,
      plus two espaliered trees

      10′(3m) x 30′(9m) area,
      12 trees in a hedgerow, 30″(75cm) apart
      (or, plant 3 sets of four trees in one hole)

      11′(3.3m) x 30′(9m) area,
      12 trees in a hedgerow, 30″(75cm) apart,
      plus 3 espaliered trees

  11. I too am planting in limited space and am having fun making a Double Off-set Peach Hedge. I now had to move to a different part of the yard for my Apples but it is a bit shaded. I have been trying to find an article or ask someone about adding a sugar supplement (in the right amount of course) to a few of the shaded Apple trees to make up for the decreased photosynthesis. Does this make sense to anyone? Or any other tricks to either make up for the loss of photosynthesis OR how to increase the photosynthesis efficiency? I would love to here some comments. Thanks. Also, these are young trees and I live in Zone 6 if that matters.

    1. Remember the permaculture approach, every problem has the solution within it, keep your solutions simple and natural!

      Considering that you can’t take the plants to the sun, the most creative approach to a shade problem that I’ve ever seen is to ‘move’ the sun to the plants! I saw this done is a very narrow inner city backyard where the garden was on the shady side, and the house on the sun facing side. They installed large plastic (so they'[re flexible and safe) mirrors along the house wall to reflect the heat and illuminate the garden bed! Any reflective surface can achiebe the same effect.

      1. I have another question just in case you are in the mood to help a novice grow some Apples?

        Both of my Fruit Tree Areas have been desodded and wood chipped which I plan to keep free of all vegetation except for the trees. I know that wood chips do not actually attract termites, however, I play it safe and treat the area anyway. I have read a few articles about using Borax as “part of” a termite control regime. It is inexpensive, non-toxic and widely available. But, I was once told that when using Boron in the Garden you have to be VERY careful not to use too moch are it will “croak” the plants.
        So, will I be risking harm to my Fruit Trees if I lightly powder my areas with Borax in the form of “20 Mule Team”? Also, since Borax is said to be a General Insecticide, Could it actuall be beneficial as a Spray for the Fruit Trees?

      2. This was suppose to go to you rather than a Comment on the original discussion:

        “Thank you. I have heard about some reflective material that
        was used on Apple Orchards. I was also told to train the trees as to face the sun. And to thin out to only the best looking fruit.”

        Thanks again,

        Jon Meier
        320 Fieldcrest Dr
        Red Bud, IL 62278

  12. Thank you. I have heard about some reflective material that was used on Apple Orchards. I was also told to train the trees as to face the sun. And to thin out to only the best looking fruit.

  13. I have another question just in case you are in the mood to help a novice grow some Apples?

    Both of my Fruit Tree Areas have been desodded and wood chipped which I plan to keep free of all vegetation except for the trees. I know that wood chips do not actually attract termites, however, I play it safe and treat the area anyway. I have read a few articles about using Borax as part of a termite control regime. It is inexpensive, non-toxic and widely available. But, I was once told that when using Boron in the Garden you have to be VERY careful not to use too moch are it will croak the plants.
    So, will I be risking harm to my Fruit Trees if I lightly powder my areas with Borax in the form of 20 Mule Team? Also, since Borax is said to be a General Insecticide, Could it actuall be beneficial as a Spray for the Fruit Trees?

    1. Grow nasturtiums under your apples to repel codling moth.

      Wood chips need to break down eventually, and that’s what the termites do in nature, we must accept that. They return organic matter to the soil and enrich it, so plants grow better. The point is to keep them away from your house if you have a wooden framed house or wooden stumps holding the house up. Borax will poison your soil, it’s toxic to plants, dont use it.

      Unless you need to run some kind of mechanical harvesting system in your apple orchard, which I’m not keen on, I recommend underplanting your orchard, using intercropping, etc. Bare ground is an invitation to Nature to fill the empty space – with weeds!

  14. In a mixed fruit backyard orchard is there some hierarchy as to what gets planted next to what. I understand all pears together,all apples together, etc…… But is there a preference for say cherries next to plums or pears next to peaches. I am having a hard time locating any information on this. Help please!

    1. With trees what determines where they get planted in backyard orchard culture is their requirements for sunlight throughout the seasons of the year. There is no hierarchy and no companion planting of one tree next to another for beneficial gains other than citrus next to guavas.

      Consider that evergreen fruit trees need 6-8 hours of sunlight all year round, while deciduous trees only need sun when they have leaves, in spring, summer and part of autumn. In summer the sun is very high in the sky, nearly directly overhead at midday, fairly high the rest of the time, and can shine over most obstacles. In winter when the sun in lower in the sky at midday, and sitting much lower at all other times of the day, some areas of a garden will be in shade all winter, while some areas will receive sun. Plant your evergreens where they will receive sun all year round, while your deciduous trees can be planted in areas that may be shaded or partly shaded during the winter period.

      In planting evergreens and deciduous trees, plant deciduous trees in the foreground closer to the sun (north in southern hemisphere, south in northern hemisphere) and the evergreens in the background, because the deciduous trees will lose their leaves in winter and allow the low angled winter sun to reach the evergreens. In summer the sun is higher up and shines over both canopies so the deciduous trees don’t shade out the evergreens in the background. This way, as the spring sun emerges, it can reach the deciduous trees immediately, which it wouldn’t be able to do if they were shaded out by evergreens.

      Other considerations include the purpose of the trees, as in multiple purposes described in the Permaculture design principles, and sought after in good Permaculture design. All fruit trees can produce fruit, but they can serve other purposes too. If you want to screen a west wall from the hot afternoon summer sun, or cover a pergola to create a shaded outdoor area in summer to sit under, you would use a deciduous tree or vine. When the leaves fall, the warmth and light of the winter sun will pass through. If you wanted to cover and unsightly view, you would use an evergreen because you want the cover provided all year round.

      Basically, choose the location of the trees based on their sun needs, and if you have variations in the contour and slope of the land, assess where water will be in excess or where it will be very dry, and choose a tree that is suitable for the location. If the tree is being used for a secondary purpose such as screening or shading, determine the type of tree required that best suits the purpose.

      With Permaculture, the most important thing to consider in a design is the relationship of each element (object in a design) to all the others around it. How does the tree ‘connect’ in a beneficial way with existing structures, natural terrain, house, other trees, etc. My series of articles on the Permaculture design principles might be helpful –

  15. Bob, I don’t think your question was answered. I too would like to know what fruit trees gain benefits being planted next to another but different Species fruit tree? For example, in the case of Peaches where most are generally Self-pollinating, Do they benefit by being planted next other Varieties of Peach OR even Plum or Cherry?

  16. The more I’d look for this information…the less I believe it to be available. I tried several university sources and was directed to much good information about mixed fruit backyard orchards……but sadly none produced the exact info I was looking for…….

    1. Here is my take. We know most Apples and Pears need pollinators which are of a different variety so try to block all Apples and block all Pears. Plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines and apricots are generally self-pollinating so my theory is to just make sure that there are enough blooming plants/trees nearby during those Fruit Tree’s Blooming Period to attract pollinating insects to that general area in mass amounts.

      1. Hi Bob, if I understand your question correctly this time, the answer is that the benefit of planting trees together is not how you understand it to be.

        Trees benefit from companion plants, usually herbs and flowers which increase resistance to disease and pests, and also stimulate growth and vigour of the tree. It has been documented that many plants exude substances from their roots, leaves and flowers to produce these effects. They also attract pollinators and beneficial insect predators, which help the nearby trees too.

        Trees benefit each other when planted together because they create beneficial microclimates which also assist other plants below them, protecting them from harsh conditions.

        If a fruit tree is self-fertile, it doesn’t need another of the same type of tree to produce fruit. It is said that pomegranates, even though self-fertile, produce more fruit if there is an different variety of pomegranate nearby. This is the case with partially self-fertile fruit trees. Apples are wind-pollinated and the other pollinator apple doesn’t have to be anywhere near it for it to bear fruit, the other apple tree can be up to 1km (0.6 miles) away.

        Please don’t plant all of one type of fruit tree in blocks, this just reduces resilience, allows pests that affect that specific type of tree to jump from one tree to the next, and places all the trees in the same conditions of soil, sun, wind and water. If one tree fails due to any of these environmental conditions they’ll all go. Vary the conditions as insurance should the soil go bad in one area, or if weather conditions impact one area of the garden more than another.

        Hope this helps!

  17. thanx for the information. i really learned from it. i am a plant/trees enthusiast and am planning to go on actual planting very soon. thanx again.

    1. liza, I found lots of useful information in articles and papers that I read from universities and their extension services. I don’t know what area that you are from but I found Penn state and Cornell most helpful. there was one suggestion about planting. it seems like common sense but I never thought about it. When you plant a tree and spread roots, point the largest or the preponderance of roots in the direction that the prevailing wind comes from. They said it made for better wind tolerance by the tree (ie. stronger against the wind).
      Good luck with your planting.

  18. Excellent point about the pest problem. Another good point about Apple pollination. I guess I assume most people spray (Malathion or other) and a “Backyard” Orchard owner doesn’t have the luxury of planting trees that far away from each other in the first place even if they were going to dot them evenly around their yard. Also, even wind-pollinated trees have to have a degree of certainty of traveling to another compatible tree. I guarantee a tree minimally close to another compatible tree will be hundreds of times more likely to get pollinated than a tree even a block away (not less one mile).

    That said, I guess it depends on what variable you feel comfortable taking your chances on.

  19. I understand the companion planning of herbs flowers and veggies. I was looking for a connection of tree variety to tree variety that would benefit each of the adjoining trees. In your first reply you mentioned tropical type fruit(citrus) as the only case of this and I will have to agree as I have been unable to find any regarding apples, pears, peach, cherry. I meant it when I said your reply helped….thanks again.

  20. I have a small backyard (45′ x 41′ or 13.75m x 12.5m) I am wanting to plant persimmon against the north wall. I would like to provide shade and protection from auto traffic from a near by road. I’m also wanting to have a high a yield as possible-(I plan to freeze the fruit.) Would I be better of with 1-2 trees spaced 12-15 feet apart per traditional orchards or plant more trees closer together? If so,how close can I plant to get a hedge effect and still have a high yield? I live in southern utah usa where the summers are hot and we have a mild freeze in the winter. Thank you.

  21. Hi,
    Can you use this multi planting method for citrus? I really like the idea of having 4 different fruits in the space of one normal tree.
    Thanks Jacq

  22. Hey, that’s great thanks,
    They’ll be facing north west, placing 4 in a square. Should I prune the front 2 shorter than the rear 2? So the rear ones get enough sun, or will they get enough anyway?
    Thanks for your quick response, love you’re website by the way, think I’ve read every article, every update.
    Cheers Jacq

    1. If they’re facing northwest, the suitability of the location depends on which side of the world you’re on, northern or southern hemisphere!
      In the southern hemisphere that’s a whole lot of midday and afternoon sun, which is good, while in the northern hemisphere, that would only amount to a bit of afternoon sun, not good…

      Considering that evergreen trees need a minimum of 6-8 hours of sun all year round, I would only plant two trees side-by-side, both facing the sun. With four, the trees in the foreground will shade out the trees in the background!

      That’s why it’s much simpler with deciduous trees, as they are in leaf in the warmer seasons when the sun is higher in the sky, so light is available to them. When late autumn and winter comes and the sun is low in the sky, deciduous trees have lost all their leaves and are dormant, so there is risk of shading each other out.

  23. Ok, I’m in Melbourne, so will change from a 4×4 to 4 in a row for the citrus and I’ll save the 4×4 for the stone fruit.
    Thanks again,

  24. Hi again,
    Would I be better putting the 4 citrus at the back with the 4 stone fruit in front of them?
    Thanks again and again

    1. Hi Jacq, if you are placing a row of trees along a north facing fence (facing the midday sun, which is south for northern hemisphere readers), I would put the row of evergreen trees along the wall or fence, then put the deciduous trees as a row in front of them, preferably in a staggered formation, that is, line up the deciduous trees with the gaps between the evergreens. This way, when the deciduous trees lose their leaves, the evergreens get winter sun, when the deciduous trees are in full leaf, it’s summer and the sun is overhead anyway. In spring, the deciduous trees can get maximum sun because they won’t be behind a row of evergreen trees. Offset one row against the other if they are close because it’s a more efficient use of space.

  25. This is intriguing. How would you compare this method of planting multiple varieties of say apple trees in one hole to buying a multi-variety grafted tree (where multiple varieties of say apples are grafted to one semi-dwarf rootstock)? I’d been planning to invest in some multi-graft trees to allow for lower production of any one variety but greater diversity of production but now am uncertain as to whether I should do that or use the three trees in one hole method you are advocating. Thanks for such an informative article!

    1. The many-trees-in-one-hole technique and multi-graft trees are two different and equally viable solutions to the same problem, squeezing more tree varieties in a small space. There are pros and cons with each approach.

      With multigrafts, you have to prune the more vigorous varieties back to stop them overtaking the other variety, and since you are on a single rootstock there is the risk that if the limb breaks from the tree, you could lose that variety. There is the issue of resilience, if you lose one rootstock you lose two trees.

      Planting many trees to a hole creates a single canopy with two root systems, but you still have to prune back the more vigorous variety to keep the canopy of the tree balanced as you do with muti-grafts, but not to the same extent. There is more training involved with this technique, and it probably takes a bit more skill to prune the shape in the early formative stages as the trees are growing.

      In my garden, I have a few multi-graft trees, most of my fruit trees planted fairly close together, from 1.5m (5′) to 3m (10′) apart, mostly around 2m (6′) apart, as most of my garden beds are narrow rectangular beds, and planting this way is more suitable. If you have a larger square area that can accommodate one larger canopy tree, then you can plant in the many-to-one-hole fashion.

      Even with multi-graft trees on a semi-dwarfing rootstock, you would still use the pruning techniques of backyard orchard culture to maintain a small size. With a full-dwarfing rootstock, there’s less pruning but the disadvantage with these is that the roots are not very vigorous, and don’t go too deep into the soil, so the trees can easily be blown over by the wind and need to be permanently staked for their whole lives.

      1. Chris

        Great article thank you .
        I just want to add I agree with close planting which I thankfully started 15yrs ago in my small backyard 12x15m .i planted 2m apart and I prune my trees yrly.
        I have 3 varieties of apples that fruit over 7 months , dwarf peach that fruits abundantly , another variety peach, Japanese blood plum , mandarin ,orange ,lemon 2 cherry trees , nectarine promegranate ,persimmon, guava ,blueberry x2 plants and still need to plant apricot and a pear which I will plant soon .
        It is so rewarding to eat off your own tree nothing beats the taste!!!

      2. Thanks Chris, great to hear you’ve also been successfully using this technique in Australia too. I genuinely believe there’s no better way than this to grow fruit trees in small gardens!

        I’ve really packed the trees in small garden of around 80 sq. m and squeezed four more on my front lawn which is a thin strip 15m x 1.5m:

        Citrus (6): lemon (Lisbon), grapefruit, mandarin (Satsuma), orange (dwarf Valencia), lime (dwarf Tahitian), lime (Australian native finger lime)
        Pome fruit (5): apple (Granny Smith), apple (Pink Lady), apple (Gala), apple (Red Jonathan), pear (Bartlett)
        Stone fruit (7): plum (Satsuma), plum (Mariposa), plumcot (Flavour Rouge), cherry (Starkrimson), peach (dwarf Pixzee) nectarine (dwarf Nectazee) apricot (Moorpark)
        Others(11): Babaco, Cherry Guava, Lemon Guava, Feijoa, White Sapote ‘Wilson’, Wampi ‘Yeem Pay’, Persimmon ‘Nightingale’, Persimmon ‘Dai Dai Maru’, Pomegranate, Mulberry (Black), fig ‘White Adriatic’
        Nut trees (2): almond (dwarf All-In-One), Macadamia integrifolia ‘Lotsa Nuts’

        I’ve got a few trees in pots too – but I don’t count those!

      3. Do you have any pictures of your setup with citrus? I’m trying to figure out the best way to do a Eureka Lemon, Imperial Mandarin and Tahitian Lime. Would they still work good spaced about 80cm apart?

      4. Backyard Orchard Culture is a pruning technique for deciduous trees. Citrus grow in a completely different way being heavy feeders and evergreens.
        You can prune citrus a little, but you can’t create dwarf citrus from a full sized tree!

        I plant my citrus 1.5m apart, which allows for a 2m wide canopy. Your eureka tree can be kept at that height and width with a little pruning.

        The spacing you suggest, 80cm is only suitable for citrus on ‘Flying Dragon’ dwarfing rootstock which produces a small tree that only reaches 4.5m after 5 years. I’d persona;;y use a spacing of 1m for those for air circulation between adjacent trees.

        You might want to consider espaliering your citrus instead.

  26. Angelo thanks for your reply you have inspired me to plant more!!
    You have an extraordinary amount of fruit trees in your garden!
    Well definitely will plant in my front yard as well great idea !!
    Thank you for your informative site I will keep reading it !

    1. There’s no reason why you couldn’t, that’s how they do commercial apple plantations – rows of low trees that can be hand picked.

  27. I purchased fruit trees from Lowes in 2/2011. I did not know that I had to cut down the newly planted trees-apple, plum,peach,pear. Should I cut down the trees and start over or work hard at pruning trees for an open canopy shape. They bore some fruit this summer.
    Circumference of trees are 1 1/2 – 2 inches. The Metheley plum and moon glow pear have the tallest truck of 50 inches in height . I want them to be under 8-9 feet tall. Is there any help for me and my trees.

    1. If your trees have proper structure, i.e. main scaffold branches, and are a proper shape, then they’re fine. Judging by the trunk thickness, they sound like fairly established trees, so I’m assuming they’ve already had the formative pruning which gives them their shape. If the trunks are at 50″ or just over 4′ (1.2m) you still have space for another 4-5 feet of canopy before you reach the height of 8-9 feet. Once a young tree is pruned to create the main scaffold branches, that’s usually how it stays. You can lower a canopy bit by bit, but you really cant lower scaffold branches easily.

      Well, technically you can take off all the branches on certain tree species, the technique is called ‘pollarding’ – where you lop a tree at the desired height when you winter prune it, removing all the branches. In spring new growth appears and you can then select some of the new growth and retrain as a lower scaffold, but that will take three years to get the shape again! Note. only certain types of trees can be pollarded, those with many dormant buds under the bark on the lower part of the tree. If you pollard trees that can’t create this new growth, you’ll kill the tree. Some fruit trees that can be pollarded include the following species – Malus (apple), Prunus (plums, peaches, nectarines, cherries, etc.), Morus (mulberry). I’m not really sure about pollarding the Pyrus species (pears), but I expect they might be OK as they pollard some ornamental pears.

      I’m guessing these trees you purchased were trained with a taller trunk since plums and pears can get quite large and may people choose to let them get tall, especially with pear trees – you can grow them as shade trees to sit under. Depends what the demand is in the market for fruit trees at large retail chains…

      1. Angelo, Thank you so much for this helpful information. I will take your advice.


    1. Hi Bob,

      I saw on You Tube several examples of pruning bare root and newly planted trees .

      Look at video at 1:47 to 3:03 thats what Im trying to explain.

      My trees are older and wanted to know if they will be okay having a taller truck 50 inches or should I cut the trunk down some.

      Angelo responded also and said cutting the trunk or pollarding may kill the tree.

      Thank you


  28. Xaviah, when I first saw “cut down”. My mind went immediately to deforestation not trimming or pruning. ……

  29. Hi Angelo,
    I really enjoy your website and want to thank you for publishing such a valuable resource! Just so you know, we’re reading and watching (via Geoff Lawton) all the way from Kentucky. Cheers!

  30. Thanks Angelo your site is a fantastic resource and your work is super inspirational! Can I ask what you do to prevent birds from eating all your fruits? I have several fruit and nut trees which are bearing but the cockies eat them before they are even close to maturing. I’m in North Central Victoria. Thanks again appreciate it 🙂

    1. I find that keeping trees pruned low so they can be harvested by hand also puts any birds uncomfortably low that they don’t feel safe from predators, their instinct is to be safely high off the ground, which means they will prefer taller trees elsewhere. For clever parrots that aren’t afraid of humans or anything else for that matter, keeping trees pruned low means it takes under two minutes to net a tree, frustrating the pests so they go elsewhere for easier pickings. I rarely ever have to use bird-netting, but if I do I use the woven bird net which is really hard to cut, unlike the moulded netting which can be cut through easily. My preference is for the highly visible white netting, which deters parrots because they can see from a distance that the tree is covered, and stops birds accidentally getting tangled, which can happen with the thin, black, moulded bird netting.

      1. All your advice is perfectly consistent with my observed experience and why I wanted to ask your opinion. The mature pear tree which which we inherited is overgrown and gets attacked first unlike the smaller younger pruned trees. We netted it 3 days ago with the black moulded netting and already 2 birds tangled that I had to free so was about to give up on nets! Thanks I will try some white woven net. Do you have a preferred hole size?

  31. Hey!

    Great article! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    I would like to ask you one comment about the fact you only mention winter prunning as third option. when it is the stage that most trees are dormant.

    Thanks and happy xmas! 🙂

    1. Thanks!
      Winter pruning is used to create lots of regrowth which is what you want for formative pruning, when you prune to create the main branches and the shape of the fruit tree.
      Summer pruning is used as a maintenance pruning system to keep the tree small once you have the tree at the size and shape that you desire.

  32. Hi Angelo, I came to see your garden at the Open Gardens weekend and it was amazing. I am really enjoying reading all of your info. I have a lemon tree in my back yard that is a little out of control…limbs all over the place and very tall. I am wondering if you know of any good resources that I could use to help me prune the tree down to a much more manageable and productive size? I don’t want to damage the tree by over pruning too quickly. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, glad you enjoyed the visit to my garden!
      What you’re discussing is renovation pruning, and with citrus you can prune it back anytime, just time it so the new growth which will emerge aftr pruning doesn’t get hit by frost or a heatwave, and don’t take more than one-third of the canopy off in any year.

      I highly recommend the book by Jane Varkulevicius, “Pruning for Flowers and Fruit (CSIRO Publishing Gardening Guides)“.

      She suggests that to stop lemons getting too leggy, you can shorten back the long stems by about a third to an outward facing bud and thin the old fruiting wood as required. In respect to renovation pruning, the author mentions that citrus have lots of dormant buds beneath their bark, so you can pruned them back quite hard if you want to rejuvenate them. Lots of new growth will emerge around the cut branch, you want to keep one or two of these to form new branches, but remove unwanted regrowth, especially any that is growing inwards towards the centre of the canopy by rubbing them off when they first emerge.

  33. Speaking of citrus – we live in north Florida – near the coast – so strictly sandy soils. Much effort is spent in keeping the soils covered and maintaining a humus layer. Do you think it would benefit, harm or make no difference to plant peanuts at the citrus drip lines? (Nitrogen adding features vs. harm harvesting the peanuts.)

    Thank you for all the other posts – this has been one of the most enlightening group of contributors on how to approach fruit production and orchard care. Thank you.

    1. You’re welcome!
      I would not plant peanuts around the drip line of a citrus tree. The drip line is an area around the tree where there are a lot of fine roots gathering water and nutrients. You don’t want to be digging and disrupting those important feeder roots when digging up peanuts. I would use another type of legume for nitrogen fixing. You could also use comfrey, which is far more deeply rooted than citrus, for ‘nutrient mining’ – to bring up nutrients deep in the soil below the root zone of citrus to the surface, making them available once more to the citrus tree.

      1. Okay! Will put the peanuts elsewhere, and find out where to get comfrey! (Comfrey is often mentioned in gardening books, but I’ve not grown it before. Thank you again!

  34. It sounds good, but what effect would it have on the tree roots when you went to harvest the peanuts….would it be better to use a bean or a pea to get your desired effect…….I’m just an amateur ……I’ll wait to hear from the experts. Thanks for letting me put my two cents in.

  35. I’d like to hear your take on the fact that some noted Permaculture practitioners recommend virtually no pruning at all; e.g., Sepp Holzer and, in the past, Masanobu Fukouka. I also note that your reference section includes no Permaculture sources.

    1. Hi Gil, thanks for your questions, the answers are really simple.
      Backyard Orchard Culture is a technique for backyards, which are small-scale intensive systems, which would be located in Zones 1 and 2, where space is a premium.

      The systems you refer to are large scale rural systems where less intensive techniques work because of greater space and larger numbers of trees to obtain production from, and less intensive techniques are the only choice because you can’t intensively manage large areas. These are typically Zone 3 and possibly Zone 4 systems.

      In a nutshell, they’re qualitatively different, apples and oranges!

      No references to permaculture in backyard orchard culture, yes, that’s right, because again, they’re qualitatively different things.
      Permaculture is a design system, which can incorporate within it any number if techniques. Backyard Orchard Culture, just like No-dig Gardening is just another stand-alone horticultural technique, it is not Permaculture, but Permaculture can use this technique.

      As Geoff Lawton kept stressing in class, Permaculture is a design framework, it is not the techniques, but the techniques can be used within a Permaculture design framework.

      What I’ve pioneered (at least here where I live in Melbourne, Australia) is the combination of the technique of Backyard Orchard Culture with Permaculture’s over-stacked food forest design and small-scale intensive system design to scale down food forests into small urban spaces.

      Hope this helps 🙂

  36. Hi, This is a fantastic post. You provide a lot of quality information. I am just starting my first ever blog and would like to include a link to this post as I’m currently planning my own backyard orchard (with chooks too), I hope this is ok. 🙂

    1. Yes, you’re welcome to add a link to this page on your website!
      If you’re quoting or referencing this page, please remember to cite the source, thanks 🙂

  37. Hi Angelo,
    Thanks for such a great website and video (with Geoff)! I’ve recently completed my PDC and I have included your backyard orchard technique in my design. Thanks for the inspiration! I was hoping you could answer a couple of questions.
    I also live in Melbourne, and I’m wondering what other plants you plant with your fruit trees, particularly nitrogen-fixers? What is growing well in our climate? Any specific plants you used initially to help get the trees started?
    I’m hoping to plant 2-3 trees in one hole, but am wondering, since citrus should be planted in Spring and others in Winter – can I add in the citrus to “the hole” in a couple of months time? Or should it have it’s own separate space?
    Thanks heaps, and may you continue to live “in abundance” 😉

    1. Hi Brooke, congratulations on completing your PDC! Glad to hear you’re enjoying the content on the web site.

      In cool temperate climates such as Melbourne, many of the nitrogen fixers for small backyards are annuals. There are a lot more perennial nitrogen fixing plants in the subtropical and tropical climates. Sure there are nitrogen fixing trees such as acacias, locusts and tagasastes, but these are too big for an urban backyard. I tend to use broad beans during the cool season, and chop them to the ground when they come into flower. You can also use fenugreek around this time too and it breaks up compacted soil with its taproot. I’m using a small Australian native perennial shrub, Austral Indigo (Indigofera australis) as a nitrogen foxer, its from the Fabaceae (bean and pea) family.

      Underplant your trees with companion plants – see list here –

      If you do decide to plant multiple trees to a hole DO NOT mix evergreens and deciduous trees! It’s a technique for deciduous trees only, your citrus would be better off evenly spaced. If you wanted to hedge citrus, that would be something different…

      Best of luck with your garden! 🙂

  38. Hi Angelo & Brooke – Question on the deciduous vs evergreen… I have recently planted citrus seedlings under the light dappled shade of tall live oaks, pittosporum & holly, in order to protect them from our occasional hard frosts here in north Florida, USA. They are not in the same hole, but are in the same larger bed.

    Is there a minimum # of hours required for citrus production? (Our sun is quite intense for 8 mos of the year.). Our thought was that the winter frost does not seem to damage the tender plants (annuals) under the canopy of the oaks, so that would protect the citrus as well. And we also get hard cold drying winds from the west during those cold snaps, so we used the upright hollies as a windbreak. (trying to layer the garden zones).

    We figured if Sepp Holtzer could manage a citrus in Austria, we should be able to micro-climate ours in north florida. Is this destined for failure?..

    1. As a horticulturist the advice we give when asked how much sunlight citrus need is 6-8 hours of direst sunlight all year round as a minimum! The amount of fruit they produce is proportional to the amount of sun they receive.

      At the very least I would expect the sub-canopy of citrus to be planted on the side of the larger tree that gets exposed to morning, midday and afternoon sun (on the north side of the tree to get the south midday sun in the Northern hemisphere where you are, reverse for people in the Southern hemisphere). Citrus is also quite shallow rooted and won’t be able to compete with a larger shade trees for water, and citrus is a heavy feeder, so it will need lots of fertilizer, which most deciduous trees wont.

      Since the winds come sideways rather than overhead, you could perhaps construct a windbreak or even a sun trap with the pittosporum & holly and plant the citrus inside the V shape which faces the sun – further details here - only in your case it should all face south. Also, since frosts move downhill to the lowest point, if your sun trap is planted on the south side of a slope, the frost will not run uphill and the thermal mass might lessen the effect of overhead frost.

      Citrus does grow in Florida. In fact, from the National Gardening Association “The commercial citrus belt extends roughly from California through Arizona, Texas, along the Gulf Coast, and into Florida” My research indicates that citrus is grown throughout the central and southern regions of Florida.

      According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension:
      Freeze sensitivity. Frequency of freezing temperatures should be important in historically cold areas. If freezes are expected every few years, more cold-tender citrus types should be avoided and only the most hardy should be chosen. In these situations, late season variety fruit would be frozen before maturing.”


      “Planting Tips -To be successful with citrus, select a sunny location with a well-drained soil. Don’t plant citrus at the bottom of a hill or slope since cold air drains downhill. Planting on the south and southeast sides of a lake or any body of water provides additional protection from freezes. When planting, place the rootball two inches higher than the surrounding soil to insure positive drainage. Don’t mulch around citrus because this holds in moisture around the trunk and promotes disease problems, especially a disease called foot rot.”

      References for the two quoted passages and

  39. Another question about citrus trees I have 2meyer lemons and a Mexican lime in containers in se pennsylvania. The oldest lemon has about a dozen huge lemons on it but they have been green for a long time. Is there a rule of thumb for citrus fruit reaching maturity ie….lemons turning yellow. Thank you in advance for any help you may be able to provide.

    1. Citrus in containers require good sunlight (6-8 hours minimum, all year round), good drainage and consistent moisture to be happy. I’m hoping they are getting enough sunlight! In some climates they take a very long time to ripen and patience is called for.

  40. Thank you for the detailed reply. Will adjust and report back in the next few years on the seedlings progress.

  41. I have a plum tree, 2 yrs old. I didn’t know to cut it low when I planted it. Now it is 5 ft tall, but only has 2 side branches on it. There were 5 but 3 of the side branches died. Can I go back now and cut it down to 3 ft high? Or should I let it be?

  42. Hi there Angelo,
    Came across this post and can happily say mind is blown. I live in Israel and space is at a premium so this technique might just solve me a few issues. My question is on the four tree’s in one hole approach. How would the pruning differ then? I mean the central part of the “tree” would be where the four tree’s are closest. How would you prune this area? Remove the inner branches?
    I am thinking of two holes, one citrus (lemon, orange, lime and tangerine) and one native ( pomegranate,fig, carob, mulberry). Do you see any issues here? I will be planting north to south with the citrus in the north and the natives in the south as the pomegranate, fig and mulberry loose their leaves.
    Appreciate any feedback

    1. Hi, great to hear you’re enjoying reading the articles here!

      With four trees planted in a hole, you initially prune the inward growing branches a bit so they fit, think of each tree as comprising a quarter of a full tree. You’re correct in your thinking, each tree will be lop-sided but together it will create a balance, symmetrical tree shape.

      The “may-to-a hole” technique is best used with different varieties of the same type of tree which grow to approximately the same size, for example, four equally vigorous apple trees. If some trees are much more vigorous they will outgrow the slower growing trees and shade them out, and you run the risk of losing the smaller trees unless you prune regularly to keep the trees of equal size.

      Be aware that you can still grow multiple trees in a small space by spacing them evenly apart as separate trees and using the spring-summer pruning described in the article to keep them small. I typically grow my trees 1.5m apart and this allows each to have 1m of canopy on each side (2m total canopy width) with a 50cm space between them.

      I would be careful with the citrus as the lemon and orange grow to similar sizes but the lime and tangerine usually grow much smaller.

      I wouldn’t mix your native trees – the pomegranate, fig, carob and mulberry. The pomegranate can be hedge pruned to any size and shape and is only a small tree when allowed to grow, approximately 4m tall. the fig, carob and mulberry grow into giant trees, and I know from experience that both the fig and mulberry can be pruned to dwarf them. I don’t know much about your carob varieties in Israel, but normally carob trees require both a male and female tree to be productive, which takes up a lot of space. There are hermaphrodite varieties which carry both male and female flowers and are self fertile, that would be the variety you will require if there is a shortage of space.

      Planting your evergreen trees north to south is the correct strategy, plant the tallest trees (lemon and orange) furthest from the sun (north in the Northern Hemisphere) and the shortest trees (lime and tangerine) closest to the sun (south in the Northern Hemisphere) so the tall trees don’t shade out the shorter ones.

      The best place fir your deciduous trees is closest to the sun (south in the Northern Hemisphere) so they’re not shaded out from the sun in spring when they put out new leaves, allowing them to get the most sunlight.

      1. So glad I found this blog. Really appreciate the in depth answer. Might start with the citrus “many-to-a-hole” technique. Appreciate the insight of how to plant them to. Will let you know it goes through the season. I’ll have to go over pruning techniques again during the year to keep things in order. If I pull it off might be able to convince the neighbor to share out garden’s as there are no fences.
        One more thing. I’m thinking of using a small hugelkultuur bed to plant the tree’s on but I’m wondering whether this is counter productive as I’m trying to keep the tree’s shorter so with the added height of the hugelkultuur bed this might working against what I’m trying to achieve with the tree’s. It’s just the the position will be along the road where it’s currently open so I can use the hugelkultuur bed as a form of fence as well as catching the water running down along a swale on the other side. If I add the tree’s I’d be getting many uses out of all these techniques. Any thoughts?

      2. I’d probably plant any hugelkultuur bed with anything other than trees initially because the beds will settle and fall in height, you definitely don’t want your soil level changing with trees, wait till it stabilizes, then plant trees.

        For small spaces and as fences you can definitely espalier figs and mulberries, while pomegranates can be planted as a fruiting hedge. For more information see my article “The Case for Edible Hedges

      3. Reckon I’ll give those figs a go. I have a neighbor with some awesome figs and she said I could take some cuttings in spring. The fruit on the road will probably get taken but the fruit on our side of the fence should be OK. I’ll just call in community care 😉

      4. Take fig cuttings in late winter while they’re still dormant 🙂
        Please let us know how it goes! Thnaks

  43. Hi, I was wondering about using this method to plant american hazelnuts and peaches (alternating) in a row, spaced 18″ apart. I worry a lot about the trees getting too tall to manage. Would this work well considering that the hazelnut is technically more of a shrub?

    1. You’re going to space fruit trees 18″ apart? I don’t follow. For a hedgerow the trees would need to be a minimum of 30″ apart, and all the same type. You can grow hazelnuts that way very well.

      Hazelnuts grow naturally as a bush or a multi-stemmed small tree, that can grow up to 5m tall x 3m wide (15′ x 10′), but left as a shrub or bush, hazelnuts need little maintenance, and they can be pruned to increase production, by pruning off 15-20% of old growth each year.

      Peaches branch extensively and don’t hedge at all, they will form basic espaliers only with an angles up to 45 degrees for the branches, they can’t bend down to 90 degrees, but can be pruned into small trees.

      I would make a hedgerow of hazelnuts and prune the peach trees to small trees about 2.5m x 2.5m (8′ x 8′) planted 3m apart, or if you have less space, reduce the dimensions and the distance apart.

  44. Hello and thank you for all of this fantastic information! I am planning on doing some 3-in-1 groupings of fruit trees in my backyard in Boise, ID and had originally planned on planting a nitrogen fixing nursery tree such as a sea berry or goumi as part of the group until my fruit trees are established. I can’t seem to find any info on this though… Is this a good idea and would it eventually become detrimental to the fruit trees if the nitrogen fixers were left with them after they had matured?

  45. Thanks so much for this info! I just had a professional pruner come look at my trees and he asked why I was planting them so close together. He tried to argue the logic of doing so, but I told him I was planning on keeping them small. His comments led me to do a search on the subject and by finding your post now I know I can plant even closer than what I was doing. I especially appreciate the diagrams!

  46. Thank you so much for such a crisp clear explanation on pruning. I feel when I do it next time, I will actually know what to look for. I have a question and quoting your article here: “Extended Productive Season … instead of one apricot tree that produces mid season, you can plant three different varieties in the same space, and early, mid and late season bearing apricot tree.” For trees need cross pollination, when they fruit at different time, they also flower at different time. What do you do to make sure of successful cross pollination? Thank you!

    1. Apricots are self-fertile, so no need for cross pollination. If you’re selecting trees that need cross pollinators, check the fruiting times, they may flower at the same time (otherwise they wouldn’t be compatible pollinators), but they set or ripen their fruit at different times.

  47. Hello…i have a situation in my hands that I have no idea how to fix. My mother in law just gave me 2 citrus trees in one pot. They are growing at the same speed and iwant to separate then but I’m afraid that the roots are tangled. I really want both to survive…any suggestions?

    1. My first question is why are they growing in one pot? Are they grown from seed? If so, read my article “The Difference Between Seedling, Grafted and Cutting Grown Fruit Trees” because, depending on what type of citrus they are, the seedlings may NOT be anything like the parent trees.

      To separate plants, depending on the size, use two garden forks or hand garden forks back-to-back between the two plants/trees and pull the handles away from each other.

  48. Amazing website. Got so much of information on tree planting and maintenance in backyard. Thank you.

  49. I just purchased pear trees in containers that are about seven feet tall. They are about four feet from the soil to the first limb. When I plant them can I top them back to about two feet and expect them to put out new growth? Should I wait until fall?

  50. Thanks for this article! It’s very informative and the diagrams go a long way. One question: In your example with 5′ trees with 1′ gap, how tall would they be? That is to say, is there a rule of thumb to determine a good height? Like 1:1 would be 5′ wide trees, 5′ tall?

  51. Hi, I know this is an old article but I’m just planning fruit trees now. If I am planting in a long 1 m wide raised bed built up on soil, would you still recommend 75 cm spacing? The bed will be raised because the yard is close to a creek that floods occasionally, and will serve as a retaining wall to protect the veggie patch.

    Thanks for the amazing content!

    1. All articles on this website are always active, no matter when they were written!

      With backyard orchard culture, the planting distance is determined by what size you want to prune the trees to, so if you want your trees 2m wide with a 50cm gap between them for example, then you would plant trees 2.5m apart. If you’re planting a hedge (and the trees are suitable for hedging), then they’re planted much closer together. Hope this helps.

  52. Thank you for such a great overview and your interactivity in the comments. I would like to use the principles of BYOC, but in a less space constrained application of homesteading. If you have open space without shade constraints, zone 6 (all deciduous), and I wanted to plant close together similar to your 10×30 example 30″ apart, but several rows would you run the rows of trees north/south or east/west, or something else? Why?

    Thank you in advance.

  53. Hello! What a great article! Thank you for sharing! We are setting up an urban homestead- it’s our first year, so just veggies thus far. I’m thinking ahead to fruit trees, though. I have a nice slightly-sloped, full-sun spot picked out, and can’t wait to get planting. My question, though, is if we want to plant more than just apples, is there a chart you could point me to for speed of growth- if peaches grow a lot slower I’ll want them “up shade” from the faster-growing fruits. LOL With just a half acre, I want to save as much space as possible. It’d be great if I could plant root stocks and they’d all stay perfectly level with proper pruning, but I don’t want to make any spacing mistakes with such a long-term project. Thank you for your time!

    1. Peaches, nectarines, apricots and Japanese plums are very vigorous growers, they will grow as fast or faster than mot apples! With apples the vigour of the tree will be determined by the variety and the rootstock they’re grafted on. To be honest most deciduous fruit trees grow at reasonably similar rates on regular rootstock, slow on dwarf rootstock. Trees that are cutting grown and naturally large, such as figs and mulberries grow very big very fast if not pruned. Hope this helps!

      1. That’s very helpful! Thank you! It also reminded me of another question. LOL When we moved in we found there was an enormous, decades-old fig tree by the back fence. Unfortunately, it’s in a terrible spot. It’s shading out half the yard. :/ Can figs be propagated from cuttings? Thank you AGAIN for your time! <3

    1. No problem, figs grow very well from cuttings, that’s how fig trees are propagated in fact! : )

  54. I just wanted to say thank you for the article! I went early summer pruning on a dwarf cherry tree that will yeild a very sad quantity of fruits this season, I counted 12 cherries… it was so full of flowers though! Any clues as to what went wrong? Bad pollinisation? Possibility the flowers froze during a very cold night?

    I am very easily worried and I keep going back and looking at the tree, and it looks fine but I am afraid of having pruned it incorrectly. I love this cherry bush! Last year it was very generous with its fruits. I also removed a lot of “babies” that are growing directly from the root system. I hope it was the thing to do.

    1. I have same problem ….all flowers…no fruit .
      I dont know …not enough bees when needed???

  55. Hi thank you so much for a great article on how to grow fruit trees in a small space… I am wondering if this method can also be done where I live in southern India. We have monsoon time and then very dry periods of about 4 -6 months with no rain… they call this summer time. I am wondering when to prune the fruit trees here if its during the monsoon time or just before the monsoon time during the summer? Also can you do this on avocado trees mango and Lycii and mangostein custard apple trees? Most of the videos I see are talking about cold climate trees. Thank you so much ? for all your wonderful help of getting this knowledge out there it is greatly appreciated !


    1. Hi, in tropical climates fruit trees grow very quickly, and reach much larger sizes than they do in cooler climates. You would prune your trees during their growing season to direct their new growth where you want it, whichever season that happens in. Just make sure you don’t prune off the wood that will produce the fruit though, some trees fruit on new growth, some on year old wood, some on older wood. If you prune that off the tree won’t fruit!

  56. Hi there I forgot to ask if I can try this on the Rudrkaha tree which is a huge tree that normally grows as the top most layer of a rain forest. Here in India we collect the fruits but I was wondering to try to plant them and keep them pruned then it would be much easier to harvest the fruits… just wondering what your thought are on doing that with such a huge tree…

    1. If a tree naturally grows as an upper canopy tree in a tropical forest, then that is its habit, it needs to get as much sun as possible and protects the trees below it. I would not try to lower it as you can only reduce the height of trees within reason. You need to be able to reach the top of the tree to prune it, so you can keep it that high. I’m not familiar with this particular tree, but if you wanted to experiment to see if it was possible, that would be a valuable learning experience.

  57. Hi Angelo, a question about spacing: Dave Wilson and yourself have recommended spacing of approx 18in/45cm between trees but Flemings nursery ( suggest 150mm for duo/trio planting. That feels like a big difference. I’m trying to plan my bare root planting for this winter of Apricots trio planted, and peaches duo planted. I’m planning on cutting them at knee height and keeping the trees no taller than me. I like the idea of the 150mm spacing as that saves more space (and less hole digging too), what are your thoughts on this? Should I stick with the 45cm spacing above?
    thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Lisa, a spacing of 18in/45cm between trees allows enough space for tree trunks to naturally thicken without growing into each other and restricting each others growth, and will not create a space where debris can gather to rot the trunks, or insects could hide in.

      A spacing of 15cm is more appropriate for small ornamental standards (ball on a stick shape) where trunks of plants flexible enough are twisted together to make a fancy trunked pot plant for putting on either side of a driveway , usually done with ficus plants.

      I’ve planted two Japanese plums at my work with 45cm spacing, and after a few years, they’re close enough. Flemings is a great tree supplier, excellent range of quality trees, and their help guides contain lots of valuable information but I don’t believe they have many years experience with backyard orchard culture, and are probably approaching the subject more theoretically.

  58. Hi Angelo, a question about feeding the trees. I would usually alternate a fruit tree with a nitrogen fixing tree or shrub of a similar size (like Eleaeagnus Multiflora) and underplant with mineral accumulators so as to keep the soil naturally rich:

    F N F N F N F N (F is a fruit tree and N is a nitrogen-fixing tree or shrub)

    but this approach means that I can only plant half as many fruit trees in a given space.

    Your and Dave Wilson’s diagrams only show fruit trees and Dave Wilson says not to give Nitrogen fertilizer to the trees to avoid excessive plant growth at the expense of fruit.

    Please which approach do you recommend and how do you supply your fruit trees with the minerals and/or nitrogen that they need?
    Thanks in advance

    1. Hi Stewart, I use a balanced, slow release organic fertilizer on all my fruit trees, and I apply it twice a year, at the start of spring and autumn. Summer pruning the trees I can keep them to a manageable size quite easily. Remember, with organic fertilizers, you feed the soil, and the soil-food web slowly releases nutrients to feeds the plants and trees, whereas synthetic fertilizers force feed when water is taken up. Using excessive fertilizer or synthetic chemical fertilizers would push excessive tree growth, counteracting the pruning efforts to keep trees small.

      Your strategy of using nitrogen fixing trees or shrubs is an alternate solution, as is the practice of using a red clover cover crop as many orchard growers do. The reason I combine only fruit trees in my backyard orchard culture plantings because I have very limited space in my urban agriculture food forest.

  59. Hi Angelo. Have you read this I am not a huge fan of Linda Chalker-Scott, I find her views are very biased once she makes her mind up about something. But the concern over trees becoming stressed for root competition over time is an obvious and natural concern. I am curious to know how your multiple planted fruit trees are doing. ie. How many years have they been growing and would you consider them healthy and a success?

  60. Hello Angelo,
    I found this article 6 years ago when I squeezed two multi-graft cherries, multi-graft apple, pear, 2 peaches, and a plum into the backyard of our .06 acre urban/suburban plot. I don’t know how successful I was (I wish someone could have walked me through in person exactly what I was to do – 2-D learning is difficult), and we no longer live at that home (I do know the owners got their first harvest of plums this year, and they were delicious).

    We now live down the street from our old home (Southwestern Ohio, zone 6), and I have a permaculturist I am working with to help me turn our 1/3rd acre plot into a functional, beautiful food forest. I sent him this article earlier this week as we’re beginning to think about trees to pre-order for spring, so now we’ve been having discussions about what method will be best. There are three areas of the yard that will be dedicated orchard areas (one of which will be espaliered against a fence), as well as fruit trees scattered in the front yard.

    I guess one question is: is there a benefit to this method vs. using a root stock that would keep the trees to 6-10 ft?

    Another question is, do you have any information about training the tree boughs downwards? I recall watching a permaculture apple orchard documentary, and the guy talked about how her trains his branches downwards to trigger fruit production over growth. Have you heard of this?

    Since I want smaller fruit trees, we might be changing our plans, as he was planning for 15′ trees. My ideal would be 6-8 ft, I think. We might focus on a protective food-hedge before putting in trees, because the last thing we’ll want is to put in precious trees that the deer then gobble up.

  61. I’ve been reading all this as a person who doesn’t know much about how to grow fruit trees, I have planted several now, the information on here about it has been very helpful, I will need to read it several times before I have taken it all in.

  62. Useful article. I’ve spent four years stuffing a two acre former cow pasture with various fruit and decorative trees, with many, many mistakes. Pruning continues to be the worst task, though over time it has evolved from impossible, to intimidating, to painful, to perhaps finally promising. I’ve finally found, I think, that each fruit tree has its own kind of logic for pruning, with one major exception, the pear. While I’ve finally learned how to encourage lateral growth, I still have not found any answer as to how to limit the tree’s height: the one rule among gardeners seems to be “don’t top the tree!” Which would make pear tree height limitation unattainable. My seckel, morettini, doyenne blanche, summer blood and abbe fetel eagerly await any useful tips. Thank you..

    1. Hi Roy, when working with trees that have a central leader form, and cordon espaliers, it is essential to cut back the top growth back to one or two outward facing buds to limit the height, especially with pear trees, as they can get very tall.

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