Growing 3-4 fruit trees in 1 hole???

preciousamyMarch 25, 2008

Have any of you out there, tried planting three or four individual fruit trees into one hole? Were you successful? Do you have any tips for me (someone who is new to growing anything)? I have a very small backyard, and would love to grow fruit trees. I'm thinking of alternative ways to do so. Like maybe this, 4 trees into 1 hole? Maybe even trying Espalier training? What advice or what have you done to grow fruit trees in a limited space?

Thank you in advance, for any comments!!! :)

Happy Spring! Happy Gardening!

Keep Smiling, Amy :)

Here is a link to, Backyard Orchard Culture Growing Fruit Trees in Limited Space, by Dave Wilson Nursery.

*I'm also adding a link to a newspaper article I read on this technique! (It talks about Cocktail Trees first, then halfway down the article, it talks about this 4 trees in 1 hole technique.)

Here is a link that might be useful: Newspaper Article!

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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Amy, that is a regular topic here and many of us are practitioners of it (including myself). See the link below for a search of this forum on the topic.

I myself practice the closely spaced trees in rows, using as close as 1' spacing on apples, and have managed to fit 400 trees in 1/4 acre. Overall I have been very happy with the method, but a few things I planted a bit too closely (e.g. plum rows on non-dwarfing rootstocks 2' apart is a bit too close). Click on my name to see a picture of the main planting.


Here is a link that might be useful: Backyard Orchard Culture search

    Bookmark   March 25, 2008 at 5:04PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

The newspaper article covered all the basics. But I never pull all the fruit off a young tree. Just don't leave too much on any tree young or old.

Don't be fooled into thinking that you can plant any number of trees into any space. You can get the trees too thick especially on a site that imparts a lot of vigor to the trees. Most beginning growers are not going to be able to judge how many is too many. That's because even an experienced grower like Scott or my self can be fooled. I planted many fruit trees on a vigorous site in CA at 5ft by 10ft. That was too thick. Now, if I could have figured out how to reduce the vigor, perhaps by watering less, maybe I could have been happy with that planting in the long run. As it turned out I moved. Currently, the trees in my greenhouse are multi budded and planted 6ft by 8ft. I'm making that work by summer pruning every 6 wks and cutting the water. But cutting the water is tricky and I'm always caught between too much vigor and poor return bloom and other issues.

I would space the trees out evenly in the avaliable area. I don't see the advantage to four in one hole except for the nursery...they sell more trees the closer they can get you to plant.

If you plant thick be ready to summer prune like I described. If you have multiple varieties on one tree, things can be easier; but not easy. You have to be able to buy the trees and/or learn how to bud/graft and have a source of bud wood to take that very far. And you still have to summer prune maybe as often as every 6 wks and prune to keep the trees in balance.

Always be wary of people trying to sell you something...that's my motto.

The Fruitnut

    Bookmark   March 25, 2008 at 7:12PM
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vall3fam(9 CentralCA)

Hi Amy,
I've been using this method now for about three years. I have 3-in-one hole and 4-in-one hole trees. Each is spaced about 2' from the other trees. I have 3 nectarines, 3 peaches, 4 cherries, 4 pluots/apriums, 4 pears, 4 peach/nectarines, 4 plums. I also have multi-variety trees of asian pear and apple.

You really have to follow the summer pruning method of keeping them in check as far as size. In May, I cut back all new growth by 1/2, then again in August. The three year old trees are just about to the height that I will keep them at. Also pruning to keep the center open for air circulation and light penetration.

I must say I'm very pleased so far with the outcome of my trees. I have 26 trees in the space of 8. The Dave Wilson website is good to go to for reference on this method. I also attended a seminar by Ed Lavio from Dave Wilson that really sold me on the idea. Yeah, I know they're trying to sell more trees, but for me it works because I just don't need full size trees of fruit.

If you have any questions, let me know.


    Bookmark   March 25, 2008 at 10:50PM
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I bought my suburban home with gardening in mind, with it's double size back yard and small collection of fruit trees. The fruit trees would over produced for a brief week or two, usually when my job was the busiest, and that fruit had to be shared, preserved, eaten, stored somehow. A lot of work.
My first 3n1 planting was of early, middle and late producing peach trees. I tried to prune and weave the branches so they balanced each other. It worked great for around 10 years, having a spread of fresh peaches over months. Then one by one the trees died over the next five years. I didn't spray or fertilize ever, forgot to water them often.
The last two years, I planted 4n1 boxes of 4 pluots, 4 plums, 4 apricots, 4 citrus, an apple hedge along a wall, crowding grape vines along another wall, and am planning more apple hedges, boxes. Potted "condo mango" trees are my latest project, and a Belgium fence of apple trees in the front yard. It's still a lot of work, but much more manageable, less crisis driven, which also makes it a lot of fun. And the fruit is delicious, fresh off the tree, all year long.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2008 at 2:18AM
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We stuff our trees in close together, 18" apart on the apple hedge and about 6' apart on the stonefruit which grow in a grid. I prune them for size control right after harvest in the summer and can do about 20 trees in an hour. The production and growth is vigorous and they are much more satisfying than the "mini dwarf" peaches we used to try.

It is incomperable having fresh peaches, nectarines, and plums all season long. When one tree is petering out the next is just about ready. We're spoiled having incredible stonefruit the whole summer long; we'll try one from the supermarket just to compare, and there's no comparison! Once you have the real thing, there's no going back!

Apples come starting in late June and run through February, when the citrus fruit takes over. Pull out all that silly lawn you have out back and plant tons of fruit trees instead, stuffing them in there! They're way less trouble than a lawn here. The Dave Wilson website is for real, and it really works.


    Bookmark   March 26, 2008 at 6:26AM
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joereal(Ca z9/SS z14)

it works well if the rootstocks of each tree belong to the same clone or are siblings. this allows cooperation in the underground space instead of competing with each other. this fact has been supported by recent scientific evidences. since most fruit trees of the same fruit category, ie, peaches, their rootstocks are most likely clonal and planting them together in one hole should result in more less the same vigor for all the trees planted together, excepting diseases and cultivar performance for the location.

And the result, those many different cultivars planted together in that hole will behave like a regular sized commercial tree in totality if the group holes are planted apart like spacing of commercial sized trees. Individually they are smaller trees.

Not all cultivar combination will work in harmony nor perfectly, and when such thing happen, you should plant the less vigorous cultivar on the south side of the hole and the more vigorous ones to the north. Those of medium and equal vigor on the east and west part of the same hole. The maximum that I would recommend is 4 to a hole. Perhaps 8 is possible if I can group or predict the vigor more accurately.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2008 at 3:12PM
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A home orchard really will save you money in the long run. Of course, youÂll be saving money on the expensive, tasteless, store-bought fruit. And your health will improve eating all those fresh fruits, at the peak of their nutrition, so your doctor bills will go down significantly. With all the exercising digging and moving things around in the garden, you can drop the gym membership. You wonÂt need to buy a lot of new clothes to work in the yard- the roses donÂt care what you wear, so you save money there as well. You can drop your TV cable/dish as well, and replace TV with enjoying your family, your garden, Gardenweb, YouTube, a good book. The best TV programs are on free PBS anyway. Weekend get away trips arenÂt as important, save on gasoline, for what could be as relaxing and enjoyable as all the changes going on in your garden?
Chinese astrology divides the year into 24 seasons, such as "Excited Insects", "Clear and Bright", "Grain in Ear", "Slight Heat", "Great Heat". You can discover all the many seasons of your area of the world, make up your own names, all in the comfort of your yard. See all the money you save?

    Bookmark   March 26, 2008 at 4:31PM
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joereal(Ca z9/SS z14)

So true... The garden and forum boards has completely replaced my time for tv and movies... Sorry movie stars, can't really patronize and make you richer at my expense anymore.

I still watch news, especially the weather forecast.

Producing most of your fruits gives you peace of mind on what really went into your fruits. Not the unknown chemicals and pesticides for the fruits to look pretty at the stores.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2008 at 5:02PM
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Oh My Goodness, what wonderful advice and tips everyone gave. THANK YOU! You all have given me the courage to try it! I hope my enthusiasm isn't too foolish for such a newbie as myself. But, I am going to try a apple hedge along my back fence, and two 4-in-1 hole trees (one tree with 4 peach varieties, the second with 2 apricots & 2 plums). Thank you all again! :)
P.S. Scott I love your backyard orchard, I'm envious! Keep up the great work! I'll be checking your page often to see what fruit varieities are working out for you. Thanks for sharing.:)
Keep Smiling, Amy :)

    Bookmark   March 31, 2008 at 4:18PM
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Got to throw in my agreement on TV and lifestyle comments. Jump in and plant a garden and an orchard- your life will improve in a myriad of ways! An ancient Chinese proverb goes something like: If you want to be happy for a day, drink some wine. If you want to be happy for a week, hide away with your lover. If you want to be happy for a lifetime, plant a garden.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 9:29AM
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theaceofspades(7 Long Island)


In zone 5 where you are, 4 in a hole is not a good idea. This idea of 4 trees in a hole is pushed by Dave Wilson Nurseries, the largest fruit tree grower in the world. California is primarily zones 8, 9 and 10. They have a long growing season, eternal sunshine, along with urban sprawl, 4 in a hole is the way to go. Many posters above have ripening fruit already on their trees. In zone 5, peaches, pears, most plums, and many apples are at their northern growing limit. The ground maybe still frozen and the flower and leaf buds have not even begun to swell. Planting 4 trees in a hole would decrease the amount of sunshine, nutrients water for each tree. Weak trees are more likely to get disease. A beginner planting 4 in a hole in zone 5 would have few fruits if any. Plant fruit trees in full sunshine spaced apart like the nursery recommends. then the trees will perform as intended if cared for. High density fruit tree plantings are for ideal warm climate conditions or expert tree growers, not moms with 8 kids to take care of, in marginal growing conditions.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 2:02PM
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I'm guilty as charged by theaceofspades above, and everything he says about here is true. We have peaches the size of golf balls, apples the size of acorns, and nectarines the size of olives already (also picked the first blueberries a week ago). I will pick the last of the Pink Lady apples in February, a couple weeks after the first of next season's Anna apples blossom.

On the other hand, if I had listened to conventional wisdom, I would have believed the university master gardeners, ag extension agents, and nurserymen who told me the inland valleys of Southern California are not cold enough to grow apples. Instead, I grow 100 varieties on less than 400 hours of chill. Sometimes you just have to try it...


    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 9:02PM
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chills71(Zone 6b Mi)

Aplpenut...I'm not impressed....Now if you had said OLIVES the size of NECTARINES then I would be impressed.

I am breaking the spacing rules on almost everything I have (40+ trees, 1/8th acre) and yes, I still have a front and back lawn...

I would encourage the original poster to plant 2-3 trees tightly together and learn the art of grafting (though I will admit I am at the point where I must give up or do this myself).


    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 9:55PM
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I don't know how difficult it is to take care of four trees in one hole in zone 5. I'm just starting out doing this in zone 9. Perhaps it is not a great idea -- I honestly don't know.

But my grandmother was one of 16 children on a farm in the interior of northern Maine, probably about zone 4. Her mother cooked, cleaned, gardened and raised those kids without any help from modern conveniences. I'm not saying that a mother of 8 children should garden, or indeed should do anything else, but if she wants to try, then bless her. If it doesn't work, so what? An experiment didn't turn out as planned. No big deal. Life is an adventure, after all.


    Bookmark   April 1, 2008 at 11:07PM
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As a single working mother of two, I would say that the four in one tree planting is so much easier than a single tree. When I moved into this home, there were a number of single fruit trees in the back yard. The apricots were the messiest, producing a glut of fruit at my work's busiest time, attracting critters, bees, and bugs that would sting and scare the children, raccoons and possums that would set the dogs off barking all night, waking the neighborhood. It's easy to see why some people hate fruit trees in the landscape.
All my trees since then have been dwarf hedge or four in one plantings. The trees produce a smaller, manageable number of fruit for months at a time, enough to eat fresh as they ripen, share with neighbors, and not have to worry about preserving, distributing, or rotting fruit with stinging insects all over the place. Taking care of them is distributed over time as well, so easier overall. Fewer critters at night. Everyone gets more sleep.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 11:05AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Ace, I think there are enough people who have succeeded with the close planting ideas outside of California (myself included) that it can be called a success. Also there is nothing new about the idea of close planting, it has been used for hundreds of years but as part of a fancy pruning system such as vertical cordon. Dave Wilson and Company just simplified it.

Re: vigor, the problem is not lack of vigor but too much of it, so the trees can grow too fast and into each other. When you have too many leaves you can get more diseases and less fruit. But once the proper balance via pruning has been learned it generally goes fine. The short trees are in fact also a lot easier to care for because there is no need to use a ladder. That is why most new commercial orchards are pedestrian (no ladder needed): labor to pick and prune is now the dominant cost and anything to decrease that is a must-do.


    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 12:48PM
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theaceofspades(7 Long Island)

scott, I've seen 2nd leaf columnar apples on wires loaded down with big red fruit. High density is the best commercial way. My previous post tells why I believe 4 in a hole is not good in zone 5. This year upstate NY cabin in zone 5A I've planted 3 willow trees around a pond, 10 different varieties of pear, 12 oaks various kinds. I've vase pruned and sprayed dozens of apples and plums as well. St. Lawrence is shipping 6 more trees.

The zone # gives roughly the number of growing months for your trees. You and I are in zone 7. Our flower and leaf buds are popping open now in early April. The leaves will fall off in November. 7 months growing season in zone 7. Trees bloom upstate in mid May. Leaves fall mid October. 5 months growing season. Peaches in zone 10 will be ripe in May when the peaches bloom in zone 5. Zone 10 has about 10 months growing season. After the peaches, the trees just grow for 6 more months in zone 10. So planting 4 in a hole reduces pruning, saves space and increases variety. On the other hand, 4 in 1 planting of fruit trees at their northern growing limits just makes trees more prone to winter injury and disease not to mention lower quantity of fruit.

Link* I see Dave Wilson Nursery has a follower in Nebraska, zone 5. Looks like one tree dominates. The limbs on the smaller bare root trees only grew about 16" because the trees are planted too close. My single spaced DWN bare root plum and pluot I planted last spring are 7 and 8 feet tall. High density in a short growing season doesn't make sense when you have the room.

Here is a link that might be useful: 4 in one hole

    Bookmark   April 3, 2008 at 10:18PM
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heirloom_newbie(Z5b Nebraska)

Being the "Dave Wilson Follower" from Nebraska, I must give, "the rest of the story"...
The large tree in the first picture is a cherry tree planted several years before the other two. It is 5 years old, suffered thru a hailstorm and the 2007 cold spell. The other trees are now in their second year, and are most likely going to catch up to the older tree. Same with the second picture of the apple trees...The taller tree is 3 yrs old and the others are now in the ground one whole year as of next month.
I am by no means an expert, but I, too, am trying new things. A photo just does not tell the whole story at all. Time will tell if this is a great idea, or just folly. But either way, I will have learned something and enjoyed myself.
I think the original poster has more than enough information to make an informed decision and try it out and learn from it.
my 2 cents

    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 4:29PM
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theaceofspades(7 Long Island)


Advice from the best cherry grower in the world;

"The Olmsteads always leave 20 feet between any two trees. When the trees are mature, this spacing allows 50 percent sunlight under the canopy.

Sunlight is what gives the cherry its color and sweetness. Less exacting growers cram trees together, preventing lower branches from catching sun. They spread sheets of Mylar on the ground to reflect light, which helps develop color but not sweetness."They get the color, but they're picked green," Don Olmstead Jr. says, to satisfy eager retailers.

Olmstead picks no cherry before it's ready. He takes too much pride in those trees."

You got to transplant those cherry trees apart for success. DWN is the largest fruit tree grower in the world, don't let them bush whack you.

Here is a link that might be useful: Rainier cherries are the peak of the crop

    Bookmark   April 6, 2008 at 3:55PM
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zhangqj(Z9b CA)

4-n-1 means that four trees growing together as if they are one tree. They are not meant to be four trees shading each other. I don't see how Don Olmstead leaving 20 feet in between his 1-n-1 tree has anything relevant to the BYOC.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2008 at 7:17PM
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greenwitch(Sz19 SoCal)

I was new to growing fruit 3 years ago and followed DWN's advice on 4 in a hole, "fedge" (hedge of fruit trees), etc. It has been very successful for me as well. I have 4 persimmons in a hole (spaced 2' apart) that have fruited well the second year. I have a fedge ~30'long mostly stonefruit, with the odd pomegranite, mulberry bush and rose mixed in. I have cherries and peaches 2 in a hole. It's working well. The only thing I can think of that hasn't been mentioned and that might be considered is pruning requirements. Peaches for example can be cut back quite severely to keep them in check - they bloom on new wood while apricots, apples, pears and plums develop fruiting spurs which fruit over and over, year after year. Some apples are tip-bearing, cut them back and no fruit. So bear that in mind. Once you get all your trees in, you can graft on different cultivars on to become a branch of yet another type or harvest date - cool eh?

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 5:15PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Ace, there have been literally hundreds of scientific studies on what pruning and planting systems get the most sunlight to the leaves and the biggest and best fruit. The bottom line is the guy quoted in that article you mention is pretty much completely discredited today. With a large tree the middle area gets almost no sun so is just "wasted space" as far as fruit goes. See below for one article on this topic. Good Fruit Grower is a leading industry magazine.


Here is a link that might be useful: cherry growing article

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 8:04PM
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theaceofspades(7 Long Island)

Scott, I have said it before, high density is the best commercial way. I already have purchased for a friend a Black gold Cherry on Gisela rootstock. But, the article you cite says to plant Cherry trees 6 feet apart on Gisela 5. DWN pushes growing 4 semi dwarf trees 18 inches apart. This works great in climates with 9 months growing season. The good folks on this thread backing DWN 4 in 1 hole are from California. I would grow 4 in a hole in warm climates. The posters preciousamy and heirloom are in zone 5. I have experience growing fruit trees in zone 5 and zone 7. In zone 5 the actual temperatures get around -20 several times a year. Four trees planted 18" apart would stress the trees in zone 5.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2008 at 9:32PM
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hi - i'm new here, but did do the background reading on high density fruit question: i'm in s. utah (moab) - am getting ready to 3- and 4- in one with my fruit trees - i was reading a thread where the poster asked:
"so can i place all three 5gal buckets(with the bottoms cut out) in the hole?? will that work??? only reason ide like to do that is i once heard that the buckets serve as a guide for the roots to shoot more downward rather than outward - "
this makes sense to me, but there were no responses. has anyone tried this? thanks - libby

    Bookmark   October 16, 2008 at 1:01PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


Don't think you can "direct" the roots to grow in any pattern. I'd be concerned about the roots of any potted tree being pot bound. If the roots are growing in a circle inside the pot, they need to be spread out or cut if they cann't be spread. I'd never plant a tree in a 5 gal bucket with the bottom cut out. The roots inside that bucket are going to girdle themselves. Plus the tree isn't going to be well anchored. Very bad idea IMHO.

The roots of most trees will grow mostly outward rather than down. There is little you can do to influence this pattern. OK, planting them in a bucket with the bottom cut out would influence root growth, but not in a good way. Much better to spread the roots out at planting so they can grow naturally.

The Fruitnut

    Bookmark   October 16, 2008 at 2:48PM
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thankee, that makes good sense -
hey, another quick question. i've really been doing a bunch of research on the high density methods for home orcharding, but i haven't found the answer to this question: i get that pruning occurs in the summer - heavy pruning - but what about this time of year, as i'm planting my orchard? in other words - i got a most excellent deal on 11 trees (5 gal. sale trees) - i feel sure they are of mixed (and underterminable) age - some younger, some maybe 2-3 years old - the question: when i sit them in their 3- or 4- to-a-holes, some of them will be quite tall (12-15'). do i wait until next summer to take them down to approximately knee height? such that they go through the winter here in moab, at their current height? many thanks - cool info. here - much appreciated for those of us out in the sticks....libby

    Bookmark   October 16, 2008 at 5:35PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


You do need to cut these trees back at some point. I won't do it in the middle of the summer, don't have to tell you it gets very hot there in summer. I'd probably do it early next spring. Then train the new growth to the positions where you need it. You will probably need to begin some summer pruning either next summer or in 2010. If you do summer pruning frequently, like every 6wks, there will be less danger of sunburn.

The Fruitnut

    Bookmark   October 17, 2008 at 10:10AM
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