How to plant a new apple orchard
Apples have always had an anecdotal healthy reputation and that reputation has and continues to be confirmed by past and ongoing medical research. The bottom line is that eating apples are good for you and the health benefits of apples are numerous and include anything from lowering bad cholesterol to reducing the risk of contracting cancer. An orchard is a lovely way to grow this tasty and healthy fruit but it will take planning and time before you're harvesting.
Picking the site
Apple orchards, once successfully established, can last for decades and you really do not want to be faced with the prospect of starting again if your selection of the orchard site does not work out for one reason or another. First of all, consider where an apple orchard might work in terms of the topography of your land. Apple trees cannot tolerate standing in water, therefore discount any low lying areas that have or may be subject to flooding or likely to retain water from run off. Even if you have a low lying area that does not flood or hold water it may well be a frost pocket where cold air settles. These areas can kill the apple blossom and the developing fruit. Once you have selected an area that might be suitable, check out the soil. Ideally, the soil should be rich, loamy, and well drained; apple trees will also grow in sandy or clay soil as a second best. Having identified your best likely spot you should be looking to test your soil’s pH. Aim for a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.5 as an ideal but a pH between 5.5 and 8.0 is tolerable too.
Apple trees come in numerous varieties and growth patterns. Some varieties will be more suitable to your area than others. However, bear in mind that for pollination to work you will require at least two varieties of apple tree in your orchard. In order to maximize fruiting you should also be looking for apple trees that blossom around the same time, that could be early, mid-season, or late season, your local nursery should be able to advise you of the right varieties that will work for you, especially as some varieties are simply not compatible with each other as their blossom is sterile. Now it is up to you to select the best trees that both suit your needs and your site. Some apple trees, called standards, can grow 25 feet high or more and can live more than fifty years. However, you will be waiting five or six years for apples from these trees and the height of the tree may be a deterrent for you as the trees will need pruning at some time. Smaller varieties such as semi-dwarfs and dwarfs however, could be producing within two to three years but are not as strong or as long lived. In terms of production, standard trees should be producing around eight bushels of apples each, semi-dwarf's five bushels each, and dwarf's one to two bushels each. Again, talk to your local nursery man and establish what will best work for you.
Ideally, you will want to buy apple trees that are around a year old and stand about six feet high. If you think the roots are dry when you get them home soak the root ball in water for 24 hours. When you are ready to plant you will need to dig a hole that is approximately double the width of the tree's root system and about two feet deeper than the roots; allowing the root system to spread out when you back fill part of the hole with loose soil. Gently spread the tree's roots out when you plant the tree, firm the soil around the roots, and backfill so that the place where the tree's roots meet the trunk is up to two inches above the ground. Pack the soil down and water the tree well; no fertilizer is required at the planting stage. After planting your trees remove a circle of grass or ground cover to a radius of three feet, taking the tree as the center of the circle, and add a layer of mulch, which will deter weeds and keep your tree well supplied with water and nutrients. In terms of spacing, dwarf apple trees will need staking and should be planted between eight to 12 feet apart, semi-dwarf apple trees are hardier and should not require staking and can be planted ten to 20 feet apart, while standard trees should be planted 25 to 30 feet apart; proper spacing should ensure the effective pollination of your orchard. Your orchard is established now all you have to do is look after it.