Ten things to keep in mind when starting a small orchard in Iowa

I met with a young man this afternoon who wants to plant 100 apple trees on his acreage.  I invited him to our property  this afternoon to go over some basics.

I knew I could pass onto him in 30 minutes what has taken me years of trial and error to learn. These tips are not necessarily in order of priority AND not necessarily what another orchardist would tell you..these are just things that I  would suggest. 😉 DM

The following are my notes:

#1 priority keeping the deer away from the trees…(for at least the first ten  years).     In hind-site, I would have installed an 8 ft metal deer fence around the whole area, even before planting the trees.  You are welcome to put individual fences around each tree, and if you had 20 or less, that may be the route to go.  In my case, I had 75 trees to protect.  The first year we planted 50 trees, and in 2 nights, the deer came in and completely stripped  all of the new growth on 80% of our trees.  It was sickening.

#2  You will need to plan for regular watering the first 3 to 5 years until trees are  established (consider drip irrigation if practical)  (we did and it was…drip irrigation).  Farmtek is a good place to purchase that system

#3 Need to decide what size tree you want to end up with (dwarf, semi dwarf, full size)  This will determine which root-stock you  order.  I chose semi dwarf because the trees do not have to be staked long-term. Rootstock we went with was called EMLA7

#4 You will need to decide which varieties  of apple trees you plant. (Also called Cultivars.) I would suggest a mixture, various maturity dates, as well as for eating, cooking, dual purpose… and disease resistance.  That way you are not picking 100 trees at the same time, rather spread out over a 3 month period.

#5  While there are dozens of potential diseases and insects to protect against,  Scab and Apple Cedar Rust are the most common  diseases I’ve run into.   Apple Coddling moth, and Japanese beetles are the  two insects I fight the most.  I wish I would have ordered more varieties that have a built-in resistance to scab (there are a handful that are genetically resistant)

#6  Pruning…The first 3 to 5 years  are the most important in terms of pruning…because you are laying the foundation for the shape of the tree.  I used the “Central Leader” model of pruning.. there are others out there. This is the one I’m most familiar with.

#7 The biggest enemy to my trees   were #1 the deer, followed closely by rabbits….which love the soft tasty bark of young trees.

#8  Do a soil test before planting trees to determine the proper PH . Your local county extension office is a great resource to talk to.

#9   Mulching around trees (especially the first 5 years) is important…so your tree does not  have to compete with grass…  I would lay down a weed barrier and use washed  river rock for mulch…vs. wood chips which attract mice/ voles, which also love the sweet tasty bark of your young trees.

#10  You may need to get your private applicator spraying license  if you don’t already have it,  to have access to certain restricted chemicals.    I order all of my chemicals from Crop Production Services out of Galesville WI.   Phone: 608-539-2090. They have been great if I have questions as far as which chemical to spray, etc.   I have chosen not to spray any more than absolutely necessarily.  Yes, I do end up some spots, but they are not drenched  in toxic chemicals.  You will have to make that call.

Here are some random pictures:


2010-liberty2 gingergold-2010crop-001 2010-honeycrisp-007

This entry was posted in apple orchard, homesteading, orchard, organic, self sufficient, spirituality, wisdom and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Ten things to keep in mind when starting a small orchard in Iowa

  1. Now all I’ve got to do is translate that to growing mini apple trees in our boat’s buckets.
    Any ideas??

  2. Deb says:

    Gorgeous apples DM 🙂

  3. Scott says:

    How long have yours been in the ground? We planted an orchard this fall, about 55 trees, mostly fruits, maybe about 15 nut trees. Cherries, lots of apples, pears (Asian and European), plums, and mulberries.
    The advice is welcome. 😉 We visited an orchard before planting ours, but we knew we wanted to start ours ASAP. Hence, I don’t have a house, but I have an orchard and soon, chickens.

    • DM says:

      we planted our orchard in 2002 and 2003 (then replanted 25 to 30 more we lost) a few years later. Semi dwarf take 5 to 7 years before they really get going…they can start producing way before that, but you don’t want them to produce a whole lot before that..it is hard on the young trees..sort of like a 12 yr old having a baby..Yes it can happen, but better to wait until they are more physically developed.

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