Site selection for fruit crops - Mountain Grove News-Journal : Business

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Site selection for fruit crops

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Posted: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 12:18 pm

MOUNTAIN GROVE, MO - Here we continue with our emphasis on location, location, location when choosing a site for fruit crops. Last week we looked at USDA Hardiness Zones (which have just been updated for 2012) as well as soils, water drainage - both internal and surface - and air drainage. Now we move on to elevation, slope, aspect, and prevailing winds.

Elevation, slope and aspect. The elevation of the planting site is the relative high and low points and on the site itself - and not the height above sea level of the larger region. The slope and aspect are related to elevation.

The slope is the rise or fall of a land surface measured in percent. It is the vertical distance, or difference in height, between two points in a field, divided by the horizontal distance between these same two points. If you have a 10 foot driveway and drops 1 foot, you have a falling slope of 10 percent. If you are planting fruit plants on sloping ground, it is generally better to arrange rows across the slope rather than down the slope for ease of maintenance and to help control erosion.

The aspect is the prevailing compass direction which the slope faces. Aspect affects the angle that the sunlight hits the planting, therefore how much heat and sunlight it receives. An eastern exposure or aspect favors the morning sun which promotes earlier photosynthesis in the leaves and earlier drying of the dew on the foliage. Plantings with southern and western aspects warm earlier in the spring and plants may break bud earlier. Early bud break is not desired for some fruit plants, like peaches, that blossom early in the season and are therefore prone to have their flower buds frozen by late spring freezes. On a north face, plants begin to grow later in the spring. If planted on the north face, peaches will break bud later on and can better avoid late spring freeze injury.

Prevailing winds. Noting the direction of the prevailing winds in summer is also an important consideration in site selection. It is better for the wind to blow down the row middles of a fruit planting for quicker drying. If you have a small vineyard, this is also important since rows can actually blow over in summer if the wind hits them directly on the side rather than blowing down the row. Weather scientists Dr. Ray Massey and Dr. Pat Guinan have developed wind roses for many of the weather stations in Missouri. A wind rose is a graphical presentation of the average hourly speed and direction of wind at a particular location. If you would like to look at the wind rose for the station near you, go to Missouri Agricultural Weather Wind Information and Resources at Looking at the wind rose petals for Mountain Grove, I can see that the prevailing winds are from the south and southeast (in summer) and from the northwest (in winter). Since I am more concerned with plants with foliage in the summer, I will orient my plant rows north and south if the topography allows in order to have the winds blow down the row.

Site selection is key in the survival and success of a fruit planting. You need to look at all elements and make the best decisions while planning. So note your slope and pay attention to the petals on your wind roses. Also keep in mind that your sites need to be close to a source of water and close to you. If your planting is not easy to water or see, it may not get the care it needs!

Direct comments or questions concerning this column to Marilyn Odneal via email at; write to Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, 9740 Red Spring Road, Mountain Grove, Mo. 65711; or call (417) 547-7500. Visit our Web site at