How to Space Your Fruit Trees

There’s not a gardener alive who hasn’t squashed too many trees into too small an area! Those little wee seedlings defy us to give them space, but give it, we must. There’s a goldilocks point were aiming for here – a balance between fitting as many fruiting trees/ shrubs in as possible without choking up light + air + access. Lets work you out a sweet set up before you go tree shopping.

Gather together your basemap + wishlist, the nursery catalogue and open my Edible Backyard book at chapter 6.

Work it out

Grab a scrap of paper and sketch or write as you go.

Tamaki plum on myrobalan rootstock. Pruning keeps it at about 4m width and height.

Rootstock

Rootstock determines the overall size of your tree. Base your spacings, therefore, on each trees rootstock. Here’s a general guide.

  • Apples on MM102 – a 4m space.
  • Apples on MM106 a 5m space.
  • Pears on Quince – a 3.5m space
  • Stonefruit on plum rootstock – a 5m space
  • Stonefruit on peach rootstock – a 5m space
  • Peach seedling trees – a 5m space
  • Citrus on Trifoliata rootstock – a 4m space
  • Citrus on Flying Dragon rootstock – a 3m space
  • Feijoas – a 3m space. These can be hedged if you want, letting them co mingle in the middle. Do be sure you can access the back as well as the front and that there be light on both sides. Otherwise you’ll only get fruit on the one plane.

An MM102 apple rootstock, for example, will produce a 3 – 4m tree. With pruning, a 3m space is perfect. Without pruning (and lets keep it real here – will you or wont you?), leave 4m for it. Use the smaller option if you live in an extreme climate.

The next step is to personalise your tree spacings to your specific environment – add a little extra to the rootstock measure or reduce it depending on light, airflow and access.

Light + airflow + access

seckle pre harvest

Trees need a bit more room in environments that are cool, wet, still, shady or humid in order to bring the light and air they need for best production and health.

Light is key for fruiting plants! Wood bathed in light is productive wood. Fruit bathed in light is, well, ripe! In really hot/ dry or windy environments, close the gap so trees can protect each other.

In my high rainfall, cool mountain zone, I add 1m-ish to the rootstock measurement, not only for extra light and air, and also for the joy of not getting my eyes poked out and hair tangled at pruning and harvesting.


Don’t think too too hard about it. Just gather the info, write it all down, then hop outside and lets have a play.

Failsafe spacing

pre plant marinade

Have a dummy run, using labelled stakes to represent the trees. Bang them in where you think they’ll go.

The stake starts to make the tree real and the pause to marinate on its position, gives you the opportunity to create a smart set up. Ponder on these things

  • Is there enough room for the tree to spread out
  • When full grown will it create unwanted shade?
  • Can you access all sides, or at least 3/4 of the tree?
  • Look up and check for wires – beneath wires is for short things only.
  • What other traffic needs to get by here – feet, mower, car, tractor….

Keep moving stakes about until you are happy.

If you’ve been a tad over zealous, and after banging all your stakes in you realise you’ve ordered more trees than you can fit, check in with your local school/ community garden/ kohanga to see if they want any.

Can I prune my trees hard + squash more in that way

There’s fun to be had shaping a tall peach for example to fit around a smaller pear – a fruity jigsaw puzzle! You can do all sorts of cool things – plant a couple of plums in the same hole, train pears over arches or figs against a wall, but as for trying to keep a 5m fruit tree at 2.5m, forget it. The harder you prune, the harder the tree shoots the year following. Its an exasperating and not particularly fruitful pattern to get into.

Instead, choose a rootstock that fits your situation and give it due space – its far easier and more graceful than trying to force a tree into submission.

If you need small trees, rather than hard pruning or dwarf rootstocks – plant them into evergrow bags. Dwarf rootstocks (apart from quince for pears), are on the whole not my favourite. I prefer the root depth and strength the slightly larger rootstocks bring.

Need more help?

Here’s my handy dandy little video course – Fruit Trees 101 which takes you through making a basemap, creating shelter, rootstocks, companions – all the doings for a sweet set up.

Or if you want me to double check your plan, book a short and sweet 20 minute video consult

Comments

  1. Glen Elliott says

    Great advice, Kath. The feijoas have been moved!!

  2. Thanks for this – really helpful!

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