Visiting an apple orchard is one of the most delightful parts of late summer and early fall. Groves of sturdy trees rooted in loamy soil fill the air with the mouthwatering aroma of ripe apples just waiting to be picked.
If this sounds like heaven to you, you might consider starting an apple orchard in your backyard. Keep reading to learn how to start an apple orchard (and even make it profitable).
Starting an Apple Orchard
If you have the land and passion, starting an apple orchard can be an excellent business opportunity. Whether you want to grow a commercial apple orchard or just a small hobby orchard, you’ll need to start with the same simple steps.
Some arborists may start growing apple trees as a hobby instead of pursuing a commercial apple orchard. You can still net a small profit from a backyard apple orchard.
Depending on fruit costs in your area, you may see incredible financial success offloading your surplus harvest at local farmers’ markets.
Apples can be sold for fresh eating or grown for other purposes such as cooking and cider.
Say you don’t have a green thumb and end your first few seasons with lower-value apples. If this happens, you can still press these fruits for delicious cider, which can be sold to recoup some of your investment.
Depending on local laws, you might consider fermenting fresh-pressed cider for a tasty fall drink.
Before you start your first apple orchard you must understand how to grow the best apples. Explore our Apple Tree Care post to learn more about growing apple trees.
How to Start an Apple Orchard
Cultivating a successful apple orchard starts with solid planning. The University of Minnesota has a wealth of information you may find useful, such as the beginners’ guide Before You Start an Apple Orchard.
With the right plan, starting your own orchard can be straightforward. Continue reading to learn how to start an apple orchard in five simple steps.
Step 1: Plan Your Orchard Location
You’ll need to select your apple orchard plot carefully. Choose a warm, sunny location that receives around six to eight hours of sunlight daily.
You should consider the size of your trees when planning your orchard. Full-sized trees are difficult to harvest from and require generous space between trees.
You must space trees far enough apart to promote adequate ventilation. Proper airflow reduces the risk of fungal infections and other common diseases.
Larger orchards generally grow semi-dwarf trees. This allows commercial orchards to maximize the number of trees per acre without sacrificing yield per tree.
Semi-dwarf apple trees thrive with ten feet of space between them. One acre of trees spaced ten feet apart is enough room for over 400 apple trees.
Step 2: Choose Your Apple Tree Variety
The core of starting an apple orchard comes down to the varieties you are growing.
There are so many types of apples to choose from! Luckily, apple trees do best in a mixed orchard, so it is beneficial to select multiple varieties.
Bear in mind that apple tree pollination is crucial for fruit production. Carefully consider the relationship between apple tree varieties planted near each other, as some varieties cross-pollinate better than others.
You should sample more than just the varieties of apples you can buy at the grocery store. Heirloom apples that you find at farmers’ markets can have sweeter and more robust flavors.
Still, selecting disease-resistant hybrid apple trees can save money and improve yields right out of the gate.
If you are interested in growing cider apples, fruit production is more important than appearance. However, apples sold for fresh eating should be uniform and attractive.
All said, there are too many types of apple trees available to list here! Check out our post on 94 Apple Varieties article to learn more and help you choose the best varieties of apple trees for your orchard.
Step 3: Prepare the Soil for Planting
The best apple orchard soil promotes robust fruit growth and hardy root development. You must amend your planting location with the right ingredients if you want the best results.
Conducting a comprehensive soil test to detect nutrient deficiencies early is wise. You can add apple tree fertilizer to boost your local soil and fill in any gaps in macro- or micronutrients.
Fruit trees need loamy soil that is rich in organic matter. If your local soil is compact, you will want to loosen it prior to planting.
You don’t need to till the entire orchard like a vegetable garden. Instead, you should thoroughly break up the soil around each tree-planting hole.
There are many tools available to help you prepare your plot for transplanting. It is possible to simplify this task without investing in a motorized tiller.
Step 4: Plant Apple Tree Saplings
Depending on the apple variety you are growing, you might start with a sapling. These can be sold in dirt or as dormant bare-root plants.
You can purchase an average apple tree from your nearest nursery. If you want a more specialized apple variety, Stark Bro’s carries a vast selection of apple trees online.
If you are starting your apple orchard from seeds, check out our guide on how to grow an apple tree from seed. Once your seedlings are big enough, you will need to transplant them outdoors into their final growing spot.
Step 5: Prune Young Trees
Fruit trees should get pruned the first year they flower. To do this, simply pinch off every flower on each apple tree.
Until young trees are fully established, their energy shouldn’t go to fruit production. By removing the flowers, these young trees will instead focus on root and foliage development.
When the next harvest season comes around, you will have stronger and more resilient trees. This equals fewer trees lost to disease and healthy branches that can bear the weight of immense yields.
Maintaining any orchard larger than a quarter acre is a full-time job. You might benefit from hiring extra labor for pruning apple trees for the first few years.
Protecting Your Apple Orchard: Pests and Diseases
Most fruit trees in North America are subject to similar pests and pathogens. Unfortunately, a large-scale fruit tree pest infestation could completely devastate your apple orchard.
An apple orchard requires intense management to control the threat of diseases and insects. Choosing disease-resistant apple tree varieties can prevent common pathogens from infecting your orchard.
According to the University of Minnesota, “Apple scab is the most common disease of apple and crabapple trees in Minnesota.” Check out our guide to common apple tree diseases to learn how to eliminate this and other pathogens.
Apple trees are also particularly susceptible to fungal diseases. Many options are available for eliminating harmful fungal spores, including broad-spectrum pesticides.
Are you utilizing honeybee hives to aid in pollination efforts? If so, you should avoid harsh pesticides and neonicotinoids, which can harm these beneficial insects.
Many hobby arborists tout the benefits of human hair as a natural solution for combating larger vermin like deer. This works well for small orchards but can be challenging to accomplish for anything more than half an acre.
Whether you intend to pursue organic or synthetic pest remedies, you will benefit from learning about the bugs you’ll be fighting. Read this guide to apple tree pests to identify the best pest-management tactics for your orchard.
Are apple orchards profitable?
If you have good business sense, then you can quickly break even on your apple orchard investment. The key to success is proper planning.
As with any entrepreneurial venture, you must devise a solid business plan for your apple orchard. This will significantly improve the financial outlook over the mid- and long-term.
It pays to have experience in orchard management. You should ask around local orchards to see if you can lend a hand. This way, you can get paid to learn excellent management skills.
You don’t need to start a commercial orchard to make a little profit on your investment. You can simply sell the excess harvest from your hobby apple orchard at a local farmers’ market or roadside stand.
How long does it take for an apple orchard to grow?
The first few years of your apple orchard will be dedicated to hardy root development. A healthy and well-established orchard leads to robust fruit growth, so the wait is worth it.
For semi-dwarf apple trees, you can expect the first harvest time in about two years. Full-sized apple trees will take over twice as long to bear fruit.
To learn more, read this article How Long to Grow an Apple Tree.
How many trees are in a one-acre orchard?
The number of apple trees you can plant in a one-acre orchard depends on the trees you are growing. The following figures are averages based on ideal tree spacing:
- 700 dwarf apple trees spaced eight feet apart
- 435 semi-dwarf apple trees spaced ten feet apart
- 195 full-sized apple trees spaced 15 feet apart
If you’re new to orchard management, you should start small. Begin with around 100 semi-dwarf apple trees on a quarter-acre plot. You can always expand later!
How much does an acre of apples yield?
To calculate your overall yield of bushels per acre of apple trees, you must consider the type of tree you are growing. Some apple tree varieties are heavier producers than others.
Here is a general estimate of how many bushels of apples are produced by one apple tree:
- One to four bushels per dwarf apple tree
- Five to ten bushels per semi-dwarf apple tree
- 10–20 bushels per full-sized apple tree
If you are lucky and have a great harvest, you can expect over 4,000 bushels of apples per acre. At around 125 apples per bushel, you are looking at a massive haul come harvest!
How to Start an Apple Orchard the Simple Way
Starting a commercial apple orchard is a huge undertaking. Beginning with a small hobby orchard and building a solid business plan can make this process easier.
Now that you understand the basics of how to start an apple orchard, you’ll want to do further research as you develop and fine-tune your plans. Explore our website’s Apple Trees page for all our apple-related blog posts.