While construction workers have turned most of our garden into mountains of sand and puddles of mud, the sloped grassland in the back of the garden was still pristinely wild. Already from the beginning we planned to make a small orchard from this part of the garden, as an older cherry tree and a dwarf apple tree seem to be quite happy on this part of the land. Now it’s the time to plant fruit trees and that is exactly what we did two weeks ago. The slope is faced South-East, which makes it a great spot for the fruit trees to take in a lot of sun.
As the part we have foreseen to plant the trees is only about 400 m2 (4300 ft2) planning was all the more important. A lot of people would go for only dwarf trees, but we decided to go for a mixture of Dwarf, Semi-dwarf and one vigorous tree.
Choosing varieties is not always that straightforward as there are really thousands of varieties on the market.
We don’t want to use pesticides in our garden so an important factor there is to go for resistant varieties and quite often that brings you to local varieties. For us this meant we had a look in the so-called RGF Gembloux varieties, which are local to Belgium. We went to the open door day of this scientific institute that studies and promotes local fruit varieties and had a pleasant stroll in the test orchards. It was an eye-opener as it actually made the choice not easier. So the easiest way is to go to you local nursery and ask them which ones are best suitable for your area.
Another important factor when choosing your varieties is to see which varieties pollinate each other. Many fruit trees are not self-pollinating and need another variety to help them. This is quite a complicated issue and once again it’s best to ask help at your local nursery. We went to Ecoflora in Halle and they made a whole list and schedule of which varieties go best together with one another. We will only plant two semi-dwarf apple trees, so that eliminated already quite some combinations. In the end we have two Reinette apple varieties that will hopefully do the job. As for pears it is easier to find self-pollinating varieties. The vigorous size pear tree we chose will be a local early “Jefkespeer” and a dwarf Conference pear will give us some pears later in the season. A semi-dwarf plum “prune de prince” and the only local peach variety Fertile de Septembre complete our little orchard.
As I mentioned before it is very important to do some good planning. You need to keep enough distance between the trees, the general rules are :
- Dwarf tree : plant distance 2 to 3 meter
- Semi-Dwarf : plant distance 4,5 to 5 meter
- Vigorous/Standard : plant distance 7 meter
When you do a combination of the different sizes, make sure they all get enough sun.
Now that that’s all done we can start planting. It’s important to have a stake or post next to the tree. Dwarf trees need a stake throughout it’s life as the stem is mostly not strong enough to bare the weight of the fruits. Semi-dwarf and vigorous trees need a post for at least the 5 first years, but many factors can make it necessary to keep it longer. Make sure to not attach the tree with metal wire, this can severely damage the tree. Always put the stake at the side where the wind mostly comes from and make sure the top of the post or stake stays about 10 cm below the lowest branches.
The hole you dig is best about 50cm deep and 1m wide. Put some compost on the bottom of the hole and plant the tree at the same depth as it was at the nursery. Make sure the graft union stays above the ground.
Now that everything is planted, don’t forget to water the plants and to keep grass away from the trees for the first years.
This was the theory, so now we will see how well our fruit trees will do. Fingers crossed !