You Should Use Graph Paper When Planning Your Orchard

Are you planning to start a small fruit tree orchard this year? Graph paper and colored markers can help you plot the best location for every tree.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

Are you planning to start a small fruit tree orchard this year? Planting fruit trees is a rewarding experience, but choosing the best location for each tree can be tricky.

One way to tackle the task of planning is to outline your orchard on graph paper before you dig a single hole. Reducing your allotted orchard area to a series of lines and squares—and your trees to simple marks on paper—is a great way to visualize how much space you have and how much room each tree will need to grow.

These five steps will explain the process and help get you started.

Thinking about starting an orchard? You should! Here’s why.

1. Measure the area you’ll be planting

Before you can begin graphing tree locations, you need to know the size of the area you’ll be planting.

A couple of people armed with a long tape measure can cover a lot of ground, using a compass or handheld GPS to maintain straight lines.

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For very long distances, it’s also possible to use an online service like Google Earth to measure between two points. It might not be accurate to the foot, but for such large plantings, approximate distances are often sufficient.

2. Consider the size of mature trees

It’s important not to plant trees too close together. Otherwise they’ll wind up competing for the same growing space.

Research the trees you’re planting and take note of the size they’re expected to reach at maturity. This information should be readily available from catalogs, websites or nurseries.

While many factors can influence the eventual size of a tree, including your approach to pruning, as a general rule dwarf trees won’t grow beyond 10 feet wide, while the crown of a well-pruned standard fruit tree can be kept under 20 feet wide.

Pruning your apple trees can make farm maintenance easier.

3. Prepare the graph paper

Let’s say you’re going to be planting an area measuring 250 by 350 feet, or approximately two acres.

Take your graph paper and choose a unit of measurement (5 feet, 10 feet, 20 feet, etc.) for each line to represent.

If you choose 10 feet, each square on the paper will indicate the 10’ x 10’ area required by a dwarf fruit tree. Four squares (forming a cube) will then denote the 20’ x 20’ area needed by a standard fruit tree.

4. Plot tree locations with colored markers

Keeping the size of each tree in mind, start charting their locations on your graph paper, using different colored markers to signify different species or varieties of trees.

Consider how you want your orchard to look 20 years from now. Do you want trees planted so close together that their crowns are practically touching? Or do you want open areas between trees, convenient for maneuvering machinery and holding picnics?

Now is the time to make these decisions, not when the trees are 20 years old and it’s too late to revise your plan without starting from scratch.

5. Compare your outline with the real lay of the land

An orchard layout might seem perfect on paper, but the lay of your actual land might beg to differ. Once you’ve plotted the location of each tree, head outside and locate your chosen spots in the real world.

You might find that one area is too low and water-logged to support a fruit tree, while another spot might receive too much shade from nearby maple trees. Revise your graph as necessary to ensure each tree has been given an ideal location.

Have fun planning your orchard!

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