Stella Otto: The Backyard Fruit Gardener

Today's Tip: Mow vegetation short around the base of fruit trees and bushes to reduce winter habitat for rodents.

Fruitful Harvest Starts with a Garden Plan

Apple blossomAlthough many of us are still buried under sev­eral feet of snow or tak­ing refuge from sin­gle digit tem­per­a­tures, it is offi­cially spring. I’m itch­ing for the plant­ing and grow­ing sea­son to begin and I bet you are too! Whether you are wait­ing out the extended win­ter or lucky enough to have spring weather, it is a good time to develop a fruit gar­den design if you haven’t already done so.

A plan will get you think­ing so you can trans­late your dreams and wish list into an easy-to-maintain, suc­cess­ful fruit gar­den. A plan and design are help­ful for many rea­sons. Start by ask­ing your­self these questions:

  • What fruit do I like and want to grow?
  • How do I plan to use my har­vest — fresh eat­ing only or pre­serv­ing by can­ning, freez­ing or drying?
  • How much space do I have to work with? — don’t for­get pos­si­ble con­tainer plants, even if you have plenty of ground.
  • Do I have the appro­pri­ate con­di­tions for my wish list of fruit?
  • Are there areas of my yard that I need or want to beau­tify with my plantings?

Once you have answered these ques­tions, the next step is to put together a design sketch. Don’t worry, no artis­tic or engi­neer­ing skills required. If you like, you can use a com­puter design pack­age, but it’s really not nec­es­sary. A sim­ple paper and pen­cil draw­ing will suffice.

  • Start by draw­ing out the shape of your gar­den. Make it roughly pro­por­tional, if you can. You can refine the details later. (Once any snow is gone and you can pace the area out, fig­ure about 3 feet for each pace. This will be suf­fi­cient for a work­ing sketch.)
  • Next, put in the plants that will take up the most space, have spe­cific require­ments, or are at the top of your must-have list. Plan for the space require­ments of these plants at their fully mature size so you don’t have to rearrange things later (and pos­si­bly loose older transplants.)
  • Remem­ber to include other gar­den ele­ments such as benches, bird bathes, per­go­las, or other struc­tures that will enhance your design or sup­port your plants.
  • Think in lay­ers. Straw­ber­ries or rhubarb could be under­story for taller trees. Grapes on a per­gola could have small bushes at their base.

Let’s see what you come up with. Next time, I’ll have a model sketch for you of a fruit gar­den that I saw dur­ing a work­shop last sum­mer at the Berk­shire Botan­i­cal Gar­den. In the mean time, you can learn all you need to grow that dream gar­den when you buy The Back­yard Orchardist: A com­plete guide to grow­ing fruit trees in the home gar­den or buy The Back­yard Berry Book: A hands-on guide to grow­ing berries, bram­bles and vine fruit in the home gar­den.

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