NZ Lifestyle Block
Can you see the mistake? Find out why Sheryn wouldn't do this again on page 49.
Create a corridor
You may want to drive a tractor, ATV, or a ute through your orchard to help bring in mulch or take out firewood. If so, you need at least a 2-3m wide corridor between the widest part of the crowns of trees along its edge.
This leaves a lot of understorey that needs to be maintained. Grazing sheep is an option, but you must protect each plant, so people often mow around them instead. If you think you're likely to mow, imagine your plants fully grown. Can you get a mower between the trees and around other obstacles? The best machine is a zero-turn model with a deck sitting at the front. It's easy to mow up to the trunk without getting clobbered, and to get in and out of tight spots.
Get in the zone
I prefer planting similar trees with similar harvesting times in groups. It improves cross-pollination, which benefits even selffertile varieties, and each week's harvest is focused on that one area.
It sounds strange, but it's easy to miss a harvest. You watch a tree growing its fruit, then you get busy for a week. In that time, the fruit has ripened, dropped, and been consumed by birds, possums, and rats.
Having all your citrus in one area, peaches and nectarines in another, early apples with other earlies etc, means you can focus on what's in season and ignore the rest. It also means you can concentrate pruning efforts or pest control in that one zone.
There is an argument that pests and disease will spread if all their favourite things are in one spot, and similar trees should be widely spaced to prevent it. However, I've found pests (and disease) will happily migrate over a wide area (in my case, at least 60m in a year), so the benefits of zoning outweighed this aspect.
Plant to match your microclimates
Even a small, flat orchard will have differences in climate. One side will get the prevailing wind, another more sun. Dips and hollows are naturally damper and colder.
You need to tailor your plantings to get the best out of your climate zones.
■ In regions that suffer from fungal diseases (Auckland, Waikato), plant susceptible peaches and nectarines in a breezy spot to help prevent brown rot and leaf curl.
■ Plant figs and persimmons in damper areas. However, fig roots are very invasive, so don't plant them near wastewater systems.
■ Avocadoes can get phytophthora if their roots stay damp, so plant them on a rise. If you don't have a high area, create one using a large tractor tyre filled with soil.
■ Feijoas make great shelterbelts. I also used my Japanese plums as a shelterbelt in a medium wind zone. Even in bad years, I still got loads of fruit.
■ Apricots and cherries that need winter chill need to be on the lowest ground, where cold air sits.
■ Citrus does best in the sunniest, hottest areas.
■ Tamarillos and other subtropical trees like to be up against a heat sink such as a water tank or a wall.
Once you have a design, but before you plant, install water lines. I don't recommend regular watering of trees, but it's always convenient to have a hose nearby.
Make your garden beautiful
Don't think of an orchard as ugly row after ugly row of trees. Have it very close to, or even around your home. Don't hide it out the back and visit it on a monthly basis as it isn't going to work.
I've found it's crucial to make it a space that you want to be in, every day, so you can keep an eye on what's ripening, and what needs attention.