An urban orchard is a collection of fruit trees planted in a public space. Urban orchards are planted in public parks, school and church yards, and on abandoned lots. These orchards are shared resources, not managed for profit. What they have in common is that they are cared for by a community of people.
Urban orchards are planted for many reasons. They increase the public’s access to healthy, organic fruit – especially in areas where the population cannot afford healthy, fresh food. They teach young people where their food comes from. They allow ordinary people to develop organic fruit tree growing skills. And they can make an ordinary park or green space into a community centre, where residents volunteer together to care for and harvest the trees. Urban orchards also are a place of celebration. Many groups organize harvest and blossom festivals, cider pressing events, canning workshops and more.
Benefits of an urban orchard
An urban ecological fruit tree orchard provides many benefits for your home, community and the environment in general. Among other things, here are some of the benefits:
-fresh organic fruits (15-30 lbs of nutrient dense food & medicine per tree every season)
-mulch & shade for the garden (reduced garden water evaporation & irrigation needs)
-shade and cooling for your home (home energy savings)
-absorption of CO2 and other air pollutants
-no need for chemical pesticides and herbicides
-garden & neighborhood ecosystem biodiversity (community resilience)
-habitat for beneficial native birds, insects and animals (local ecology conservation)
-improved soil water retention and healthy local hydrology (resilience to drought)
-natural therapy & healing (less trips to the doctor)
-reduced trips to and dependency on grocery stores (money savings / independence)
-increased property values
Planting an orchard
Fruit trees are well suited to the urban environment as they can be trained or grown on dwarfing rootstocks to fit into small spaces. Once the trees settle in, they require very little maintenance compared to annual vegetables, making them perfect for urban setting!
Here are some important factors to consider when planting an urban orchard!
Most fruit trees require 6-8 hours of sunlight for good growth and fruit ripening although as a general rule of thumb, cooking varieties require fewer hours. So, it’s useful to know how much sun the site receives in the growing season and whether there are any shady spots.
Buildings and trees are the usual sources of shade. Having a map with you and aiming to be on site around midday will help you to determine where south is, and how sunny the sight is when the sun is at its highest point. Try to identify useful microclimates, such as sunny vertical spaces for trained forms like fans. Remember – such microclimates in towns and cities offer the best chance for growing more tender fruits like peaches and apricots. Semi-shaded areas can be used for cooking fruit. Mark these areas out on your map before drawing on possible positions of trees. This will help you to remember good positioning on the day of planting which is likely to be up seven or eight months later.
The ideal soil for fruit trees is well-drained, un-compacted, loamy soil with a pH of 6 (slightly acidic). The best way to get an idea of what kind of soil is present is to take some random samples using a trowel or spade. Good soil should be easy to dig once the top layer of turf is removed. Simple soil tests can then be carried out for texture and acidity. The key thing to remember is that most soils can be improved over time, and as the trees will be growing in the same spot for decades to come, we can improve this soil through ongoing additions of organic matter, namely in the form of mulch. In many urban situations, you’ll find areas where builder’s rubble has been buried. Don’t worry too much about this, you can remove some of it during planting, but less fussy rootstock like MM106 will be able to deal with this. The more information you can get about the soil before the planting, the better idea we’ll have of any specific improvements that’ll need to be made in the future; this can form part of your group’s overall strategy.
Ideally there should be at least 2ft of soil before you hit any solid substrate like rock, concrete foundations etc. Most of a tree’s feeder roots will occur in the top 2 feet of soil. Trees planted in shallow soils may need staking permanently to stop them falling over in the wind, as will many dwarf rootstocks.
Frost Pockets and Standing Water
Ask people who know the site well, if they can recall any areas that become flooded during the winter. Most fruit trees do not like to be in for standing water for too long, so avoiding these areas is important. Frost pockets are areas where cold air can’t escape, usually at the bottom of a slope where there is a wall or hedge. The cold air flows downhill and accumulates here and can’t escape, meaning that they stay frosty long after other areas have thawed. This can damage fruit buds and these areas are best avoided. Those with good observation skills will know the areas which remain frosty or snow covered after the rest has thawed. Try to avoid planting in those spots.
It is vital that the site has easy access to a water point. This is a key consideration as regular watering is crucial during the first few years of establishment and during times of drought thereafter. The local council or housing authority may be able to fit a new stand pipe and tap. Hoses going from neighbors outdoor and kitchen taps may also be an option, though access will have to be arranged and may be problematic when those people are away. Roof surfaces suitable for rainwater collection should be identified during the initial visit and the group encouraged to consider rainwater harvest; rain water is much better for the trees and the soil microorganisms vital to healthy tree growth (chlorine will damage mycorrhizas for example). The bigger water butt you can afford the better, as they soon run dry during warm periods.
Spacing and Layout
The arrangement of the trees will largely be determined by the shape and features of the site, and will vary from site to site. Traditionally, orchards are planted in a grid formation, in rows of trees from North to South to maximize how much sun reaches each tree. Some open, sunny urban sites with good soil will allow for this (if indeed you desire this rather rigid, man-imposed order! Some prefer curves…). Others will be clusters of trees here and there where suitable ground allows (this is more typical of estates that have myriad pieces of grassy land scattered around). The most important thing is that each tree is positioned in a place that receives sufficient sun and soil depth, is well drained and is not too close to other trees or large shrubs. Spacing between fruit trees should be generous to allow for competition-free root and canopy growth. For MM106 trees we plant 5m apart, for M26 3.5-4m apart. This spacing then allows sufficient light to reach the ground so that guild species may then be planted in subsequent years if desired (herbs, soft fruit). If planting close to an existing tree, the ultimate size of that tree must be considered i.e. a 4m tall oak is likely to grow much taller and wider, so planting 5m away is not likely to be sufficient. A certain level of prediction may be needed. If in doubt, always give more space than you think the tree will need.
There are lots of ways to shape fruit trees depending on the priorities of the grower and the space available but pruning is not just about pretty forms. Pruning can help trees to fight off infections by allowing for good ventilation and should encourage your trees to produce more fruit.
In a community orchard there are many factors that influence how we manage the trees, such as highlighting the beauty of fresh, local fruit; bringing life and vitality to parks and streets; and creating habitat for urban wildlife.
The open-centred bush tree meets our requirements, as it is relatively straightforward to prune, low enough to be accessible for fruit harvest and encourages trees to develop habitat features such as hollows when they are older.
If you have a smaller space, trained forms such as cordons, espaliers, or fan-shaped trees are perfect and you can even plant your trees in containers if you don’t have open ground.
In natural growth a tree will have a central leader –the branch that grows tallest through the middle of the tree and a structure of lateral or side branches that form the rest of the tree. In an open centered tree the central leader is removed and four to five scaffold branches, the main limbs that support the fruit-bearing lateral shoots, are developed through formative pruning.
The point where a branch forks or where a main limb joins the trunk is called the crotch. Strong crotches have a minimum 45° degree angle. Narrower joins than this may form a weak union that can result in splitting.
Trees have two types of buds, the flat, scale-like buds on the left that may develop into a leaf or new branch and the rounded, furry buds growing on offshoots, or ‘spurs’, that will develop into blossom, followed by fruit.
It is important to make a good, clean pruning cut about 1/2cm above a bud facing in the direction of desired growth. The cut should slant away from the bud to prevent water runoff collecting around the bud, leading to rot.
When to Prune
Generally prune pip fruits (apples and pears) in the winter and stone fruits (plums, cherries) in the summer. However, there are times when you prune apples in the summer.
Harvested fruits and nuts are living things—they use O2 and give off CO2 in respiration. Fruit should be harvested when it is ready to pick or mature. Harvesting at the time of optimum maturity will produce the best quality fruit. Harvesting when fruit is cool (early morning) and cooling the fruit as soon as possible promotes quality and shelf life.
Harvest most fruits by twisting and lifting the fruit up, not by pulling straight down from the spur or branch. Proper technique is important for minimizing bruises and injuries. Place fruits gently in your harvesting container. Do not just drop them in. Softer fruits require more careful handling to avoid bruises, but firmer fruits at harvest require more careful handling to avoid skin punctures.
- Mature: the stage that will ensure ripening after the fruit is harvested.
- Optimum maturity: that point of maturity when fruit has reached its best quality for harvest.
- Ripe: the point where fruit will start to deteriorate if not eaten.
Ripening differs among different types of fruits. In many species such as berries, stone fruits, nuts, figs, and grapes, ripening occurs prior to harvest. In others, such as pear, quince, late apples, persimmons, European pears, and avocados, ripening takes place largely or entirely after harvest—they must not be tree-ripened. Fruit softens after it is picked. Some pears may change ground or skin color.
There are many measures of maturity. Some require specialized instruments and are not always practical for the home orchardist. The following chart lists a variety of measures of maturity.
|Type of Test||Used For|
|Days from Bloom||Pears, Apples|
|Size||Characteristic of variety, most fruits|
|Shape (fullness)||Stone fruits|
|External Color||All fruits (e.g. ground color change in Golden Delicious, over color changes in red or purple fruit)|
|Seeds (darkening)||Pome fruits|
|Firmness (pressure tests)||Pome and Stone fruits|
|Soluble Solids||Pome, stone, kiwi|
Post Harvest Handeling
Fruit remains alive and respires after it is harvested. Lowering storage temperatures will slow the respiration rate and enzymatic activity of the fruit and prolong storage life. Freezing damages fruit.
Objectives in good harvesting and handling practices are:
- Harvest when fruit is mature
- Place fruit in optimum conditions for maximum storage life
- Be able to ripen fruit to full quality
- What Tree Is That?
The National Arbor Day Foundation
- eNature.com Field Guide
One of the web’s premier destination for information about the wild animals and plants of the United States.
- Know Your Trees: A Guide to the Identification of New York State Forest Trees
Cornell University Extension
- National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region
- Peterson Field Guide Series – A Field Guide to Eastern Trees
- National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Trees of North America
- Tree Finder: A Manual for the Identification of Trees
- Winter Tree Finder: A Manual for Identifying Deciduous Trees in Winter
- Trees with Don Leopold
State University of New York – ESF Tree ID Video Collection
A Collection of 120 videos, each about 3 minutes in length, outlining the characteristics of common trees
- Identification and Ecology of Common Northeastern Hardwood Trees
Cornell University Extension
A 1-hour comprehensive video introduction to 50 common tree species
- Tree Identification Part One
- Tree Identification Part Two: Using a Field Guide
Mobile and Smartphone Tree ID Apps
- ESRI Tree Collector App
This app from ESRI has been customized for collecting information on the trees at the Forest Park Arboretum. The app is available at the following sites –
This app from researchers at Columbia University, University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institution takes an interesting approach to helping you identify plant species. It uses visual recognition software — snap a photo of a plant leaf and it will figure out what species you’re looking at. The database includes images of not only leaves but also flowers, fruits, seeds and bark to help identify a species.
- MyNature Tree Guide
This handy app has two databases for searching by leaf or by needle, so you can identify over 190 tree species found across the U.S. and Canada. You can search by leaf or needle, or you can even search by question. It includes a ruler for measuring out leaf or flower sizes for more accurate identification, and also has a journal for recording your sightings along with other bonus features.
- Audubon’s Field Guide to North American Trees
With 716 North American tree species included in this app, you’ll be able to identify the species of most any tree around. It includes notes on leaves, bark, fruits, seeds and more so you have multiple tools for identifying a species. The app also includes gorgeous photos to sort through.
- Virginia Tech Tree Identification
This app brings the award winning Virginia Tech digital dendrology material to your Android or iPhone device. It contains fact sheets for 969 woody plants from all over North America with an in depth description, range map and thousands of color images of leaves, flowers, fruit, twigs, bark and form.
Mapping and Cataloging
- The Waugh Arboretum at UMass Amherst
An interactive viewer of campus trees by Todd Beals, a Regreen Springfield Board Member and a member of the UMass Campus Planning Office
- Washington Park Arboretum Interactive Map
University of Washington Botanic Gardens
- vPlants: A Virtual Herbarium
The Morton Arboretum, the Field Museum of Natural History, and the Chicago Botanic Garden developed vPlants (“virtual Plants”) as an online, searchable database to provide free web access to data and digital images of plant specimens collected in the Chicago Region. The project began in January 2001 and was initially funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services
- Creating a Digital Map of the Arboretum
University of Washington Botanic Gardens
- Introduction to Google My Maps
Create custom maps to share and publish online with Google My Maps. You can make maps that show different kinds of information.
- The ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program
This program was created to establish and share a widely recognized set of industry standards for the purpose of unifying the arboretum community and providing a mechanism for benchmarking and guidelines for professional development. The ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program recognizes arboreta at various levels of development, capacity, and professionalism.
- Oak Park named one of first municipal arboretums
- Creating a Herbarium
- Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University | Boston, Massachusetts
The Arnold Arboretum is the oldest public arboretum in North America and one of the world’s
leading centers for the study of plants. Administered by the Office of the Provost of Harvard
University and a vital link in the Emerald Necklace of parks in Boston, Arnold is a unique blend
of respected research institution and beloved public landscape. It provides and supports worldclass
research, horticulture, and education programs that foster the understanding, appreciation,
and preservation of trees. Arnold is filled with things to do and see, so plan to spend a whole day
or afternoon there.
- Connecticut College Arboretum | New London, Connecticut
The Connecticut College Arboretum provides a welcome involvement with the natural world,
offering opportunities for teaching, research, conservation, recreation and public education.
Including the campus itself, the Arboretum encompasses approximately 750 acres of preserved
open space in southeastern Connecticut. Once a farm surrounded by woodlands, the Arboretum
lets visitors explore its diverse collection of natives and botanicals, to watch a show at the
outdoor Flock Theater, or to just simply wander and enjoy the beauty of this precious natural
resource filled with wondrous beauty.
- Berkshire Botanic Garden
Called “a glistening community gem” by Virginia Small, author of the book Great Gardens of the Berkshires, the Garden’s mission is to fulfill the community’s need for information, education and inspiration concerning art and science of gardening and the preservation of our environment. Our public display gardens are open May to mid-October. Both functional and ornamental, they are among the oldest in the US and have been expanded over the years in breadth and variety through a series of bequests and major gifts. Our collections emphasize plants that are indigenous to or thrive in the Berkshires.
- The Botanic Garden of Smith College
The Botanic Garden is the living laboratory for a variety of courses as well as numerous research projects. It is also a workplace and training institution–for work-study students and interns and for the skilled Botanic Garden staff. Students have valuable and exciting opportunities to work directly with living plants as part of their academic studies. All departments and students are encouraged to incorporate the campus landscape and our collection of living plants into your studies. Today, the Botanic Garden includes thousands of plants, including those grown under glass in the Lyman Conservatory and outdoors in the campus arboretum — our landscape for learning — and various specialty gardens around campus. Additionally, there are 60,000 pressed specimens available for research in the herbarium. Botanic Garden activities and collections include not only plants but also books and other resource materials (including our newsletter, Botanic Garden News), an international seed exchange, research and conservation, and diverse events. Yet the living plant specimens are the heart of the Botanic Garden and our bridge to the rest of the botanical world, past, present, and future.
- Frank A. Waugh Arboretum at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst
The campus of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Contains many unusual and outstanding specimen trees and gardens. This rich legacy is due to the vision and achievements of our predecessors. William S. Clark, the University’s third president. Clark traveled to Hokkaido, Japan to establish an agricultural university. Clark and his successor, Professor William Penn Brooks, brought back a number of outstanding Japanese plants towards the end of the 19th century, some of which remain today. In the early 20th century, the campus arboretum flourished under the inspired direction of Frank A. Waugh, the first head of the Landscape Architecture Department. In 1944, President Hugh Potter Baker officially recognized the campus arboretum as a memorial to Waugh and his contribution to the campus landscape. Since Waugh’s time, the campus has grown profoundly. While the earlier rural fabric of the campus has been changed, the older trees remain as living testimonials of the University’s history. In recent years, a number of significant plantings, gardens, and art sites have been added to the campus continuing the tradition of Clark, Brooks and Waugh. There is much to discover in this “landscape for learning”.
Click here for a map and walking tour guide.
April 13, 2016 Workshop Materials Distributed in Class
April 23, 2016 Field Data Collection Materials