10 Steps to Creating an Urban Orchard

In the summer of 2017, Ugly Food of the North partnered with The Longspur Prairie Foundation to create Moorhead's first Community Orchard. Interested in creating your own front-yard community space? Follow these 10 steps to prepare, plant and maintain your Urban Orchard.

Look for a sunny spot with well-drained soil and access to water. Consider which area of the
yard is most easily accessible to the public. If the backyard is the best option, how will people
know it’s an open space? Will you put up a sign or walkway that leads people to the orchard?
Choose a spot in your yard that’s optimal for growth and accessibility.

The design above is from the original Urban Orchard project planted in Moorhead, Minn., in April 2017. The variety of plants, trees, and beddings put the project cost at approximately $1,500.

An Urban Orchard may be as simple as a few apple trees or as elaborate as providing amenities and offerings similar to a public park. There are no expectations on how much food or offerings an Urban Orchard provides.

The general goal is to encourage food production in any amount and creating unique spaces for connections and learning. Every yard and project is unique and therefore should be tailored to the individual. 

An urban orchard may host a variety of plants that can be tailored to the homeowner's wishes. Some suggested plants to include are:
1. Fruit trees (Apples, plums, pears, cherries, etc.)
2. Fruit bushes (raspberries, honeyberries, juneberries, etc.).
3. Strawberries
4. Rhubarb
**When reviewing plant options, select disease-resistant cultivars, if possible.

Since the Urban Orchard project was founded in Moorhead, Minn., the suggested plants are
specific to this region. It is important to select plants that are zone appropriate. Use the USDA
Zone Hardiness map
 to determine what plants are suitable for your respective climate.


If possible, prepare the orchard land the year before planting. A soil test is key to determining soil pH, nutrient balance, and presence of organic matter. Preparing the soil a year before planting allows any issues to be corrected before planting. 

Once the soil becomes dry enough in the spring to work, you can begin planting. Before you plant trees, be sure to call the Diggers Hotline (Call 811) to avoid damaging underground utility lines.

- 9 Steps to Planting a Tree (and saving a buck) - Popular Mechanic
How to Plant, Grow + Harvest Strawberrie - The Farmers Almanac

STEP 6: PRUNE (maybe)
If you purchased a tree with branches, minimal pruning is required at planting time. If two
branches are rubbing against each other, trim out the least desirable branch, and remove any
broken branches. If you plant a larger tree, remove any limbs originating from the base of the
tree and any branches lower than 24 inches.More pruning will be required in the spring of the
second year. 

If you purchased unbranched “whip” trees, cut the stem 30 inches from the ground. This will
stimulate the first flush of branches.

Watering is critical at the time of planting. Thoroughly soak the root area before placing your trees. Check on the plants every few days after planting and make sure the soil below the surface never dries completely. For at least two years, the orchard will need to be watered regularly (about weekly) until the plants have recuperated from their transplanting shock.

Mulch is an essential piece of an orchard. Set mulch in a ring pattern at least 3 feet in diameter. Arrange the mulch so it is at a minimal depth near the trunk and then steadily gets deeper, up to 4 inches along the perimeter of the mulch ring. In this way, the mulch will serve as a reservoir and bring applied water toward the trunk. For fruiting shrubs, keep the mulch minimal at the trunk and extend it out at least 18 inches to either side of the shrub.

- Stake Trees: It’s a good idea to stake the tree for the first few years. Either a wooden or metal stake will work. A stake should be placed a few inches away from the trunk of the tree and should be about the height of the tree after being pounded two feet into the ground. Use a wide piece non- abrasive material to fasten the tree to the stake. Avoid narrow fastenings such as wire or twine, as they may cut into the bark.
- Trellis Fruit Bushes: A trellis can be as simple as a couple of posts and twine for a row of plants, or a decorative obelisk, teepee or arbor for individual or mass plantings. Supporting the plants will not only keep them healthier and more productive, it will also keep them looking nice. Raspberries and gooseberries require support to prevent the canes from wind damage, bending over, cracking, and getting out of control.

As you're planning your urban orchard, make sure to be intentional about involving others. Planting is the perfect time to engage neighbors and other community members to become aware of your Urban Orchard. Getting the community involved and invested from the start is essential to the Orchard being embraced and enjoyed by the neighborhood. Simply inviting neighbors to join you in the planting process is an easy and helpful first step to build an understanding of the Urban Orchard and what it hopes to be for a community.


Want to learn more about creating your own urban orchard? Stay tuned to Ugly Food of the North and visit a few of our favorite resources including University of Minnesota Extension Service: Yard and Garden and North Dakota State University Extension Service (Starting a Community Orchard in North Dakota)