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I've seen several sources talking about how much space to leave between fruit trees which boil down to 10-25feet depending mainly on rootstock, partly on soil etc.

This makes me think the distance is based on how large the trees will grow, but I plan to keep my trees pruned to allow easy fruit picking without ladders.

With that in mind, can we talk about how far apart the 'edges' of trees should be apart rather than the trunks?

  • Mr. Boy, the distinction will always be between the base of trunks, not canopies or root systems. Canopies and root systems are unknown measurements. In forestry, the distance between Doug Fir trunks for health of the Doug Fir forest is 8 feet. – stormy Feb 26 '18 at 1:38
  • How is the canopy unknown? I can see it. In forestry you let trees grow naturally which is the exact opposite of an orchard where they're topically closely managed – Mr. Boy Feb 26 '18 at 10:15
  • What do you want the answer to be ? I have planted 2 fruit trees in the same hole; I intended to balance them by pruning. I moved after a couple years so I don't know what happened. Looking in the forest to see where trees have planted themselves , I doubt there are rules . Unless you are producing lumber , commercial fruit/nuts or nursery stock. – blacksmith37 Feb 26 '18 at 20:28
  • Canopies can be augmented. No one plants full grown trees so the best we can do is go by experience and try to establish distances between tree trunks whether doing mitigation or orchards. We humans are completely unable to grow anything 'naturally'...whatever we touch is inherently artificial. Some trees do very well 'crowded' such as a 'grove' of trees. Others do not; walnut for example. What are you trying to do that we could help you with? – stormy Feb 27 '18 at 7:43
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The distance depends on varieties, environment, and mechanization.

Usually we need enough space for canopy and root, but for some species/uses (nature has always exceptions), where one look for depth roots or higher canopies, in such case they should be less space. If your fruits tree has fruits on side, usually you need enough space for canopy (if you are not looking for wood [some fruit wood is very valuable for building stuffs] or preparing rootstocks).

There are many rules and calculations: larger canopies: more leaves, but also less shadows, so more fruits/better fruits. On the other hand, if it is too much expanded, you will have less fruits per square meter. So there are many theories about what it is the optimum (which depends on species, but also on next factors). [Note: height is also a factor, so by pruning on height, one could still have a denser orchards but still not so much shadow.

But climate is also important: in part this could enlarge roots space, e.g. in dry places (so see previous point): on many fruits, one doesn't look for a dense orchards, but healthy fruits. So less shadows and less denser branches, so that diseases (mainly fungi) could not effect the quality of fruits, or health of trees. Rain and wetness (fogs) requires larger distance.

For dry places, one need more space (so more roots) or the inverse if there is an irrigation: because cost of irrigation, one would use denser orchards. Fungi diseases should be a minor problem on dry places, and less production is balanced out of less costs (irrigation infrastructure and water).

Mechanization (or in general handling of tree, in case of small fruit tree garden) is also a factor. You doesn't want to use ladders, so a compact orchards is ok. look if you want also to use the space in between trees (e.g. to walk easily).

So at the end, I think you should ask the people who sell you the rootstock: the rootstock is climate specific, and it "decides" how large the tree will growth: there are good rootstocks for small trees of apple, peaches, plums, etc. (but I didn't find good one for small cherry trees). And as vegetable garden, if one plants tree not on square, but on triangle (so on next row, trees between tree on previous rows), you can gain some space.

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I have a small organic, permaculture garden. I use the drip line as a general planting guide. So if I trim a semi-dwarf into a dwarf I do plant into that “unrecommended” space. I don’t plant another of the same variety but a beneficial companion will get wedged in. Pollinator varieties need to be somewhat nearby.

Planting guides for fruit and nut trees are generally written for managing commercial orchards where harvest technique, chemical regimens and disease control - all mono-crop concerns rather than biological or ecological limits.

  • Just because you prune the canopy doesn't mean the roots are matching your pruning at all. The root system is a big deal because of obvious competition. – stormy Feb 27 '18 at 7:59
  • Isn't that a good thing as it will (potentially) prevent the trees growing too big for their alloted space? – Mr. Boy Feb 27 '18 at 8:49
  • @stormy Competition is an anthropomorphic projection. These roots intersect and interact often to their mutual benefit. I have pruned many canopies and dug up many roots and they do indeed naturally die back in response to the adjustment. I know of no fruit tree which creates or supports roots in excess of top growth. Edging with a spade will accomplish the accommodation faster. Pruning tops is exactly how roots are controlled. The soil is enriched and conditioned nutritionally and structurally by these decaying roots. – herb guy Feb 27 '18 at 11:48
  • @Mr.Boy Similar to container growing or the Bonsai effect. – herb guy Feb 27 '18 at 11:52

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