How to Start Your Own Mini Backyard Orchard

You don’t need a giant farm to grow fruit trees! A mini backyard orchard can produce copious amounts of apples, pears, oranges, and more in the small space of a standard yard. Here’s how to get started with zero experience!

The backyard orchard features neatly spaced trees with gnarled branches, lush green leaves, and clusters of ripe, red and green apples hanging from their boughs, creating a picturesque and bountiful scene.


If you’ve ever wanted to grow an orchard in your backyard or front yard, now is the time to do it! You’ll be shocked by the diversity of fruits you can harvest in a small space. Even a simple 15-foot by 15-foot plot of grass in your backyard can be transformed into a mini orchard of four to six high-yielding fruit trees. Planning, soil preparation, careful varietal selection, and regular pruning are the keys to success.

Let’s dig into 11 simple steps for planting a miniature backyard orchard.

YouTube video

Can You Grow a Mini Orchard in Your Backyard?

The backyard apple orchard showcases rows of trees with gnarled branches, vibrant green leaves, and clusters of red and green apples, with a wooden ladder standing between the trees.
Maximize backyard fruit yields with compact trees and strategic care.

Gardeners can grow a wide variety of fruits in a backyard orchard by using dwarf fruit varieties, high-density spacing, and careful pruning. A collection of just four to six trees can yield a generous harvest of apples, pears, peaches, cherries, berries, or other fruits.

Unlike commercial orchards, backyard fruit growers space trees closer together and practice regular pruning to keep them at a manageable height. Instead of focusing on giant bushels of tree fruit, the goal is to produce moderate quantities of high-quality fruit from a small space. 

11 Steps to Plant a Backyard Orchard

Believe it or not, you don’t need a giant farm to grow fruit. Most of us imagine orchards as several acres of giant trees, but hundreds of varieties of fruit trees can grow in compact spaces like an urban or suburban yard. With proper site selection, planting, and pruning, you can harvest fresh fruits in no time.

Start with South-Facing Orientation

The nectarine tree in the sunny garden displays vibrant, smooth-skinned nectarines nestled among its glossy green leaves, with the fruits' red and yellow hues glowing in the sunlight.
Plant fruit trees in a sunny spot for the sweetest harvests.

Fruit trees need as much light as possible! Almost all tree species require full sun to produce the sweetest, most abundant yields. Trying to grow fruit in a shady area is often a losing game. The trees become leggy, pale, and stunted. Be sure to choose the brightest area of your yard to plant your mini orchard. 

Avoid anywhere that your house or large trees cast a major afternoon shadow. South-facing orientation is best, but you can get away with a southeast or southwest-facing yard as well. North-facing yards may need to switch to the front yard or backyard to ensure a productive mini orchard.

Choose Your Varieties

Close-up of a man dressed in a red checkered shirt and a Panama hat harvesting ripe oranges in wooden boxes from a tree in the garden.
Choose fruit varieties you love.

Varietal selection is extremely important in a small space. You need to choose trees that can handle regular pruning and produce lots of fruit on smaller plants. Dwarf fruit trees are available, and many popular varieties can be grafted or trained to grow with a smaller stature. You may also grow trees and berries in containers that you can move indoors for the winter. 

Even more importantly, you must choose fruits that you already know and love. There is no point in growing an orchard of apples if you don’t eat apples on a regular basis. Think of your favorite berries, stone fruits, citrus, or cherries, and research if these species can grow in your climate. Here is a general guide to where different types of fruit can grow:

Fruit Tree Growing Zone Quick Guide

ApplesGrow best in zones 3-8, though some varieties can thrive in zones 9-10 with proper care.
PearsGenerally suited to USDA zones 4-8, but a few are suited to zone 3 or 9.
CherriesPrefer zones 4-9, with some cold-tolerant cherries suitable for zones 2 and 3.
Peaches Primarily thrive in zones 5-8, but ‘Contender’ peaches are hardy to zone 4.
Figs Best for zones 7-11, with a few varieties surviving in zones 5-6 with winter protection.
Blueberries Ideal for zones 3-7, with some low-chill-hour types for zones 8-9.
BlackberriesAdaptable to zones 5-10, but may need protection in colder zones.
RaspberriesThrive in zones 4-8, with select cultivars suitable for zones 3 and 9.
Lemons Subtropical or tropical zones 9-11 can grow outdoors, but colder zones require containers that can be moved inside for winter.
OrangesNeed warm, frost-free zones 9-11.
GrapefruitsSubtropical and tropical zones 9-11.
Pomegranates Hardy in zones 7-10, with a few container options for colder climates.
Passionfruit Can grow outdoors in zones 8-11.

Unique Cultivars

The pink blueberry bush features glossy, dark green leaves and clusters of vibrant pink berries.
Discover premium fruit trees and berries delivered to your doorstep!

If you can’t find the cultivars you know and love at a local nursery, Epic Gardening now offers live fruit trees and berries delivered straight to your doorstep! These premium nursery-grown plants are available in different pot sizes and arrive with strong roots that are ready to plant in the ground. 

We have a great diversity of unique, highly adaptable fruits with superior flavor. From the coveted ‘Pink Lemonade’ blueberry to specially cold-adapted ‘Contender’ peaches, you can find fruits that may not be available elsewhere. Specialty fruits are not always common at mainstream garden stores, and it’s a lot more fun to grow fruits that you can’t find in supermarkets.

Plant breeders constantly create new cultivars for specific flavors, shapes, textures, and climate adaptations, so it is also helpful to ask your local university extension office about regionally specific fruits.

Check the Chill Hour Requirement 

View of freshly planted leafless young fruit trees in a spring garden, at a distance from each other, against the backdrop of a high burgundy fence.
Understanding chill hours is key for fruitful orchards in any climate.

Why Chill Hours Matter

The chill hour requirement is the most important way to determine whether or not you can grow a certain fruit variety in your area. It is listed on every perennial fruit label and typically says something like “200-300 hours or less under 45°F (7°C).” It’s vital for any aspiring orchardist to understand the meaning of chill hours, so here are the basics:

Cold climate gardeners finally have an advantage when it comes to fruit trees! They usually have a lot more options for pears, cherries, apples, peaches, and berries.

Many people mistakenly believe they must live in a warm climate to grow fruit, but many temperate trees actually need a certain amount of cold. Subtropical and tropical weather are only required for frost-tender trees like oranges, lemons, and grapefruits. Other popular fruits, like apples, pears, cherries, peaches, blueberries, and figs require a minimum period of cold winter weather to produce fruit. 

Determining Chill Hours

Chill hours describe the number of hours a fruit variety needs to experience between 32°F to 45°F (0°C to 7°C) during the winter. Notice how this is a chill period but not a frost period. This term of non-frosted dormancy is crucial for fruit production. If the weather does not get cold enough for a long period of time, the tree may not meet its normal “schedule” of leaf drop, bud growth, and fruit development. Unseasonably warm temperatures and varieties improperly suited to a certain climate are the main reasons why a fruit tree may fail to produce fruits in a given season. 

For example, if you plant a ‘Duke’ blueberry bush in Florida, it won’t be able to produce berries because it is a northern variety that requires 800-1000 chill hours. Similarly, if you grow a ‘Honeycrisp’ apple tree in southern California, it may have trouble yielding apples because it needs the cold winters of zones 3 through 8 with at least 800 chill hours. 

This list outlines the chill hour requirements of the most common fruit and nut tree cultivars. The basics are covered here:

Low Chill Hours (500 and below)

  • Some apples
  • Some peaches
  • Some plums
  • Apricots
  • Avocados (zero chill hours)
  • ‘Stella’ cherries
  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Grapefruits
  • Mulberries
  • Nectarines
  • Figs
  • Almonds
  • Pecans

High Chill Hours (more than 500 chill hours required)

  • ‘Gala’ apples
  • Some peaches
  • Some plums
  • Pears
  • Most cherries
  • Nectarines
  • Walnuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pistachio

Use the University of Purdue’s Chill Hours Map to estimate the chill hours in your area and ensure they match up with the fruit varieties you choose. 

Stagger Harvest Windows

Close-up of a man's hand picking ripe purple plum fruits from a tree in a sunny garden.
Planting a mix of early, midseason, and late varieties ensures continuous harvests.

Harvesting windows is another consideration. Some fruits are labeled as early, midseason, or late fruiting varieties. If you really love cherries, you may want to grow multiple types to ensure you can enjoy them fresh throughout the season.

But if you live in an ultra-cold area with unpredictable springs, you may opt for midseason and late-fruiting varieties to protect fragile flowers. Often, early-season trees produce buds and flowers too soon, and they get knocked out by unexpected late spring frosts.

Prioritize and Understand Dwarf Varieties

The dwarf cherry tree showcases compact, spreading branches adorned with glossy green leaves and clusters of bright red cherries hanging from thin branches.
Grafting creates compact trees with ideal fruit characteristics.

Almost all fruit trees are grafted. This means that a certain variety (called the scion) is spliced or merged onto a stronger variety (called the rootstock). Rootstocks provide disease resistance, vigor, and general size of the tree, but most rootstock varieties do not have exceptional fruit. The grafted scion is bred for the impeccable flavor and texture that we desire but often lacks vigor or disease resistance on its own. The solution is to merge the best qualities of each, and this allows us to plant and enjoy dwarf varieties.

Dwarf trees are smaller, compact versions of our favorite fruits. A dwarf rootstock controls the height of a tree. You’ll often see the label “dwarf,” “semi-dwarf,” or “standard” to describe what type of rootstock the fruit is growing on. For example, standard cherry trees are traditionally quite large, growing 15 to 30 feet tall and wide. A dwarf cherry tree may max out at 8 to 14 feet, yet still produce the same type of fruit.

You can often spot the graft union near the base of a fruit tree where the trunk’s wood looks slightly different. This is where the two types were merged together. Keep in mind that humans have grafted fruit and bred unique varieties for thousands of years. This is not a form of genetic modification. The genes of the plants are not being altered. Instead, farmers and tree breeders are saving seeds from the best trees, planting them, and selecting the saplings with the best qualities. Then, they take cuttings of the best trees and splice them onto branches of the best rootstock.

Dwarf vs. Standard

You do not always need to select dwarf varieties for a backyard mini orchard. The style and frequency of pruning are actually more important for controlling the height. Active pruning is absolutely essential, and we will explain it more below. 

Still, a dwarf rootstock can be helpful for containers and ultra-small areas. It’s even more helpful to seek out rootstocks labeled with certain soil specifications, such as “this rootstock is well-adapted to heavy clay.” 

Choose the Strongest, Healthiest Trees

Close-up of many young fruit tree seedlings in black bags in a nursery.
Choose sturdy, balanced saplings with lush foliage for your orchard.

If you are at a plant nursery, there will be an overwhelming amount of fruits to choose from. It is important to select the strongest, healthiest-looking trees to ensure your mini orchard can take off growing as quickly as possible in your backyard. The health of a sapling (young tree) may affect its transplanting and growth for the rest of its life, so do not skimp on your inspection.

The key signs of a healthy sapling include:

Robust, thick trunk.

Pay special attention to a thick, healthy scion above the graft union

Even, balanced structure.

Branches are close to symmetrical growth on all sides

Lower branching habit.

Helps with pruning and keeping the tree small

Lush, green foliage.

Avoid any yellowing or browning plants


Run far away from any trees with signs of mold, mildew, or blight

Stout height.

You don’t necessarily want the biggest, tallest tree, because a well-branched stout specimen will be easier to prune low for a high-density backyard planting

Avoid excessive low shoots.

Too many shoots near the graft point is a red flag for structural and varietal integrity— avoid wonky trees

Ensure Proper Soil for Specific Fruit Varieties

Close-up of preparing soil with a garden rake in a sunny garden.
Create an acidic soil mix for thriving blueberries.

Not all fruits survive in the same types of soil. Blueberries are particularly finicky because of their special acidic soil requirements and native origins near coniferous forests. It’s best to grow blueberry shrubs in large containers to ensure their needs are met without infringing on the requirements of the surrounding fruit trees. 

Blueberries require super acidic soil— around 4.5 pH. You can find an “acid lover” soil mix that is already designed for azaleas, hydrangeas, camellias, and blueberries. Check the back of the mix and look for ingredients like:

  • Redwood sawdust or any wood sawdust
  • Peat moss
  • Composted waste
  • Fir bark or other coniferous bark
  • Dolomite lime *this is key for a low pH

Fruits in Containers

The young blueberry bushes in large black pots feature slender branches with clusters of vibrant green, oval leaves.
Compact fruits like blackberries and raspberries thrive in large containers.

You can also make use of large containers or grow bags for compact fruits like blackberries and raspberries. These plants do not need the same acidic soil as blueberries, but they do require a large container like a half whiskey barrel or an extra large 100 gallon grow bag with a stake or trellis to train the vines. For the smallest space mini orchard, strawberries are an excellent groundcover, potted plant, or hanging basket addition to provide continuous fruit production throughout the summer.

Do I Need to Amend My Soil?

Close-up of adding organic compost using a large garden shovel to a fruit tree in the garden.
Loosen soil and top dress with compost for healthy growth.

You don’t always need to amend your fruit tree planting holes with a ton of compost. It is a common misconception that you have to fill the hole with compost and fertilizer at planting, but this may not be necessary. You actually want the tree to spread its roots down and out into the native soil. 

However, you can aid this process by properly loosening the soil you have and top dressing with extra compost and nutrients on the surface. Top dressing means adding just two to three inches of compost above the tree planting hole. Fruit trees put out a lot of small “feeder roots” near the surface level, so this is where the bulk of the nutrients are needed. 

Do I Need to Fertilize Fruit Trees?

Close-up of a gardener's hand in a white and blue glove applying granular fertilizer to a currant bush in the garden.
Use slow-release organic fertilizers to boost production.

A compost top dressing and all-purpose fertilizer can be helpful for establishing a backyard mini orchard, but you should avoid overfertilizing. Slow-release organic fertilizers are best because they provide gradual nutrition over time.

You can find specific fertilizers labeled for citrus, fruit, and blueberries (often labeled as azalea or camellia fertilizer). Follow the package instructions to apply a small amount of fertilizer at the time of planting, and you can always side dress more nutrients as the trees get established. 

Before you plant your orchard, take a minute to determine what the fertilizing requirements are for the fruit you want to grow. Choose one that meets your lifestyle. You don’t want to plant a tree in your yard only to find you don’t have time to give it the care it needs throughout the season.

Prepare the Mini Orchard Layout

The orange and lemon trees in the orchard exhibit sturdy, lush green branches laden with glossy, dark green leaves and vibrant fruits in shades of orange and yellow.
Plan the layout of your mini orchard for longevity.

When you finally have all your trees, soil, containers, and fertilizers, it’s time to determine the layout of the mini orchard. This can be a bit like a game of Legos or Tetris because you’ll need to move things around until you find the best layout for permanent planting. Remember that fruit trees can grow for decades or longer, so you’ll want to ensure proper spacing at the very beginning. Moving a young fruit tree is possible but not ideal, and transplanting a mature tree is not recommended.

First, take note of which trees will retain their leaves and which ones will drop them. In colder zones, apples, pears, and cherries are deciduous, meaning they drop their leaves in the winter. When deciduous trees drop their leaves, it opens up your garden to more winter sunlight, which may be beneficial for neighboring beds with winter vegetables or winter-flowering shrubs like viburnum.

In warmer zones, trees like lemons, oranges, kumquats, and avocados are evergreen, which means they retain their leaves throughout the winter. Place evergreen trees in the front of the orchard for the most aesthetic appeal and full sun exposure.

Height and Slope

Next, consider the eventual height of each tree and the slope of your hard. The goal of a mini backyard orchard is to keep all the trees at a height of around 6 to 8 feet tall. This low pruning ensures access to all of the fruit and keeps the trees at a manageable size so they don’t overcrowd each other.

Keep the tallest trees at the top of the slope to avoid casting large amounts of shade, and place the shorter trees at the bottom of a south-facing slope to maximize sun exposure. A tall, fast-growing species like a date palm or an apple is best for the far back. You can also use bushier species like palms or espalier trees as privacy hedges along the side of your yard.


Close-up of an orchard with young, freshly planted apple and pear fruit trees with thin whitewashed trunks.
Space trees five to eight feet apart for optimal growth and maintenance.

Most mini orchards space their trees with five to eight feet between each tree. The bare minimum spacing between fruit trees is four feet, but you can only pull this off with regular pruning. The spacing really depends on how much pruning you are willing to do. An ultra-dense backyard mini orchard must be pruned several times a year to ensure the trees are properly shaped without competing with each other for nutrients. If you want a lower maintenance orchard, widen the spacing to five to six feet between trees.

Also, consider the canopy width of the trees. Figs can grow as a multi-stemmed bush or as a central trunk tree. Their roots can be a little crazy, so you don’t want to place them too close to your house. 

Stone fruits like cherries and nectarines have a vase-like structure with larger canopies that appreciate more space. Apples and pears are ideal for espalier (fence-like) training. 

Container blueberries and vines work well in spaces near a patio or alongside your house because they remain compact. Lowbush varieties are best for containers because they don’t get as giant as highbush types. These woodland berry shrubs can handle a little more shade than most fruits, but you still want to give them as much sunshine as possible. Too much shade can reduce the amount of blossoms and overall fruit yields. Aim for one blueberry shrub every two to three feet or one plant per 20-gallon or larger container. 


Close-up of a gardener planting a fruit tree in a hole dug in the soil in the garden.
Plant in mid-spring, ensuring proper depth and spacing.

After all the extensive preparation for an orchard, planting is one of the most rewarding parts! Of course, your first harvests in the next one to three years will be the most exciting. But first, you have to get the trees in the ground. Fortunately, this process is very simple! 

The best time to plant fruit trees is in mid-spring when the risk of frost has passed.

To transplant fruit saplings:

  1. Dig a hole about the size of the container, just a little bigger. There is no need to dig an extra huge hole.
  2. Go straight into the native soil.
  3. There is no need to amend the soil, as you want your tree to dig into the native ground.
  4. Plant citrus a little up on a mound because they strongly dislike wet roots, especially in heavy clay.
  5. Other trees can be planted at the same depth as they were in their container or slightly elevated by two to three inches above the graft for grafted trees.
  6. Gently pound the edges of the fruit tree’s pot to loosen the roots.
  7. Use two people to gently pull the pot away from the roots, holding it by the trunk.
  8. Place the root ball in the hole and rotate it around to put the smaller branches toward the south. This will encourage balanced growth.
  9. Backfill the soil you dug out to cover any exposed roots.
  10. Step down lightly around the roots to help the soil settle in place. Don’t cram the soil down, but give them a good “tucking in.”
  11. Add a final topcoat of compost or potting soil, ensuring the graft is 2-3” above the surface.

The number one mistake people make when planting fruit trees is planting them too deep. The graft union (between the rootstock and scion) should never be buried under soil or mulch. Leave just two to three inches of the grafted trunk above the soil surface. If you planted it too deep, try to fix your mistake right away by lifting the tree up with a shovel or pitchfork and putting more soil underneath.

Be very careful about loosening the root balls of fruit trees. Most trees will loosen themselves as they are removed from the pot. Some species, like avocados, are super sensitive to root disturbance. If you rake your fingers through the rootball of an avocado, the tree may suffer from a really bad transplant shock. Avocados are unique because they appreciate surface-planting on a mound.

Optionally, sprinkle a bit of fertilizer over the soil surface before adding the mulch or compost to each fruit tree. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a ton of fertilizer to establish fruit trees. Some trees do best when establishing on their own, and then you can feed them once they begin flowering and fruiting in the following seasons.

Water for a Couple of Hours

Close-up of a gardener dressed in jeans and a brown sweater watering a young, freshly planted fruit tree with a large metal watering can in a sunny garden.
Provide a slow, thorough watering to establish healthy roots.

A slow trickle of water is essential for deeply watering newly planted saplings. You can use a hose, drip irrigation, or soaker hoses to thoroughly moisten the root zones of new transplants. You will want to run your water for a couple of hours. If rain is in the forecast, ensure the trees get a nice drench. A generous drink helps the new tree to expand its roots into the surrounding soil and stand up tall for new growth. 

Every fruit tree requires a little different amounts of water, so take the time to research each variety’s specific needs. Most species need a lot of water as they establish and become more resilient as their roots grow deeper and stronger. Mulching with straw, leaves, or compost can help conserve a lot of moisture so the root zone doesn’t dry out.

Start Pruning

Close-up of a gardener in a plaid red shirt pruning the branches of a fruit tree using a pruning saw.
Prune early for compact growth and easier harvesting later.

It may be painful, but you have to prune your fruit trees right away to keep them compact enough for a mini orchard! Lanky trees may sprout upward without bushing out. You want to encourage your trees to grow more stout to the ground, and this typically requires a hefty top pruning at the time of planting or shortly after. 

The goal is to prune the tree so it branches out as close to the base as possible. Lower branching means a lower canopy, making it easier to harvest the fruits.

Use sharp, sanitized pruners to prune about one-third to halfway down a lanky tree sapling. It may seem like you’re hurting the tree, but this is actually a very vital step to improve growth and set the stage for strong establishment. Look closely at the trunk and find new bud growth. Cut at a 45° angle just above the bud. Aim for one clean cut so the tree can easily heal itself. 

If you want to establish an espalier, planting is also the best time to begin pruning and training the branches. A hefty trellis is required, and you should install it before planting the tree.

Be Patient

The ripe pomegranate fruits on trees in the orchard display deep red, jewel-like globes nestled among the dense, glossy green leaves, creating a vibrant and striking contrast.
Patience is key – fruiting time varies by factors.

The most common question new orchardists ask is: When will I get fruit? Like most nuanced things in nature, the answer is: It depends! 

The amount of time until your first yield depends on:

  • Size of the Sapling: Larger trees at planting tend to produce more quickly.
  • Transplant Shock: If the tree struggles to get established, it will take longer to fruit.
  • Water: Water stress will slow down root establishment and fruiting.
  • Sunlight: Trees without full sunlight will take longer to fruit.
  • Flowers: If flowers are already present on the sapling, you may enjoy a few fruits in the first year, but it’s usually better to remove the flowers to encourage root growth.
  • Pollination: Some fruit trees require a pollinator tree nearby.

In general, fruit trees can take one to three years to begin yielding

For example, a mid-sized pomegranate may produce fruit in the season after planting, but it won’t yield a large harvest until the following year. Citrus may take one to two years, but you can enjoy fruits in the first year.

Final Thoughts

Fruit trees may seem intimidating, but anyone can grow a mini orchard as long as they have a bright, open area with full sunlight, the proper fruit varieties for their climate, and a willingness to prune regularly. Remember that pruning is the key to keeping your orchard small and manageable at a home scale.

In summary, here’s how to get started:

  1. Plant in full sunlight, with a south-facing orientation ideal
  2. Choose the right variety for your zone, noting the chill hours
  3. Choose the strongest, healthiest saplings
  4. Ensure proper soil, like excellent drainage for citrus and very acidic soil for blueberries
  5. Space trees four to eight feet apart, depending on the variety
  6. Plant in holes just a little bit larger than the original pot, ensuring the graft is above the surface
  7. Water generously
  8. Prune away leggy, lanky growth to encourage a stout canopy
  9. Be patient, as it can take one to three years to start harvesting fruit
A close-up reveals dwarf lime trees flourishing in brown pots filled with soil, showcasing vibrant green fruits dangling from the branches. The fruits are small and spherical, resembling miniature limes ready for harvest. The leaves are glossy and vibrant, showcasing their lush, healthy appearance.


How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Dwarf Lime Trees

If you want to grow limes at home but lack the warm climate necessary for outdoor growing, take a look at dwarf lime trees. These plants remain compact, allowing you to tuck them into planters and grow them indoors. Join farmer Briana Yablonski to learn how to plant and care for these petite citrus trees.

peach varieties. Close-up of ripe peach fruits on a tree among green foliage. The tree features a rounded canopy of glossy, lance-shaped leaves with serrated edges. The peach fruits are round ranging from yellow to red-blushed with a velvety skin.


9 Best Peach Tree Varieties for Home Gardens

If you love peaches and want to know which peach tree to plant in your garden, read on! Melissa Strauss discusses different characteristics of peach trees and some of the tastiest varieties for your home garden.