Spacing of dwarf fruit trees

mrzeiglerMarch 19, 2011

Hi folks,

I've found conflicting information regarding the spacing of dwarf apple trees. I've seen recommendations range from 8' apart to 15' apart.

What spacing do you guys recommend?

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Dan Staley

The spacing that is dictated by the ultimate size of the plant.


    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 11:51AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

I would disagree with Dan's answer for a number of reasons. First, "ultimate size" of an apple tree, being grown to produce fruit, is largely determined by pruning, not by genetic potential or even by the rootstock. So, "ultimate size" is whatever you make it. Dwarfing rootstock influences growth rate, but not necessarily potential size. Also, spacing should be done to allow good penetration of light and air and to accommodate access for maintenance and harvest. "Ultimate size" is usually not a factor used by apple tree growers to determine proper spacing.

There is no single best answer for proper spacing. The best answer for any one situation is dependent upon a number of factors. Some of these include:

1. Proposed pruning style. This is probably the most important factor. It will determine the shape of your trees. Pruning styles include open-vase, modified central-leader, central-leader, tall-spindle, espalier, etc, etc.

2. Amount of available space. This is another critical factor, and may influence other factors like pruning style and directional orientation.

3. Directional orientation. Trees planted on an east-west axis may have to be planted further apart than trees planted on a north-south axis to ensure best light exposure. When orchards are laid out this is a key factor in determining row orientation and spacing.

4. Maintenance/harvest access. This should be taken into consideration when planning any crop. You may have to consider mowing, pruning, spraying, and crop collection methods.

6. Tree vigor (work required). This is probably the closest thing to Dan's "ultimate size" that I would consider. Dwarfing rootstocks make it easier to maintain a tree at a smaller size. You can keep a full-sized apple tree just as small as one grafted onto a dwarf rootstock, but in practicality, it's much more work. Trees grown on more dwarfing rootstock will be easier to maintain in a smaller space. Also, keep in mind that not all dwarfing rootstocks dwarf to the same degree. There are a range of dwarf rootstocks.

The bottom line is that 8' or 15' or even figures outside that range are all possibilities, but one should consider the factors above (and maybe a few others) when choosing proper spacing.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 11:02PM
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Dan Staley

So, "ultimate size" is whatever you make it.

And the genetic characteristics.

The point being: hard and fast rules using some number without considering anything else is an error. You have to consider how large the plant gets.

And 'ultimate size of the plant' in the context of orchard plants not named naturally includes management.


    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 11:55PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

I think if you told most orchard owners that apple trees should be planted according to their "ultimate size", they'd probably look at you a little funny and then laugh about it when you left. The answer may technically be partly right, but I'm not sure what practical use it has.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 12:45AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

hey guys...

ponder this conundrum ...

will the OP be pruning it for production like an orchard owner ...

or growing like a tree.. and hoping for whatever fruit they will get ..

one option requires it be given the space of its potential..

the other requires much less space because it will be pruned into a bizarre shape to promote production ...

op ... what are your wishes with the tree????


    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 10:50AM
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Look here.

Here is a link that might be useful: Gene's backyard orchard

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 11:06AM
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Most fruit trees need rather frequent pruning to develop a proper habit and to maximize fruiting, so the size of dwarf trees - especially the spread - is usually quite controllable. However, home grown fruits trees are generally not planted in an orchard-type setting, so I'd consider what other limitations might be present - lawns/need for mowing, other plantings, accessibility, number of trees to be planted, etc., and have these factor into the equation. When in doubt, I'd probably err on the generous side :-)

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 12:32PM
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Dan Staley

You are not going to space a tree with a 20-25 foot spread 8 feet on center or from a conflict. That is the point. Just going on some number without considering the plant is an error.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 12:54PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

the link from lucky.. didnt seem to say where the guy was.. so i googled the name..

and came up with a video ...

he is in suburban chicago..

check out the link


Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 1:17PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

That was an awesome video. I've seen Gene's yard before at the link Lucky provided and also on another video, but that one looks to be newer than the other stuff I've seen. Gene makes it look so easy, but he has to have put in a lot of work into that garden. I think most of his trees are on mini-dwarf rootstock, so pruning would require much less vigilance, but there's still spraying and all that work he's done on his hardscape.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 3:04PM
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Dan Staley

That sort of input by Gene is only possible by someone retired, semiretired, or insanely devoted to his hobby. That is a lot of work.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 7:35PM
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