Oct 15, 2020
Tree planting at the new Tukey Orchard in Washington state takes shape

Washington State University’s tree fruit orchard is growing into its new location just outside Pullman.

The orchard, which moved from its previous location due to the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport runway realignment, is now located on WSU’s Spillman Agronomy Farm on Johnson Avenue.

The new Horticulture Center is part of WSU’s Department of Horticulture and has traditionally served as a hands-on, outdoor classroom.

“This orchard and other plantings are for students,” said orchard manager Deb Pehrson. “We’re focused on teaching. From visits by large 100-level classes to advanced students who want real-world experience, that’s why we’re here.”

The new location received final approval for planting, so Pehrson and her crew are steadily putting in new trees. Unlike the previous location, it has a modern orchard system of dense plantings supported by trellises.

The overall orchard is smaller than the previous location but is home to many more trees due to modern methods.

“We’re focusing on variety in the new plantings, not being a production orchard,” Pehrson said. “We’ve got two full acres of apple trees with at least two each from about 500 different varieties.”

The orchard will also feature a half-acre of sweet cherries, a half-acre of stone fruits that aren’t sweet cherries, including plums and tart cherries, a half-acre of pears, and potentially, half an acre of berries.

“We’d like to have blueberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries and maybe even some grapes,” Pehrson said. “It’s all about giving students as wide a learning experience as possible.”

Although production isn’t the main goal for the orchard, Tukey Orchard and the Horticulture Center will continue to have fruit sales. For now, staff are harvesting trees from the previous airport-adjacent location and bringing the fruit to their new building at Spillman Farm. Within three to five years, the new plantings should start producing fruit they can sell.

In addition to planting the main fruit trees, wind breaks are needed to shield the orchard from gusts that hammer the hillside. Along with typical windbreak trees such as Idaho hybrid poplar and ponderosa pine, Pehrson hopes to include other landscape trees, shrubs, and plants to help serve students studying Landscape and Nursery Management.

“It gets so windy here, we need something to keep that from damaging the new trees,” she said. “Since we’re doing that anyway, we thought it would be nice to add another aspect of student education.”

The orchard should be fully planted by 2022. Fruit sales are happening now for apples and Italian plums. WSU’s Spillman Agronomy Farm is located at 1452 Johnson Ave., Pullman.

Scott Weybright, Washington State University

Tag identifying a Cosmic Crisp apple tree at the WSU Horticulture Center. Tags are needed due to the number of varieties grown at the orchard. Photo: WSU

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