Garden Journal

Planting trees close together bears plenty of fruit

February 29, 2012

Three on a match (also known as third on a match) was a superstition among soldiers from the Crimean War to World War I.

Among soldiers during the late 1800s, there was a superstition that if three soldiers lit their cigarettes from the same match, one of the three would be killed.

The logic was that the first soldier to light his cigarette would give away his position to the enemy, then when the second soldier lit his cigarette from the same match, the enemy would take aim, and when the third soldier lit his cigarette from the same match, the enemy would fire.

Three on one match was also a way to conserve matches, which once were relatively rare and somewhat expensive. In the garden, anytime we can do double duty, triple duty, or even quadruple duty, we not only increase the number of plants, but also the variety and season.

Instead of growing a single tree or tomato plant you can often get very good results planting two or three or even four in a single hole.

Bear in mind that much of what we learn about growing fruit is really geared to commercial orchards.

Often, spacing requirements are intended to allow tractors or heavy equipment to run between the rows.

In addition, farmers naturally want to get as much of a single variety of fruit all at the same time for easier picking and sales.

In the backyard orchard or garden, we do not really need mechanical pickers or even 12-foot ladders for pruning and picking.

Also, if you only have room for one or two trees using traditional spacing it unfairly limits you to a single variety or two of fruit. It also means that you might get a lot of the same fruit all at once, resulting in spoilage.

With limited space, it is more of a challenge to ensure proper cross pollination and harvest over a long season. By closely planting several trees in a single hole, you can get up to 10 weeks of fruit of several varieties.

Because close planting can naturally dwarf or restrict the growth of trees, this becomes an additional advantage because lower, slower-growing trees are easier to harvest and take care of.

Start by digging one very large hole. You will be spacing the trees anywhere from 18 to 30 inches apart in the hole.

Once planted, immediately cut the top of the trees back so they are at the same height, about three feet tall.

Since trees will grow at different rates, your job will be to prune them so that they grow at about the same rate and stay at the same height.

Fruit trees by nature are a long-term project. Many trees take several years to come into full production.

By planting several trees in a single hole and pruning them to the same height you can have a full season of fruit from trees that are easy to care for. Rather than the bad luck of three on a match, you may just find your wide variety of fruits to be, dare we say, matchless.

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