Fruit Tree Spacing: How Far Apart Do You Plant Fruit Trees In The Garden

Fruit Tree Spacing: How Far Apart Do You Plant Fruit Trees In The Garden

By: Amy Grant

You’ve dreamt of having your own orchard, plucking fresh, ripe fruit directly from your own property. The dream is about to become a reality, but a few lingering questions remain. First and foremost, how far apart do you plant fruit trees? Proper spacing for fruit trees is of paramount importance, allowing them to attain their maximum potential and giving you easy access when harvesting. The following article discusses space requirements for fruit trees.

Importance of Fruit Tree Distance

Fruit tree spacing for your backyard orchard is different than that for a commercial grower. Spacing for fruit trees is determined by the type of tree, soil quality, expected tree height and canopy for the mature tree and any dwarfing characteristics of the rootstock.

Giving your fruit trees some distance may mean the difference between crowding them out, thus shading each other, which results in a low fruit set. There is a fine line, however. If you plant them too far apart, pollination may be impacted.

Trees must be spaced so that they get plenty of sun and allow for air circulation to prevent fungal issues. If you have robust soil, a little extra spacing should be given since the tree will grow out wider.

There are three sizes of trees: standard, semi-dwarf, and dwarf. Standard is the largest tree size, semi-dwarf is of medium height and dwarf is the smallest size.

  • Standard fruit trees grow at maturity up to 18-25 feet tall/wide (5-8 m.), unless they are standard sized peach and nectarine trees, which grow to about 12-15 feet (4-5 m.).
  • Semi-dwarf sized fruit trees reach 12-15 feet (4-5 m.) in height and width with the exception of sweet cherries, which will get a little larger at 15-18 feet (5 m.) tall/wide.
  • Dwarf fruit trees grow to about 8-10 feet (2-3 m.) tall/wide.

Standard sized trees grown from seed need more space than if they are made by grafting onto a dwarf or semi-dwarf. Fruit tree spacing can be as close as 2-3 feet (61-91 cm.) apart for a hedgerow. If multi-planting, plant similar rootstocks together and trees with like spray requirements together.

How Far Apart Do You Plant Fruit Trees?

The following are some of the basic space requirements for fruit trees.

  • Standard apple trees need 30-35 feet (9-11 m.) between trees, while semi-dwarf apples require 15 feet (5 m.) and dwarf apples need only 10 feet (3 m.)
  • Peach trees should be spaced 20 feet (6 m.) apart.
  • Standard pear trees need about 20 feet (6 m.)and semi-dwarf pears about 15 feet (5 m.) between trees.
  • Plum trees should be spaced 15 feet (5 m.) apart and apricots 20 feet (6 m.) apart.
  • Sweet cherries need quite a bit of room and should be space about 30 feet (9 m.) apart while sour cherries need a little less room, about 20 feet (6 m.) between trees.
  • Citrus trees need about 8 feet (2 m.) between them and figs should be planted in a sunny area 20-30 feet (6-9 m.) apart.

Again, the distance between plantings depends on a variety of factors and these spacing requirements should be used as a guide only. Your local nursery or extension office can also help you toward your goal of a backyard orchard planted perfectly.

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It's wise to install drip irrigation for fruit tree, because most fruit trees require substantial amounts of water for new growth and fruit development. Fruits, in particular, tend to have water composing a large percentage of their structure. Aside from using wasteful spray sprinklers and soaker hoses, you have another irrigation option with drip tubing. These specialized hoses have evenly spaced emitters that concentrate water at the soil level for an effective fruit tree watering strategy.

The Art of Espalier: Growing Fruit Trees in Small Spaces

Growing espalier fruit trees in the home garden is a wonderful way to grow edibles in small spaces and in decorative ways. Training and pruning fruit trees to grow along walls or fences keeps the fruit at an easily accessible height, and turns an otherwise standard tree into a garden showpiece. Espaliers can be fruit trees or ornamental, evergreen or deciduous. This article will cover how to create and maintain an espaliered fruit tree using pruning.

Before you read on, learn the basics of pruning in these two articles:

Apple Espalier BEFORE Pruning

Apple Espalier AFTER Pruning

Espalier is an art that originated in Europe. The skill of espalier involves patience and artistry you can see through as these plants are painstakingly trained along fences and walls. Touring around Europe, you will see elaborate and beautiful designs that have grown over hundreds of years.

In the home garden this can be a fun project that grows over time with your family and evolves as the years go by.

Espalier Shapes

There are many different shapes of an espalier: cordon (branches straight out to the sides), fan (branches fanning up and to the side), candelabra (like a cordon but the branches turn at a right angle to form the shape of a candelabra), lattice (multiple trees with crossing branches), and “Y” shapes.

The simplest shape to start with is the cordon. Often fruit trees can be purchased grafted into this shape like the espalier that I have in my play garden.

Apple Espalier First Year

Grafted Espaliers

My espalier has five different varieties of apple grafted onto a dwarf apple stock. Grafting is the process of attaching a branch to the tree so that they grow together as one. Since it’s the trunk of the tree that supports the rootstock, it determines the overall height of the tree. Then the branches of five different apples trees are grafted on to produce varied fruiting branches. I have even seen “fruit salad” trees with grafted branches of apple, pear, plum, peach, and cherry although I can’t report on how well this works myself.

I have worked with a few espaliers in small urban spaces: grafted five-fruit varieties of apple and pear in my home gardens, and heirloom apples at the community gardens. In my home garden, I have the space for only one tree, so I chose a tree with different varieties of apples that flower and fruit at varying times throughout the season. Usually the varieties are selected to support each other so that cross-pollination can occur, but sometimes grafting is simply for the novelty of having multiple fruit varieties on one tree.

In practice, these grafted trees often start out with multiple varieties but then morph into one or two of the strongest varieties over time. Even so, with the proper conditions and care, an espalier fruit tree can thrive and be productive in a small space.

How to Plant an Espalier

The optimal time to plant any fruit trees is in the winter or early spring when they’re dormant. Dig the tree into the soil as soon as the soil is workable for the year. Create a large hole that is twice as wide, but just as deep as your root ball. Add well-rotted compost to the hole. Position the tree so that the base of the trunk, at the root flare (just where it begins to widen), is at the soil line. Plant any deeper and the roots will grow upwards, plant too high and roots will be exposed. Fill in the hole with soil and water well for the first year until established.

Don’t forget to pick the right place for your tree. Most fruit trees love sun, so a nice sunny spot will give you the best fruit. Follow the care instructions on your tree for best results.

How to Prune & Train an Espalier

First, determine the pattern you want and look for a young tree that has that basic shape. Remove any branches that don’t fit the pattern or that suffer from one of the 4 D’s (read all about that in Pruning 101).

Now build a structure to support the shape, or attach the branches to an existing fence. Use a soft, covered wire or ribbon that can be retied when the branches grow. Be sure not to choke the branches with too-tight ties.

Here are some helpful supplies for training an espalier:

Espalier Maintenance

Monthly pruning will keep an espalier neat and productive. The key is to regularly do a little pruning to maintain the shape, and allow all of the tree’s energy to go into the remaining branches (read all about plant energy in this post on pruning).

Remove any branches that are starting to get long, and leave plenty of buds where the cuts are. This will ensure that leaves, flowers, and fruit grow close to the branches.

Continue to prune throughout the growing season and enjoy your gorgeous new espalier as it grows and fruits over the years.

For more information on pruning, check out these posts:

  • Learn How to Prune Like a Pro! Pruning 101
  • Want to Know When to Prune? This Will Answer All of Your Questions!
  • Your Guide to Pruning Hedges
  • How to Remove Suckers from Trees (and Why They are There in the First Place)
  • The Best Garden Greenery for Holiday Decorating (and Which Ones to Avoid)
  • Care and Pruning for Decorative Topiaries
  • The Essential Guide to Growing Lavender

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Cherry Trees

The Spruce / K. Dave

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For a semi-dwarf cherry tree (Prunus avium), look for a Stella graft that uses a Colt rootstock. The tree will reach a mature size of just 10 feet tall. This plant is suitable for zones 5 to 9. The fruit is a dark red color and sweet.

Cherries are self-fertile, so you do not need to worry about providing a mate for pollination. This fact makes them even better suited to small yards than are those fruit trees that need a separate pollinator.

How to Plant Fruit Trees

Last Updated: March 29, 2019 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Andrew Carberry, MPH. Andrew Carberry has been working in food systems since 2008. He has a Masters in Public Health Nutrition and Public Health Planning and Administration from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

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Fruit trees are surprisingly easy to grow in a backyard setting, and they yield years' worth of beautiful spring blooms and plentiful fruit. Apple, peach, plum and pear trees all grow well in a variety of climates. When making your selection, confirm with the nursery that your chosen fruit tree is compatible with the environment that you have selected as its home. See Step 1 and beyond to learn how to plant fruit trees so that they thrive for years to come.

Want More Fruit From Less Space? Espalier Your Trees!

After originating in the semi-arid regions of the middle east, espaliering (is-‘pal-yer-ing) became a commonly employed fruit tree growing method of the Greco-Roman world. Later, during the so-called “Dark Ages” after Rome’s fall, these techniques were kept alive in isolated monasteries.

Once you realize just how minimal the space requirements are, and how productive the results, you’ll understand why espaliered fruit trees were so common along the inner walls of castle courtyards and walled cities.

Today, these techniques remain just as popular over much of Europe, yet oddly, except among a few high grade landscapers and orchardists, these techniques are rarely used in the U.S.

Aside from regular pruning and shaping of the growing fruit trees (which you do to fruit trees anyway), the only real requirements are a minimum of six hours of daily sunlight throughout the growing season, and sufficient water. This makes south or east facing walls ideal growing locations.

Horizontal espaliering

The horizontal method involves nothing more than training the trees to do most of their growing horizontally. Normally this is done using spaced horizontal supports fashioned of wood, wire, or metal in much the same manner as grape vines are grown. I’ve had equally good results using nothing more than stakes and soft string.

Beginning about 15 inches above the ground, run each horizontal support about 14 inches above the last, until you’ve reached a height of about 6 feet. Next, plant one-year-old fruit tree “whips” (preferably dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties) about 15 feet apart along the line of supports. Using very sharp pruners, snip off the top of each whip, right at the lowest support.

With frequent waterings it should only take a few weeks until the young trees begin vigorously branching off, right at the point where you’ve cut it off. Once these sprouting branches are about an inch long, select three of the most vigorous, and trim away the rest. After they reach a length of three or four inches, select two and use strips of soft cloth to fasten them horizontally along the bottom support. The third branch is simply allowed to grow vertically until it reaches the next support, where the snipping, branching, and training process is repeated. Once the growth of the tree’s main trunk has reached the top most support, use only two of the branches that sprout, training them both to grow horizontally along the top wire. After the trees have become established, prune away every branch that tries growing forward or backwards away from the supports. Each year after the fruit ripens, but before the leaves start to fall, prune off all the new branches at a point three leaf-groups away from each of the main limbs. Keep the limbs pruned off at a point seven inches away from the main trunk.

Palmette espaliering

A second espaliering method which uses these same basic techniques ensures an equally productive, but dramatically more eye appealing, planting of fruit trees. In order to produce palmette (fan shaped) espaliers, you’ll need to place your first horizontal support about 30 inches above the ground. Again, using year old whips of the desired varieties, plant one every 15 feet along the supports. Prune each one off 20 inches above the soil’s surface. Allow only the two best budding branches to grow. Attach pieces of wooden lath solidly to the supports at 45-degree angles, and use strips of cloth to attach each of these branches to one of the laths.

Later, branches are removed, pruned to length, allowed to grow, trained, and supported until each tree has filled up its allotted space. From that time on, they’re simply pruned regularly using the same methods already explained for horizontally grown espaliers.

Cordon espaliering

The third technique, cordon espaliering, is also quite dramatically eye catching. My experience with this method comes from seeing the meticulously perfect work of my sister’s fiance.

He starts with sturdy upright supports spaced 20 inches apart, and attaches horizontal strands of heavy galvanized fence wire at 2, 4, and 6-foot elevations. Next, every 30 inches he wires a sturdy 8 or 10-foot length of bamboo pole (1×3 furring strips work just as well) to these horizontal wires, leaning each pole at the same 35-degree angle. He plants a single one to three-year-old dwarf fruit tree at the same 35-degree angle at each pole. Using cloth strips or soft jute cord, he then ties each tree loosely at several points along the angled support.

Through the entire first summer’s growing season, he does no pruning whatsoever, simply using more strips of cloth to fasten the main trunks to the supports as they continue to grow. Next, all upward growing branches are pruned off at a point three leaves away from the central trunk, while downward and sideways growing branches are pruned off two leaves away from the trunk. Each year after the fruit ripens, these branches are pruned in the same manner. Once the trunks have reached the top wire, they’re kept trimmed to that height.

He uses this cordon espaliering technique to form edible and picturesque living fences around smaller properties and estates. When planting small orchards he spaces rows of trees trained in the fashion either six feet apart (as done in Europe) which is perfect spacing for a hand cart, or nine feet apart, which is ideal for driving a pickup between the rows during harvesting.

Horizontal or palmette espaliers can readily be grown in rows with this same row spacing, and in fact are often grown that way in much of Europe.

I prefer using these growing techniques right along the house walls, or porch edges, as these plantings made 6 to 24 inches away from the walls not only guarantees an abundance of ripe fruit in close proximity to the kitchen, but during the summer’s heat the deciduous leaves provide some cooling shade.

Forcing fruit trees to grow more horizontally greatly increases the number of fruiting spurs, while reducing both sucker and leaf growth. We’ve found that once your trees are well established, the area between the trunks provides an ideal location for plantings of low growing herbs and vegetables.

Watch the video: Planting Fruit Trees in Backyard Garden