Planting Your Cider Orchard

A good cider starts out with a well-planned and planted orchard.

  • Apples are well-known, delicious, and proven to be a versatile fruit.
    Photos courtesy of Voyageur Press
  • Grafting apple trees.
    Photos courtesy of Voyageur Press
  • Pruning is essential for plant health.
    Photos courtesy of Voyageur Press
  • Liberty apples.
    Photos courtesy of Voyageur Press
  • If grown as a standard fruit tree, crabapples will bear fruit within 5-7 years with a yield of 300-800 pounds. Dwarfing this variety will speed up its years to bear but decrease the yield.
    Photos courtesy of Voyageur Press
  • “Gardening for the Homebrewer” by Wendy Tweten and Debbie Teashon brings the process of brewing home by detailing some of the best practices for growing, harvesting, and fermenting your own ingredients.
    Photos courtesy of Voyageur Press

Gardening for the Homebrewer (Voyageur Press, 2018), by Wendy Tweten and Debbie Teashon walks through the cultivation, harvesting, and brewing processes necessary for making beer, cider, wine, and much more. As two seasoned gardeners, Tweten and Teashon know the fulfillment of growing food for the table and for the wine cellar. Assembling a brew book as a guide, the two seasoned gardening writers share their passion for following the process from “garden to glass”, seed to stein, barley to beer, and vine to wine. No detail is spared, packing in specifics of the best growing seasons, zones, varieties, and cultivation conditions.

Now that you’ve selected your cider trees, it’s time to plant your orchard. Whether you’re planting one tree or many, plan your orchard proudly; you’re part of the great American apple tradition, and the tree you plant today — if luck and health are on its side — may provide apples to generations of cider makers.

One thing is critical when deciding where to site your orchard: Apple trees need sun. Too much shade aids disease and thwarts ripening. Set trees out of prevail­ing winds, which can disrupt pollination. Frost pockets can damage blossoms or fruit in colder climates. Although apples prefer to grow in rich loam, they can withstand less-than-perfect soil. Dwarf trees, with their brittle rootstocks, benefit most from good soil. Dig a hole deep enough that the top of the rootball sits level with the top of the ground or slightly lower where winters are harsh. Fill the hole halfway up the root-ball with native soil, and add water to the very top. A thorough soaking is important not just for hydration but for settling the soil and filling air pockets. Once the water has soaked in, finish filling the hole, leaving a shallow depression with a raised outer lip around the top of the sunken rootball to act as a bowl for future soakings. For the first two years after the tree is planted, don’t allow the soil around the rootball to dry out. Neither should it be perpetually soggy.

The generally accepted time for set­ting out fruit trees is in the dormant sea­son, November through January, and this is when bareroot trees are available. However, container-grown trees can be planted in any but the hottest weather. Stake trees only if they are top-heavy or feel loose. Plan to remove the stake as soon as the tree is stable. Dwarf trees are an exception to this rule: they’ll need a per­manent stake, so take the extra time and expense to install an attractive stake that will last for at least twenty years. Finally, if mice, rabbits, or bucks rubbing velvet from their antlers are a problem, wrap the trunk in hardware cloth or fine-wire fenc­ing from the ground to the first branch. Deer love to eat apple leaves; in a few min­utes a marauding doe can strip and kill (or severely set back) a young tree. If there are deer in your neighborhood (or other hun­gry herbivores), enclose the entire tree in a cage made of stock fencing until the sap­ling is big enough to survive their grazing.


Apple trees do not come true from seed. Quite the opposite. An apple pippin, or seed-grown tree, delights in asserting its independence. It may be the next great pomological sensation or, more likely, a dud. What it will not be is a clone of its parents. For that, an apple tree must be grafted. Grafting is a matter of attaching scionwood, or branches of the desired tree, to a rootstock, the roots and trunk of a donor apple — possibly the very wildlings just discussed.

Grafting has several advantages. For one, it allows the creation of dwarf and semi-dwarf trees. Full-size, “stan­dard” apple trees tend to grow to 20 feet or more, making harvesting their fruit a feat for monkeys. A standard-sized tree grown from seed can take up to ten years to bear fruit, while a grafted dwarf or semi-dwarf tree can yield fruit in as little as two to four years. Virus-free, dwarfing apple rootstocks such as the EMLA series or the diminutive Budagovsky 9 result in trees 6 to 16 feet tall. Rootstocks such as these are readily available online and from mail-order fruit nurseries.

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