Almond Orchard Management
David Doll, UCCE Farm Advisor, Merced County and Carolyn DeBuse, UCCE Farm Advisor, Yolo and Solano counties: editors
Almonds, like other nut crops, are ideally grown on deep, uniform, loam soils that provide an optimal combination of permeability, water retention, and root zone aeration. However, almond orchards can be successfully managed on soils with some limitations. In California, almonds are grown throughout both the Sacramento Valley and the San Joaquin Valley.
In preparing a site for planting, proper soil testing and exploration by digging pits or core samples should be the first step. Depending on the results, soil modification in preparation for planting can be as simple as ripping the plowpan in deep, uniform soils. Select and design an irrigation system before planting. Tree spacing varies depending on location, variety of almond and orchard design. Wider tree spacing permits vigorously growing trees to spread with less crowding. Trees are planted closer in areas where trees grow less vigorously. Most orchards are planted in the square or offset square pattern.
- Square Orchard
- Hedgerow Orchard
- Quincunx Orchard
- Hexagonal Orchard
- Row Width: 22-24 ft. (6.5 - 6.9m)
- In-Row Tree Spacing: 22-24 ft. (6.5 - 6.9m)
- Row Length: Variable, but a break is needed every quarter mile to accommodate equipment. At the end of each row, allow 35 ft (10.5m) to turn the equipment.
- Loading Area: 50 ft x 500 ft. (15.2 x 152m) to accommodate nut elevator and truck, including turning area. Placed contiguous to every 40-acre block, this area can service maximum 160 acres.
- Service Roads: Road surfacing material on service roads will minimize dust.
Orchard Floor Management
Orchard floor management is extremely important to an almond grower because the crop is picked up from the soil surface after being knocked from the trees. A primary consideration for any cultural operation during the year should be to ensure that the orchard floor is in the best possible condition for harvesting.
- Nontillage: Ground cover (usually volunteer winter annuals) mowed and maintained year round; improves water penetration, though overall water and nitrogen use increases; facilitates use of equipment by minimizing dust, soil compaction and increasing traction over wet ground; requires more precise timing of mowing tasks and spot treatment of perennial weeds. May need to disc every 4-5 years if soil is heavy clay or silt loam.
- Planted Cover Crops: Most common are vetch, Blando bromegrass, and clovers, all of which require management and overall costs and water use are greater than using native volunteer annuals. Cover crops provide improved habitat for beneficial insects, create competition for summer weeds, increase atmospheric nitrogen fixation, and improve water penetration.
- Tillage: Generally, tillage should be kept to a minimum. Don’t cultivate without a good reason. May use with intercrops for first 2 years of orchard establishment, with flood irrigation, with soil prone to sealing/compacting, and when incorporating herbicides, compost, or covercrops.
- Strip Weed Control: Keep a 5-6 ft wide strip down the tree row clear of weeds using herbicides. This aids in mowing, reducing soil compaction, may reduce the incidence of Phytophthora crown rot and decreases interplant competition promoting tree growth.
- Complete Weed Control: This method is not often used except in orchards with very dry soil. In any other soil types, compaction will likely occur when applying herbicides.
Source: Almond Production Manual (1996), UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.