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How to have a Mini Orchard in Your Garden

What is a mini orchard? You’d need to have at least five fruit trees for them to constitute an orchard. Even that might seem like an impossible dream as you look out at your twenty-foot square courtyard garden. But take hope from what I about to share with you!

Of course, you can have an orchard if you have the room in your garden. But it is a fact of family life that by the time you’ve allowed for the football / cricket pitch, greenhouse, garden office, shed, patio and outdoor kitchen / BBQ, somewhere for the dog to dig and the washing line there’s not much space left in the ‘average’ suburban garden! Let me tell you a secret: it is possible to have a mini orchard even on a balcony.

The trick is to plan carefully and prepare well. This is a good time of year to be buying fruit trees as winter is the season of bare root trees and shrubs. Bare root fruit trees are substantially cheaper than container grown trees and there’s more choice of both shape / type and cultivar.

Planning your mini orchard

There are three main questions you need to ask yourself: –

  • Which fruit should you grow?
  • Where will you be growing your orchard?
  • How much gardening knowledge do you have?

To keep this article a reasonable length, you’ll find some of the answers in links to relevant blogs within the text and below. Any sort of garden planning requires you to move on from the initial thoughts and dreams and onto how practical or viable the project is. Here I’m aiming to give you a few pointers in the right direction. For a more individual approach, please get drop us an email.

The “How much gardening knowledge do you have?” is aimed not at scaring you off, but ensuring that you choose fruit trees that are easy to look after if your knowledge is basic. If you would like more help, we offer bespoke gardening classes across the UK where your garden is your classroom. This could be an edible gardens course or a one-off gardening lesson on pruning. There is also a wealth of easily accessible horticultural gardening information for you in Plews Potting Shed and Gardening Glossary.

pomegranate tree, Ionic temple, Rievaulx Terrace, yorkshire, picturesque landscape gardening style, national trust

Mini Orchard – which fruit

The first thing is to decide what fruit you like to eat. Decide whether this is going to be purely a top fruit orchard or whether you might want to include nuts, bush fruit and vine / climbing fruit as well. Strictly speaking an orchard is top fruit; for example: –

Apples
Apricots
Cherries
Citrus – Lemons, Oranges, Limes, Grapefruit
Damsons
Figs
Medlar
Peaches and Nectarines
Pears
Plums
Pomegranate
Quince

But rules are often there to be broken, so yes, include bush fruits, nuts and vine fruits if that suits you. It’s your garden…

laying out planting scheme, planting borders, ornamental edible garden, garden designer, garden desgn, planting design, garden project

For ease, I’ll just consider top fruit here. An eBook on mini orchards and ornamental edible gardens is planned for 2019.

The amount of fruit you’ll harvest from your mini orchard will vary depending on variety, soil, trained form chosen, age of tree, location in garden and the weather. Naturally a mini tree such as a single cordon will have fewer fruits than a fully sized tree. As a rough guide a single cordon mature apple could produce up to 10 kgs of fruit. And we’re looking at growing at least 5 trees. That’s a fair bit of fresh, organically grown fruit!

When you’ve decided which fruit, you need to check their pollination needs. If a fruit is classed as self-fertile it won’t need a partner. Rough guide is to choose the same pollination group or the group either side.

 

Where should you grow your mini orchard?

The limits on what you can grow are not just the space available. It’s also about the soil if you’ll be growing the fruit in a border, and the aspect.

Spacing

How many trees you’ll fit into the available space will depend on the eventual size of the tree and the trained form chosen. Single cordons take up less room than an espalier. Some forms suit some fruits better than others.

Trained tree forms can be placed against a wall or fence or grown as a freestanding tree. However, they will need support, so freestanding really means with a stake or against a trellis. But it means you are able to utilise borders which do not have a wall behind them.

If your mini orchard will be container grown, then you also need to work out how many pots or troughs you can fit into the space. Generally speaking, you should allow for re-potting to a larger size of container about every 3 years, until the tree is fully grown.

quince tree in a bucket -RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2013

Soil

A nutritious, fertile, free draining soil provides optimum conditions for most of the tree fruit. However, the acidity or alkalinity of your garden soil is also important. For example, apples prefer a more acidic soil than plums. If you want to grow them next to each other, they would both tolerate a neutral soil.

Aspect

Fruit likes the sun, right? Yep. But some fruits like more sun than others. For example: –

Plums and Quince are fine with morning sun and then partial shade
Morello Cherries will grow on a north facing wall, desert cherries won’t be happy there
Peaches need the warmth of a south facing aspect to soak up sun

And remember the way the sun tracks across your garden varies with the seasons. You also need to consider frost pockets. If your garden is prone to late frosts then choose later blossoming varieties.

 

Mini Orchards and Citrus Groves

If you want to grow citrus fruits, can you give them protection overwinter? There is something delightfully challenging in growing borderline hardy plants, and fruit trees for a mini orchard are no exception.

There are dwarf varieties available which will thrive in pots. this makes it easy to bring them into a warm greenhouse or conservatory over the cold months. With the added benefit of fragrant blossom to fill the room, it’s not a hardship to make room for them. Imagine… a citrus grove in your home at Christmas….

lemon tree, exotic garden, hampton court palace garden, historic gardens

Rootstocks and Dwarf Trees

Many fruit trees are grafted onto special dwarfing rootstocks that make them more manageable for smaller spaces.

However, a tree will grow bigger where the growing conditions are good than where they’ve been planted in an exposed site, for example. The variety of the scion, ie the fruiting part of the plant, also affects the size at maturity.

Consider your garden soil, and where you’re planting your mini orchard within the garden, before deciding on how dwarfing a rootstock is required. Certain varieties are more suited to a region than others. The fruit tree nursery will be able to advise you, as can we at Plews. You may like to consider heritage varieties local to your area.

showing graft of rootstock and scion on newly planted bare root fruit tree

What else do you need to do?

You may have discovered that the peaches you wanted to grow are not going to thrive in the north westerly facing border you have available for them. What options are available to you?

Choose a different fruit.

Move to a different garden.

Plant the peach among the flowers in a sunny border.
You don’t have to have all the fruit trees planted together if that doesn’t suit the choice of fruit you want to grow. This is a mini orchard in your garden. I’ve designed mini orchards that are separate to the rest of the garden and that are spread throughout, creating an ornamental edible garden.

Preparing the soil is not a job to skimp on. Your mini orchard trees are going to live in that soil for years, so give them the best start possible. Double Digging is an easier task if you’re clearing an area for the fruit trees rather than just slipping them into an existing border. If you’re buying in new top soil or soil improver bulk bags are more economical. You’d be surprised how quickly it ‘disappears’. You can of course use home-made compost to improve the soil.

Planting a tree is covered in other blogs. Bare rooted trees need slightly more attention on arrival than container grown. Container grown trees are available year-round but with less choice available then bare rooted fruit trees. Bare root plants are available from November to March, the dormant season.

sundial, orchard, Lytes Carey, garden, national trust, somerset

Have a trip out to some of the local nurseries or kitchen gardens open to the public to familiarise yourself with the different trained fruit tree forms. I would always recommend looking through the on-line specialist fruit tree nurseries for your chosen bare rooted fruit. You may purchase at a local nursery or online, but at least you will have seen the range available and what is suitable for your area. This is your opportunity to grow and eat more unusual and heritage varieties of fruit. You could eat the fruit varieties that Elizabeth Tudor and Isaac Newton enjoyed!

Maintaining your Mini Orchard

Trees need extra tlc until they’ve established, say the first year or so. A regular routine of mulch, watering when necessary, feeding at key points, pest watch and control, pruning is required. Check out our other articles on these topics or get in touch for a Gardening Lesson in your own garden.

Maintenance is spread across the year. For which you’ll enjoy blossom in the spring, fruit to harvest in summer, colourful foliage in the autumn and the winter beauty of bare branches shining with frost like a lit-up Christmas tree.

 

How to have a Mini Orchard in Your Garden – recap

The main points to consider: –

Choose your fruit
Look at their needs – soil, aspect
Check what trained forms are available
Look at the area you want your mini orchard in
Amend your list if needed
Prepare the area
Order your bare root fruit trees
Plant your trees
Look after them – water, feed, prune
Enjoy eating your harvest!

For more help with any or all of creating, planting and maintaining your own mini orchard do get in touch.

Edible gardens – orchards, mini orchards, vegetable gardens, kitchen gardens and ornamental edible gardens. It’s a pleasure for me to create one with you and for you.

Related Gardening articles you may enjoy from our Award Winning Blog

Fruit Trees and Small Gardens
Bare Root Fruit Trees
Easy Maintenance Edible Gardens
Garden Visits – Kitchen Gardens
Edible Gardens Ornamental Food

quince tree in blossom, Cydonia oblongata, fruit tree, grow your own