Planning a fruit garden

Information sheet

Key points to bear in mind when planning and designing a fruit garden.

  • School term: All year round
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s):

General Advice

Harvest time: Choose varieties that will harvest in term time.

Pollination and Pollination groups: Fruit trees need to have pollen from other tree cultivars that flower at the same time for successful pollination. This is called cross pollination. Fruit trees are grouped into pollination groups according to when they flower. When choosing fruit trees make sure there are other fruit cultivars from the same pollination group so that cross pollination can take place. 

Soft fruit is self-fertile. This means the pollen of one cultivar will fertilise the flowers of the same cultivar. Soft fruit is dependent on bees & insects to carry the pollen for flower to flower. For successful pollination of all fruit it is important to encourage bees into the garden by planting flowers and herbs that attract pollinating insects.

Space: Most fruit needs space to grow so check the planting distances (see Fruit Spacing details). Different rootstocks determine different final sizes for fruit trees.

Limited space: Choose varieties that can be grown in containers or trained against walls or fences (for example trained top fruit into espalier or cordon shapes).

Soil: Know your soil. Fruit trees like a weed free, deep fertile organic rich soil. All fruit prefer a slightly acid soil, so check your pH. If the soil is chalky (alkaline) it is a good idea to add a dressing of flowers of sulphur.

Temperature: Install a wind break to create a warmer climate to prevent frost damage to blossoms and allow bees to pollinate.

Aspect: Fruit likes a sunny sheltered position – frost pockets will damage early blossom and windy sites will be damaging and lead to poor pollination. Plot the position of the sun across the day. Identify the direction each bed or wall is facing.

Fruit tends to be divided, for convenience, into several groups according to how it grows.

  • Top fruit is fruit that grows on trees, including apples, pears and plums. 
  • Soft fruit includes all the berries, plus grapes. 
  • Bush fruit includes blueberries, currants and gooseberries which grow on compact, shrubby plants.
  • Cane fruit includes blackberries, hybrid berries and raspberries which grow and fruit on long narrow shoots.
  • Hybrid berries are crosses between blackberries and raspberries. There are various types, but the best known are loganberries and tayberries.
  • Bare-rooted plants are grown in open ground, then dug up for sale. They can only be moved between late autumn and early spring, when the plants are dormant. Bare-rooted plants are available from mail-order specialists. They are usually cheaper and available in more varieties, than container-grown plants.
  • Container-grown plants can in theory be planted any time of year, as the roots receive little disturbance. Like any plants grown in pots remember to water them during drier months.
  • Trained fruit means trees or bushes grown in restricted shapes such as cordons, espaliers and fans. These need to be pruned twice a year, in summer and in winter.

Here is the height, spread and planting distances for various types of fruit

Pears

Rootstock Soil type Height and spread Start fruiting Planting distance
Quince C (dwarfing) stake Moist. fertile soil Up to 3m After 4 years 3m apart
Quince (semi vigorous) stake for 5 years Medium to heavy fertile soil Up to 4.5m After 4 years 4.5m apart
 

 

Apples

Rootstock Soil type Height and spread Start fruiting Planting distance
M27 (Extremely dwarfing) stake permanently Fertile soil Up to 3m After 4 years 3m apart
M9 (dwarfing) stake permanently Weed free soil, keep moist Up to 4.5m After 4 years 4.5m apart
M26 (dwarfing) stake permanently Average soils, including grassed orchards      
         

 

Planting distances for soft fruit

Fruit Space between plants Space between row
Blackberry 2.5m 2.5m
Redcurrant 1.2m 1.5m
Whitecurrant 1.5m 1.5m
Blackcurrant 1m 1.5m
Gooseberries 1.2m 1.5m
Raspberries 0.35m 0.75m
Blackberries 2.5m 2.5m
Blueberries 1.5m 1.5m
Strawberries 0.3m 0.75m
Rhubarb 1m 1.2m



Location

  • North facing shadier parts - plant with fruit that will ripen in cold situations such as alpine strawberries or acid cherries.
  • South facing parts are the sunniest and suitable to grow all fruit, especially those that need ripening such as figs, grapes.
  • West facing parts of the garden receive afternoon sun but also may be hit by south westerly prevailing winds. Good for raspberries, gooseberries and currants.
  • East facing parts of the garden receive morning sun but shaded in the afternoon. It can be open to cold easterly winds and can be drier that west facing parts. Suitable for pears, apples, plums, cherries, currants, gooseberries, blackberries and raspberries.

Maintaining the fruit garden once planted

Consider laying a weed suppressant membrane down once soil is prepared and then planting through the membrane. This will make maintenance tasks such as weeding and watering far easier.

Protection of Fruit

Put tree guards around all fruit trees. Protect all fruit from rabbits; this may mean a rabbit proof fence around the fruit beds or netting over hoops.
Netting is needed to keep birds from eating all the fruit when it is ready; temporary fencing is the cheapest option. A fruit cage is a large wooden or metal structure with netting sides. Ensure the netting allows bees to pass through it for pollination. Apple, pear and plum trees will not need netting but cherries will.

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