We’ve just purchased 6, quite heavily treed acres in Prince Edward County, between Cherry Valley and Sandbanks. Much of the land is wet in spring, but we’d like to build and plant on the high ground that we’re clearing for this purpose. We hope to grow cherries, Honeycrisp apples and peaches or nectarines. Is Cherry Valley far enough south to grow peaches? What can we do to improve our chances? And should we wait until spring to plant? Thanks!
How fortunate you are to be moving to such a lovely area of Southern Ontario with the opportunity to start your own fruit orchard from scratch.
You are in hardiness zone 6a. Most peach trees grow best in zones 6 and 7. Apples are a bit hardier than peaches. The following link to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) identifies the zones for different types of cherries : https://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/02-037.htm.
There is much to consider when planning to plant fruit trees, whether in an orchard or in a home garden to ensure that your trees will flourish and bear fruit : site location, soil conditions, planting time, pruning, pollination needs of your chosen fruit trees.
You indicated that your chosen site will be elevated and is heavily treed. Your trees will require a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun, preferably more. Your elevated site will hopefully deal with your spring wet soil condition. Well drained soil is a must. You can test whether your soil is well drained following this previously posted process:
Test your drainage by digging a hole 30 cm deep and 30 cm wide. Fill the hole with water and let drain overnight to saturate the soil. The next day fill the hole again with water and then measure the rate of drainage. Well drained soil should drain at about 5 cm an hour. If the drainage is less than 5 cm an hour, the soil may be too wet for most fruit trees. It is possible to improve soil drainage by amending your soil with compost and organic material.
It may also be a good idea to have your soil tested at the University of Guelph to ensure your trees will have the proper nutrients they need. This site describes the types of tests done at the Agriculture and Food Laboratory including guidelines on how to submit soil samples.
It is best to plant your one or two year stock in the spring as soon as you can work the soil after the frost while the tree is still dormant. To assist you, the Toronto Master Gardeners have created this ‘Planting a Tree Guide.’
All of your trees must be pruned regularly from the moment they are planted. Pruning controls their shape and develops a strong well balanced framework of a central leader with scaffold branches. Many web sites such as this one illustrate proper fruit tree pruning techniques. https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/1995/3-3-1995/ptree.html
Another important consideration when choosing fruit trees for your yard is to understand whether the tree is “self-fruitful” or requires another nearby tree for fertilization. Tart cherry, apricot and peach will self-pollinate and are fine to plant on their own. Apple, pear, plum and sweet cherry require pollen from another cultivar for fruit set. The government of Ontario has some excellent guidelines for planting and maintaining fruit trees in the home garden found here.
Best of luck with your new orchard!