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My two apple trees grown from seed showing how close they are planted

Planting Multiple Trees in one Hole

About 2 years ago I went to get some fruit trees from Engall’s Nursery at Dural. I targeted Engall’s (rather than one of my more local nurseries) not just for their range of fruit trees, but I was particularly interested in speaking to someone who has knowledge of planting multiple fruit trees in the one planting hole.

If you do a web search on “Backyard Orchard Culture” you will find information on what I am talking about. I have used this technique myself with apple trees. I have one group of 3 apple trees all planted in the one hole, and also a pair of 2 more apple trees in another hole. Now I don’t need to save space – being on 13 acres – but I do like to “practice what I preach” and this technique is something I am particularly interested in knowing more about.

Many people only have a limited amount of space available in their backyard and a long list of fruit trees that they want to plant! While espalier is a worthy space saving candidate, I am quite fond of the Backyard Orchard Culture method. It has several benefits such as:
• Better than multi-grafting onto one tree as each tree has its own root system to nourish and support it. Plus multi-grafts often have issues with some grafts either dying or being outcompeted by a more dominant graft.
• Close plantings aid in pollination
• Fit many fruit trees into a small area. Up to 5 trees in the one hole is supposed to be possible (though I have only tried up to 3)
• Extend the harvest season by planting an early and a late fruiting variety of tree side by side
• Crowding the trees naturally stunts their growth and helps you maintain a compact and easily managed tree cluster
• Less maintenance that espalier
• Can be done with lots of different fruit trees. Apples, citrus, stone fruits, etc.

There are a few basic rules to follow:
• Use compatible trees. Don’t expect to plant a dwarf apple next to a standard apple and have success. The trees should be of a similar mature size. The same type of tree (citrus next to citrus, stone next to stone, etc) will also make it more likely that they grow at a similar speed and prefer similar growing conditions.
• Plant all trees in the one hole (approximately 30cm apart).
• Prune branches as if it is the one tree – remove inward branches that will cross over and rub.
• Despite your careful planning, you may find that one tree starts to dominate. Stop this tree from taking over by pruning the dominant plant in summer to slow its growth, and prune the smaller tree in late winter or early spring to promote growth.

The trees at Engall’s Nursery ( were all citrus trees. In one instance they had a situation where one orange tree had started to dominate its partner and was shading it out. The nurseryman advised me that they would cut the dominant citrus back hard to even the two trees up again and they would be fine.

It has now been about 4 years since I first planted my apple trees in the one planting hole. I found that the two Pink Lady’s planted from seeds have far outperformed my three grafted trees. Despite being much smaller at planting time they are now bigger, stronger, and healthier. They also are growing in perfect union as if they are the one tree. My three grafted apple trees (Pink Lady, Fuji and Granny Smith) are also growing okay together but the Granny Smith tends to want to take over a little bit so I need to prune it back occasionally.

All in all it has been a great success and something I highly recommend to those who are needing to save space.

Now run outside and create your oasis!