One of the most frequent questions we are asked is “How far apart should I plant my trees?” 

Pears in a High Density planting

The answer to that question isn’t as simple as it first seems.  Many factors go into it including the variety of tree within the species (example Honeycrisp and Winesap apples grow totally different), rootstock, soil type and area of country.  However, the most important factor is really the training or pruning method used.  Most fruit tree types can be trained to increase density, or trees per acre, and also the ultimate size of the tree. 

In the late 60’s the apple growers in this country were starting to be faced with a decline in suitable farmland and also the first competition from imports.  As time went on it became obvious they would have to get more production per acre to keep up.  Not only did this involve a higher density

Pear production in Australia

planting but also required more mechanized handling and harvesting to compete against lower wages. 

Prior to the sixties semi-dwarf trees started to come into vogue and increased the production per acre. Now apple trees were easier to pick and less fruit was lost because it was out of reach on high branches.  Orchards with larger trees might have 100 per acre, now we were approaching 400 per acre.  For comparison we have a density of about 300 per acre at our farm.  A whole new terminology has been developed to discuss what used to be called “spacing”.  We now have the following terms to tell how many trees are commercially planted per acre:

Spindle System of training

Low Density           <  400

Moderate Density   400-1,000

High Density           1,000 – 2,000

If that weren’t enough now the move is to even higher numbers and we have;

“Very High Density” at 2,000 – 3200 and of course  “Ultra High Density” at 3200 and above trees per acres.  I don’t know what will come after UHD, maybe SDHD for Super Dooper High Density?

The pictures shown are generally in the “Moderate High Density” or “High Density” crowd.  As an example if you planted trees 3 feet apart and had alleys of ten feet between the trunks, you would “only” have about 1,250 per acre!  If the old orchards were like people in New Mexico, the new commercial ones must be like people in downtown Manhattan. 

Tall Spindle System on Apples

So to answer the question “How far apart should you plant your trees?”   I guess it depends…  For some reason I am reminded of the old saying. “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it”