Fruit trees are a wonderful addition to any home, but it requires a commitment to pruning several times a year to keep the tree to a size that will not overwhelm the space and the homeowner. The way you prune your fruit tree is really up to you, so the pruning/growing method is only one option to keeping a fruit tree. However, there are several advantages to keeping a tree small and planting close together. Dave Wilson Nursery is a proponent of high density planting for the home orchard. They have some great videos talking about planting multiple trees in one hole (spaced 18-20” apart) and also how to prune these small trees.
Advantages to Keeping Trees Small
- Caring for a small tree is much easier than a large tree
- Keeps the fruit produced to a manageable size for a family
- Allows more types of trees to be grown in a limited space
- Makes picking fruit easy (no ladders needed)
High Density Planting for Limited Spaces
Fruit trees can be planted very close together but to be successful, the trees will need to be pruned to keep them small. There are several ways to plant in a limited space and will really depend on the desired look of the orchard.
- Multiple trees planted close together (18” apart) in the same hole
- Trees planted close together to form a hedge
- Trees trained as espalier to grow along a fence or narrow area
Pruning Cuts–Heading vs. Thinning
There are only two basic pruning cuts, heading cuts and thinning cuts. The effect on the tree’s structure is very different and therefore the type of cut you make is very important.
- Removes a growing tip
- Stimulates lower buds to grow into new branches
- Increases branching and makes more bushy
- On a young bare root, this is usually done to set the scaffold branches
- Removal of entire branch to the original growing point
- Good for opening up a tree’s interior
- Most commonly used, especially on older trees
It is Easier to Keep a Small Tree Small
If you have decided to go with the high density planting scheme, then it is critical to start off your young tree right, cut it to the height that you want your scaffold branches to begin. It may seem counter intuitive to cut all the branches off your new tree, but there will be plenty of buds below the cut that will grow out to form those scaffold branches. Watch the video by Dave Wilson Nursery on planting 3 new bare root trees in one hole. This is a great way to have several trees in a limited space. But it does require a commitment to keep the trees pruned and limiting their size. The only time you will not want to do this is if you are planting a multi-grafted tree. Each graft on a multi-graft will need to be pruned, especially the larger branches. You may want to leave the smallest graft alone to allow it to grow and not get out competed from the larger grafts.
If your space is not limited, then plant your trees farther apart and let them be a little bigger. They will still need to be pruned and cared for as a small tree would.
Grow a fruit salad in your home orchard and grow organic for life!
A really great book to have if you want to learn all about high density planting and keeping trees small is Grow A Little Fruit Tree by Ann Ralph. Another wonderful resource is Dave Wilson Nursery. They have great videos on planting multiple trees in one hole and on pruning.