By: Amy Grant
Can you imagine having a row of fruit bearing trees as a natural fence? Today’s gardeners are incorporating more edibles into the landscape including making hedges out of fruit trees. Really, what’s not to like? You have access to fresh fruit and a natural, beautiful alternative to fencing. One of the keys to successful fruit tree hedges is correct fruit tree hedge spacing. Intrigued and want to know how to plant a fruit tree hedge? Keep reading to find out about making a hedge out of fruit trees and how close to plant fruit trees.
When considering fruit trees to use as hedging, it is best to stick with dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties. Larger trees can be pruned down to restrain their size, but then you are constantly pruning. All kinds of fruit trees can be used to create a hedge from cherries to figs to apples to citrus.
Be sure to plant trees that are suitable for your region. Your local extension office can help you with information about trees that are adapted to your USDA zone.
When making a hedge out of fruit trees, consider how high you want your hedge. Most hedges will look their best and produce the most fruit when allowed to get to their natural height. If what you want, for instance, are plums that are going to end up being too high, consider alternatives such as bush cherry plums, which grow into more of a shrub and are, thus, much shorter than a plum tree.
The spacing for a fruit tree hedge depends upon the type of training system used as well as the specimen. If you want a thick, dense hedge, dwarf rootstocks can be planted as close as 2 feet (61 cm.) apart. Spacing for a fruit tree hedge using super-dwarf rootstock can be planted even closer still, as close as a foot (30 cm.) apart. Trees planted that close will need a little extra TLC in the form of additional irrigation and fertilizer since they are competing for nutrients.
If you choose to train the trees into an espalier, you will need room for the widely splayed branches. In this case, trees should be spaced about 4-5 feet (1-1.5 m.) apart. If you are training the trees to espalier vertically, they can be planted as close together as the above hedge trees.
Also consider pollination when thinking about spacing for a fruit tree hedge. Consider the distance from other pollination sources. Many fruit trees require pollination from another variety of the same fruit. You may have too plant another tree nearby or mix several varieties of fruit into the same hedge. Remember, pollination partners need to be within 100 feet (30 m.) of each for best results. Plus, while their bloom cycles don’t need to be the same length, they do need to overlap.
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This guide helps you to calculate the distances you should allow between your fruit trees. Spacings are primarily determined by the vigour of the rootstock you are using - from very-dwarfing rootstocks which produce very small trees, to very vigorous rootstocks which produce very large trees.
The 10m / 30ft lengths that we have used as examples are the same as two large estate cars parked nose to tail with a gap between them. There are further notes below the table.
|Distance between trees:||1.5m||5ft|
It is easy to envisage how much space trees on very-dwarfing rootstocks will take up - it is about the same as a person with their arms slightly out-stretched.
|Distance between trees:||2.5m - 3m|
The apple M9 rootstock is very productive, the trees are small and easy to manage, and are capable of producing a lot of apples in a small space.
Apple - M26
Plum - VVA-1, Pixy, Plumina
Cherry - Gisela 5
|Distance between trees:||3m - 3.5m|
A good choice for the community orchard or for individual trees in a smaller garden.
Apple - M116, MM106
Plum - Wavit, St. Julien, Adaptabil, Jaspi, Torinel
Pear - Quince A
Cherry - Gisela 6
|Distance between trees:||3.5m - 4.5m|
A good choice for the community orchard or for individual trees in a larger garden, and staking is not usually required once the trees are established.
Trees may be trained as either "bushes", with a shorter clear stem, or "half-standards", with a clear stem of about 1.2m-1.4m.
If space is tight you can use 3.5m between the trees if they are bush-trained, but a wider spacing is better for trees trained as half-standards.
Apple - MM111
Pear - Pyrodwarf
Cherry - Colt
|Distance between trees:||4.5m - 5m|
These semi-vigorous rootstocks are more vigorous than the mainstream semi-vigorous rootstocks and need a bit more space.
These rootstocks are best suited to training as half-standards.
Apple - M25
Plum - Brompton
Pear - Pyrus communis
Cherry - F12/1
|Distance between trees:||6m - 8m||20ft - 25ft|
Generous spacings are needed for these vigorous "standard" rootstocks, but they offer the visual appeal of the traditional orchard.
Many of the plants mentioned above will also be suitable for those living in warmer temperate climate zones. Though there are often options better suited to regions with particularly warm or dry summers.
Here is an example of a fruit tree guild created for a mesquite tree – a useful plant that is also a nitrogen fixer – in an extremely arid, hot dryland climate.
Banana yucca, prickly pear, chuperosa, Turpentine bush, saltbush, western mugwort and wolfberry.
This shows how looking at plants that grow naturally in an area can often yield good plants for inclusion in a guild.
Plant fruit trees as advised in Easy Steps to Planting Nursery Stock, following the spacing recommendations below. This spacing, less than 50 feet apart, ensures good pollination. Even trees that are self fruitful bear heavier crops with a second variety planted nearby. Please click this link to check the Fruit Tree Pollinator Chart. At planting time, properly pruned fruit trees should have only 3-4 branches. As your trees grow, prune in early spring, removing crossed or injured limbs and any branches which rub against each other. This allows light into the center of the tree. Don't cut short spurs from the main stem since these bear first fruit.
At maturity, your trees should have been pruned to one of two different methods. The central leader system consists of a main stem pruned to 3-4 layers of scaffold branches. The vase, or bowl, method opens up the center of the tree by pruning out the central leader. Four or five main scaffold branches are left to grow in all directions, forming a bowl-like shape.
Always prune fruit trees just above a plump bud, sloping the cut at a 45-degree angle. A too-long stub invites disease, while a cut that's too close will probably kill the bud. A cut angled toward the bud causes water to collect and encourages disease.
Regular spraying stops insects before they can damage your crop. Apply dormant oil before buds begin to swell. Spray trees with liquid fruit tree spray when flower petals fall. Make follow-up applications every 10 days or so until the harvest nears.
If cared for properly, most trees bear heavy crops-sometimes too heavy. This exhausts the trees, causing them to bear a full crop only every other year. To prevent this, it may be necessary to thin the fruit out evenly on the branches.