Peach tree spacing question

olpea(zone 6 KS)March 3, 2012

In another post, Hman mentioned peach tree spacing which is something I've been struggling with, so I thought I'd post my question.

Here's the deal. Regulars on the forum know I've a special interest in peaches and am in the process of expanding to a large planting (at least large to me). I've been wrestling over the peach spacing for months and still can't decide for sure.

Over the years, I've visited lots of peach orchards and asked fruit specialists about the correct spacing for peaches. The problem is that almost all commercial orchards in the Midwest are irrigated and I plan to run a dry orchard, so the advice really doesn't apply since dry orchard trees need more space due to water competition. Other recommendations are more vague and simply state optimum spacing will differ based upon soil type, rainfall, etc.

My quandary is that I want the peaches as close together as possible without causing the trees to suffer during dry spells, or spend a lot of time pruning to keep the trees from growing into one another.

I know there may not be any on this forum with experience in commercial peach production, but a lot of you have considerable general fruit tree experience and good intuitive knowledge in this area. I would appreciate your thoughts.

I've already got my terraces built and spaced them 25' apart. That means my row spacing is already set at 25'. I know that's a little wider than most recommendations but I wanted plenty of room to drive equipment between rows.

What I can't decide on is the spacing within the rows. I've run across one recommendation from Oklahoma which recommends 18' spacing in the rows for a dry orchard. We get a little more rain here than OK so I was thinking 17' spacing for my new trees. I have plenty of terraces built, so I can put more space between trees, I just don't want to be wasteful and use more land than necessary for the planting.

The peach trees in my backyard orchard are spaced 20' and a few of them touch each other during the growing season but not many.

Once I place the trees in the ground (for better or worse) I'm stuck with the spacing and there's no changing it.

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alan haigh

I get rain during the summer but even on dry years there's enough for big peaches and good crops on even closely spaced trees. I believe that rotting wood chips function as an amazingly affective resevoir where water wicks from them into the top soil layer as the surface roots pull it out from there. The accumulating humus will also gradually increase your water holding capacity.

Of course, it's well known that mulch cuts down on evaporation, but ultimately I think the greatest water contribution comes from these other factors.

I say space them at 12' and use lots of wood chips. The only thing that worries me is your wind. A wind break might be worth the space as it could reduce evaporation quite a bit.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 12:28PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Harvestman's spacing sounds about right to me. That's a lot closer than the 30ft by 30ft recommended in west Texas. But W Texas is 20 inches rain and probably 50% higher evaporation than KS. In dryland field crops spacing does have some effect on plant water status. But yield is usually higher at a thicker spacing even though it is more water stressed.

Some water deficit will likely help your average eating quality. And lastly remember what we tell home growers about peaches, ultimate tree size is in your control.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 1:30PM
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This was a good topic discussion for me as well.

I have old fruit trees throughout my gardens, and there is an old orchard that was planted in the lower area before we bought this place - not a good spot when we get those late frosts. It doesn't hurt the pears, but the soft fruit is always getting ruined. We might have a month of great weather and then late frosts. Every year, gorgeous blooms and then 50 % of the time, here comes a frost or even a freeze. (Bummer)
(my peaches and plums are all blooming right now for instance)

So I am planting these new trees up in the higher terraced garden (formerly my big veggie garden), above the house.
There is a small wooded lot on the north side which will break the winds, but there are two Juniper trees there, planted for a wind break. I probably should cut them down. I don't want problems with the apples.

The soil is VERY sandy, but the pH is right in the middle. During good precip years, this is a great place to garden, but in the past few years with our severe drought and extreme temps, this is a very hot and very dry area.

There is one peach tree in there already on the north end. It was loaded last year, but the drought did it's magic and I only got a few peaches despite watering and mulches.

I am planting 6 more fruit trees in there:
1. Arkansas Black Apple,
2. Gala Apple,
3. Loring Peach,
4. Crest Haven Peach (is this a semi-dwarf?),
5. Red Haven Peach,
6. Golden Sweet Apricot.

I was just out there a few minutes ago eying it and trying to figure the spacing and placement. Am thinking the Apricot should be set in the center, hoping the others will give it some protection from those late frosts.

Any suggestions on placement and spacing of the trees? Which ones should be set on the south, west and etc?


    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 2:31PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Thanks Hman and Fruitnut. I was hoping you would post.

I know I won't go as close as 12' spacing, but per your counsel, I may go closer than the recs I've seen for a dry orchard. Reexamining Oklahoma's recs, I see they recommend 25' in row spacing for a dry orchard. I thought they recommended 18' spacing but evidently that's for an irrigated orchard (linked below).

I've had a little difficulty getting the volume of wood chips I need out at the farm. It's just far enough out that tree services have places a few miles closer to dump. I've always had the luxury of using plenty of mulch. If I have to grow without mulch it will be new territory for me.


I know what you mean about blooms ahead of schedule. We aren't at bloom yet but still ahead of schedule.

Removing the junipers may not help your apples. If your area is like mine, junipers are everywhere and they don't have to be very close to your trees for CAR infection to take place.

I would say try to place an early blooming tree like apricot so that it gets the least amount of southern sun exposure as possible. Unfortunately, placing the apricot in the middle of the other trees won't offer it any frost protection.

Here is a link that might be useful: Planting and Early Care of Peach Orchard

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 3:37PM
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alan haigh

If you have access to free newspaper (harder to come by these days) it can also store water, I believe, when buried shallow. It functions like clay when wet and underground takes quite a while to break down.

The trees aren't that expensive compared to what you'll get for peaches so why not plant them 10' apart and if they seem to suffer from lack of water when they fill out cut out every other tree- at least experiment with a few trees so you can find out once and for all.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 5:14PM
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Thanks for the link!

That reassures me about the site I chose.

The site is nearly square. So, if I plant the apples on the south end and the peaches and apricots on the north end, it will allow for two trees, maybe three across. These trees are all standards. I was told by a nurseryman that they are hardier for Oklahoma than dwarfs. I have to date:

* Arkansas Black Apple (very CAR resistant)
* Gala Apple
* Red Haven Peach (early)
* Cresthaven Peach (mid)
* Loring Peach (late)
* Golden Sweet Apricot

The one existing peach I planted in there several years ago is on the north side, approximately in the middle of the back of the site. It is producing. So where do you think I should plant the above trees, and should I perhaps get another Apple?

Thanks for all the help.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 9:11PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)


It sounds like your biggest concern is reducing frost damage. It's a bit difficult for me to visualize your planting site, but as a general rule, apricots bloom the earliest, followed closely by J. plums, then peaches. Apples and pears bloom after peaches.

So for your new planting since the apricot will naturally want to bloom first, I'd give it the most protection from southern exposure to try to delay blooming, while at the same time plant in a spot (if possible) where the cold air won't settle. Along those same lines, I'd plant the peaches in the second best spot.

Because they bloom so early, apricots don't fruit very often up here and I ended up pulling mine out. If I can find one that blooms about the same time as peaches I may try apricots again.

Sounds like you have a nice line-up of peaches. Actually, Cresthaven ripens after Loring. So your earliest peach will be Redhaven, then Loring (ripens about 2 weeks after Redhaven), lastly Cresthaven (which ripens about 10 days after Loring).

The nurseryman you spoke with has misplaced concern with regard to hardiness. Hardiness is not an issue in OK (at least with any of the trees you've mentioned) no matter if the rootstocks are dwarf or standard.

Standard rootstocks are more drought tolerant, so that may be an advantage to you.

Regarding adding another apple. If you have space, I would do it. Apples require two different varieties for pollination, but generally pollination isn't an issue if there are some crab apples or other apple trees in the neighborhood. Nevertheless, you will be in competition with wildlife for your apples, so I would add another tree to increase your odds of successful harvest.

Hman, I've read about your success using newspaper. I'll remember that as an option if I can't get enough mulch (although I have to admit, it does sound labor intensive).

I have considered double planting the peach trees then removing every other one when they start crowding. Sometimes that's how pecan groves are managed (although they sell the harvested pecan wood). I guess the reason I haven't pursued it with peaches is that right now I've got more land than I can use. I've got about 5 out of 17 acres terraced and only have about 250 trees to go in this Spring which won't use all the terraces. If I ordered more trees, I could just fill up more terraces, or I suppose terrace more, if I needed to.

My biggest concern about wasted space was that if there was too much space between the trees, I'd be wasting spray in the gaps, but for that alone, I don't think it would be worth it in my situation to double plant the peaches then remove every other one after a few years.

My biggest concern is to have a full canopy at maturity, with minimal pruning to discourage crowding, while at the same time allowing enough space that the trees survive during a drought year.

Planting on this scale is totally new to me, hence my wavering on what is the right spacing. Some differences are:

-I currently don't irrigate but use mulch, but as mentioned, may not be able to use mulch, or at least mulch forced to reduce the mulched area.

-I've always been able to train branches by tying them lower to form more horizontal spreading trees. I won't have the time to do that with the new trees (instead I plan to shape the trees with pruning only) so I don't know if the trees will be as spreading (i.e. take up as much space).

Like I said I've seen several commercial orchards, but they operate totally different than I plan to. They irrigate like mad and pour the N to mature trees, neither of which I plan to do, so it's hard to know how much I've seen will be applicable to my planting.

Regardless of what I end up doing, I appreciate your responses. If anything it helps me consider different aspects.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 12:18AM
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Old Pea, If you did choose to plant close and later eliminate, you can always recoup your losses by selling peach tree wood to barbecuers. Fruit wood commands top dollar to die hard smokers--especially large pieces. Even prunings are in demand, and nothing is wasted that way. I think you'd have plenty of takers out in KC.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 3:48PM
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alan haigh

Wow, I've literally got tons of the stuff. Small to big.

Olpea, I was thinking about the spacing some more and wide spacing seems so unnnecessary with peach trees. If you want them to use less water just prune them back and make the two trees the size of one and they will probably make better use of available water that way anyway. Most of the water goes through the leaves- not the wood, as I'm sure you know.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 7:05PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Thanks Brook,

Actually, the only fruit wood people want around here is apple. I once tried to sell some apricot wood and even chipped most of it up so people who didn't have smokers could use it on their grills. I couldn't sell most of it and ended up adding it to the mulch pile. By the time I went to the trouble of chipping, packaging, and the time in selling, I probably made a dollar an hour.

Hman, I'm trying to avoid horizontal pruning for a couple reasons. I've currently got some peach trees that are 5' from a fence. I don't let them hang over the fence so I keep them pruned at 5' (horizontally) on that side. As you're aware, I also keep my trees at pedestrian height (about 8'). It just seems that since I constantly take so much wood off the top that when I also drastically take wood off the side, I'm removing too much fruiting wood.

It seems like most training systems for commercial peach growers have one of two approaches. They either strive to keep a pedestrian orchard and let the trees spread horizontally (under a low or low/medium density system) or they use a high density system (like a V or pillar) and let the trees grow taller and use ladders or platforms.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm not aware of anyone using a high density peach system where they both keep the trees at pedestrian height and space them close together. I think the reason is that too much fruiting wood has to be removed. There may be some who keep high density orchards at pedestrian height using dwarf rootstocks, but I'm not willing to use those because standard peach rootstocks work so well in the Midwest, plus, as you know, hardly any nurseries offer a good selection of peach varieties on dwarf roots.

The other reason is that labor is a pretty big deal to me. Anything I can do to reduce labor (even a little) is of value to me. Pruning to keep the trees from growing into one another adds a little labor.

I realize this is totally opposite of backyard culture, and contrary to the commercial view as well. But the difference is backyard orchardists generally try to squeeze every drop of growing space out of their backyard (I've done the same to my backyard) and labor is no issue. But currently, at the farm I'm long on land, but short on labor (my labor).

Commercial guys are after productivity/acre (i.e. high density) but that doesn't matter to me. If demand is brisk, I can always plant more acres.

I want the tree canopy to fill the rows completely, but at the same time not have to do much pruning (horizontally) of the tree canopy. I think low density fits that bill, but have been uncertain how low to go.

P.S. While on the subject of labor, as an aside, have you seen the new idea for a peach thinner for small orchards? I'm sure you've seen the Darwin type peach thinners for large orchards, but someone has adapted this principle to small orchards with a device that attaches to a drill. I know you have a lot of Spring-time thinning and this tool looks interesting to me. (See link below).

Here is a link that might be useful: Cinch peach thinner

    Bookmark   March 6, 2012 at 10:48AM
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HMan, the probable cause of improved water absorption in the presence of chips is mychorrizae. These mycelial mats enter symbiotic relations with the trees and will effectively double or more the root surface area. nature will provide it for free if mulch is present, and will envelop the tree roots, going to depths they would not get to if they were just eating mulch. So one of the effects of thick mulch is the development of a much greater root interface for the tree.

The symbiotic relationship is sugars for water and minerals, so they affect mineral absorption too. Of particular importance is K, since apples/peaches are 0.1-0.3% K which is not necessarily returned to the soil (wood chips are 0.1% or so too). Established wood chips fields are great for dry farming or even for dwarf apple trees, since they have weak roots.

Mychorrizae affect positively most fruit trees, though plants that evolved in arid or salty conditions do not form such relationships (things like jujube or sea berry, for example, though I do not know for sure about them). Likewise, some woodland-originated vegetables like alliums love them, but brassica and beta do without. If the mat is a single one at an established site, it may even help redistribute water from drier to wetter spots.

You can buy spores on the web for $10 (spread before spreading chips, or spread on top, before a rain or water it in), but if you have established wood chip sites, it is easier to just pick up a bucket of chips/compost for injection of new sites.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2012 at 12:21PM
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I've always wondered if fruit wood has value. I've been saving all my tree cutting (larger chunks) just in case I find someone who could use it. I've thought about Craigslisting some if I would get enough. I probably have a couple garbage cans full of chunks of peach, plum, apple, etc...

I'd space them closer, but that is just me and I live where rainfall is the problem (as in too much)...

I do wonder if closer spacing in some ways would save water due to shading of the soil surrounding the trees? My grass always grows so much better in shaded areas and i've wonder if it was due to moisture (although I do live in a sandbox)? You could always prune them to size. Its too bad you didn't have access to water.

Drop a well in the orchard, hook up a couple of solar panels or wind turbine, put in a cistern...easier said then done! Around here you go down 20ft and you'll find water. Most home wells are only 60 to 70ft.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2012 at 12:53PM
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alan haigh

Glib, the most probably reason, IMO, is the fact that rotting wood soaks up a huge amount of water, so if you put it down in fall or winter it can store the water that would otherwise leave the area. I have no idea how much an augmented quantity of mychorizal fungus would affect the situation although I've known about the drought benefit of mychorizal relationships since I was a hort student over 20 years ago (I found the subject fascinating and read everything about it I could find). The mechanism of just having wood swell up with water is much easier for me to feel confident about. If you go into the woods check out some rotten wood on the forest floor and see how many feeder roots encircle the barely buried parts of it. Those aren't strands of fungus- they are roots.

Olpea, I'm obsessed with pruning and can't help but be interested in handling your problem with this. I'm not sure it would really take that much more time and I'm just suggesting you experiment a little.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2012 at 6:52PM
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