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Vigorous rootstocks planted high density

Posted by Isa Campbell 
Vigorous rootstocks planted high density
February 18, 2022 05:00AM
I am interested in how vigorous high density plantings are going for folks. Vigorous freestanding semi-dwarf trees at 8ft spacing sounds like a good thing.

Mike Biltonen, you have mentioned your mm111 trees on 8x16 spacing, how old are those trees now and how are they doing? Could you share a few pictures of them?

It would be great to hear anecdotes or experience any of you have with this. A related question - does the induced dwarfing by this technique/system have more to do with the root systems competing/reacting or pruning and lack of fertilization?

Vineyard Hills Community Orchard
Grow Ohio Valley
Zone 6a in Wheeling, WV

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/18/2022 05:04AM by Isa Campbell.
Re: Vigorous rootstocks planted high density
February 18, 2022 07:02PM
My new orchard plantings are medium density-standard trees.
I did this for a number of reasons, first being because I wanted to test a number of varieties with a tree per variety in a limited surface area. So with this approach I could plant twice as many trees...

What I did is to define a first grid at 7x7 meters (which makes 50 square meters per tree, or 200 trees per hectare, or 23x23 ft making 80 trees par acre).
Then I defined a second identical grid, but spaced 3 meters on the diagonal to get a total density of 400 trees per hectare (160 per acre).
All trees are are either on Antonovka seedling rootstock, or B-118, or natural wild seedling.
It looks a bit like this, with 3m (10ft) between trees in a pair.
Disregard the hyphens I have had to put between trees (otherwise I couldn't maintain the spacing)





My idea when doing this was that within a pair of trees, they would affect one another once they attain maturity - in 20 years from now, maybe the production would be sliightly less than if the 2 trees would be normally spaced (I assume maybe 20% loss of productivity) - however, this would still make a lot more production from an unit of surface area.
And maybe in 50 years when the trees get full size, then the production of the orchard won't be significantly more than if I had planted trees at the standard density for their size - but I'll be dead by then (or if not I'll be approaching 120 years of age).

The oldest trees were planted in 2016, and I got my first apples from this planting last fall. It is still much too early to have a long term perspective...
What I'll never know is if there is a long term difference between what I did and if I had planted the whole orchard at 5x5m spacings (16x16 feet), which would have given exactly the same overall density. Sure the pattern I used will facilitate the circulation, but not sure there will be any other advantage.

Jolicoeur Orchard
Zone 4 in Quebec
Author, The New Cider Maker's Handbook

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/18/2022 07:06PM by Claude Jolicoeur.
Re: Vigorous rootstocks planted high density
February 20, 2022 05:42PM
Isa, I first encountered mature high density plantings at the Geneva Experiment Station many years ago. Some of Susan Browns long abandoned breeding trials of seedling trees planted at 3 feet in row formed a beautiful apple hedge. Obviously no trellis and in this case no pruning resulted in a massive wall of fruit of many flavors, a cider makers dream. My thought at the time was if you pick the right genetics for your area this is a very inexpensive totally hands off system which would further benefit from zero weed understory management to further reduce vigor. The downside is the time to maturity and fruiting. Dwarfing rootstock on high density systems has the highest potential yield in the shortest amount of time but it is expensive and requires management. Vigorous rootstocks devigored either by low vigor soil, tighter spacing ( root competition), or sod/weed competition is the answer if low management is a key piece of the puzzle for you. I have 7 year old G30 and G202 planted 6 by 13, with very minimal management of any kind..., including geese grazing to reduce mowing. I have a few smaller plantings of 111, and 118 trees with similar spacing and similar age doing well. I have recently planted G890, 111, and seedlings at 8 by 13 and think this is where I’ve landed. Diehard rootstocks, no trellis, no weed management after wood chip mulch for the first 3 years. This is the least expensive as far as up front costs. You may not get fruit for 6-7 years and you may end up with a tight over vigorous orchard in 15-20 years but that’s when you have the option to take every other tree out and end up with a 16 by 13 orchard or 8 by 26, and you have harvested fruit off the trees you removed for 10 years or so that you wouldn’t have had if you originally planted a wider spacing.

Good Luck,
Eric -Redbyrd Orchard Finger Lakes NY
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