How far apart should fruit trees be planted? This is one of the most commonly asked questions when someone sets out to plant an orchard, or a row of cordons, espaliers or fan trained fruit trees.
The short answer is that free standing fruit trees should be planted one metre further apart in the row and two metres further apart between rows than the total mature width of the tree. So if an apple tree will end up 3 metres across (diameter) then plant it 4 metres away from its neighbour in the same row and 5 metres away from the corresponding tree in the next row.
Cordon fruit trees, espaliers and fan trained trees should be planted so they do not touch when fully grown.
The answers are simple, but because fruit trees vary, they may need a little explanation.
Fruit tree orchards first.
An orchard is simply a collection of free standing fruit trees. Emphasis here in the phrases “free standing” and “fruit trees”.
Orchards are free standing – the last thing you want is to have to renew stakes and ties used to support trees because their own roots are not strong enough to do the job. Inevitably the stake breaks when the tree is in full fruit (at its heaviest) and tree and crop are both lost.
Orchards are collections of fruit trees. It is rare in domestic gardens and smallholdings to have single variety orchards. Most commercial orchards are multi-variety as well although they tend to be single species (i.e apple trees only). In smaller orchards, it is perfectly usual to have a mix of species as well, so apples can grow with cherries, plums and pears.
For a free standing form such as an apple tree to be self supporting it needs to be growing on a rootstock of sufficient vigour to produce the root system large enough to anchor the tree in winds and when laden with fruit. For apples the rootstocks required would be M111, MM106 or M25. Try to make sure these are grown in the UK as we advise on our homepage. The rootstock you choose determines the eventual size of the tree. So MM106 and M111 trees should be planted between 4-5 metres apart, while M25 trees will need at least 6 metres.
Apples are the most widely grown fruit tree in the UK; an orchard survey in the West Country a couple of years ago revealed that over 4 out of 5 fruit trees grown in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire were apples. Over half of the remainder were pears with cherries coming a poor third.