Great Lakes Permaculture

Planning Your Backyard Orchard

Coffee – Backyard Booster

Although we are once again covered in snow, that brief period with 50 degree temperatures made me pull out my garden catalogs and dream about my backyard orchard.  So let’s look at a few basic so you can plan your own.


Size of the tree

Standard can grow up to 25 feet tall

Semi-Standard can grow 12-15 foot tall

Semi-Dwarf can grow 10-12 foot tall

Dwarf can grow 6-10 foot tall


Amount of time you plan to spend taking care of the orchard.  Larger trees can take more time and effort to manage, consider how much time you have available to devote to your orchard.  If you want large trees for your grandchildren to be able to climb in the coming years then by all means plant them.  Most of us are pressed for time, we want to perform the minimal amount of work and get the most from our time spent in the garden and orchard.  So plan accordingly.


Once you know what size of tree you plan to purchase, you will be faced with additional choices such as bare root or containerized, heirloom and nature friendly, what size caliper do you want, and what variety of fruit.  Here are a few quick answers for you.


Containerized trees are more readily available locally, they can also help you harvest 1-2 years earlier than bare root trees.  Transplant shock is less a problem with container trees, and they are available for a much longer period of time while the bare root trees are only available in the spring.  Training the tree has been started on a container tree, while you will be responsible for training the bare root tree.  And yes as you can tell you are going to pay more for a container tree than a bare root tree.  Because the container trees are harder to ship, you could be forced into a smaller selection of trees that are available at your local nursery.  While you might be familiar with the names at your local nursery such as a Red Delicious apple, but you could be giving up the ability to have some of the latest cultivars that have been developed for you area with greater disease resistance such as the Red Free apple if you only consider container trees.  You can have the bare root trees delivered right to your home, but remember they should be planted immediately upon arrival.


Heirloom fruit trees have a history, they could have been developed for a specific task such as baking, cooking, or cider.  While nature friendly trees have been developed with a higher disease resistance in mind, people that are organically minded could benefit from a nature friendly tree that required less fungicide spray than another variety.  So you will have less impact on your immediate environment and lessen your families exposure to chemicals.


Caliper refers to the American Association of Nurserymen Standards for the size and grade of the tree or plant.  Typical sizes for trees.

Medium – 7/16-1/2 inch diameter and 3-5 foot tall

Large – 1/2-5/8 inch diameter and 4-6 foot tall

Extra large – 5/8 inch and larger diameter and 5-7 foot tall


As for the type of fruit, you will have to determine what your family likes.  Consider also how much one tree can produce, do you plan to preserve your harvest by canning or dehydrating.  If you plan to add multiple trees of the same fruit type, you can pick an early mid and late season variety so you can harvest over a longer period of time for your familys enjoyment.  I picked a few new varieties and a few old varieties due to the type of fruit and the size of fruit that we like.  In particular we all like apples, so based on a local OSU Horticulturalist recommendation, I ordered a Red Free apple tree from Grandpa’s Orchard website.  A link with a picture are shown below for your convenience.


Red Free apple – Grandpa’s Orchard


While it seems a little daunting at times, with a little research and planning you can be enjoying a fruits of your labor for many years to come.  With questions or comments, feel free to contact me at


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