Starting Your Orchard
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The climate and soils here in Union County are well suited to grow many types of fruit trees. The three main tree fruits produced commercially in North Carolina are peaches, apples, and pecans. However, many people also find success with pears, persimmons, plums, and figs because they grow well in our temperate climate.
Now, before you run out and buy seedlings, you need to know the single most important factor in establishing an orchard – choosing the right location. Site selection is the most important decision, and also the first decision you have to make, because this can influence which fruit trees can be successful on your property. Sunlight exposure, soil properties, water availability, and more must be considered. Any potential fruit tree you are considering will want full sun, moist well-drained soil, and proper air drainage, which means trees should be planted on a slope so that cold air from early/late frosts can pool up at the bottom of the slope and avoid freeze damage to your blossoms or fruit. Our spring and autumn temperatures in Union County are cold enough to make this critically important. Just a couple degrees can be the difference between a full harvest and no harvest.
The last part of site selection is having the soil tested. The soils in Union County are generally acidic and low in natural fertility. Additions of lime and fertilizer are required for most crops, and this includes fruit trees. It is crucial to incorporate lime and other amendments into the soil to a depth of 18 inches before planting the orchard. How much to incorporate before planting depends on the soil test result. In North Carolina, you can have your soil tested for free from April 1 – November 30. You can pick up a soil testing kit from your local Extension office.
After this, you can consider which fruit trees to plant. Pecan, chestnuts, figs, and oriental persimmons require the least amount of time and money, as all four of these generally require no fungicide spray. Apples, Asian pears, European pears, and plums require a moderate amount of time and money. And peaches and nectarines are considered high maintenance, requiring numerous fungicide and insecticide treatments throughout the growing season. Of all of these options, pecan would be my first choice as pecan is probably the most proven in Union County as there are numerous small pecan orchards around and they are relatively low maintenance. So look around your property to see if you have room for a few fruit trees, or a few acres of fruit trees.