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From a forum on their website responding to a reader's post:
For people who have available only spots here and there in the yard, several varieties in one hole can be the best option for stretching their harvest season. Another advantage to three and four trees in one hole (vs. hedgerow) can be the grouping of like spray requirements - which isn't always a factor.
More space available to devote to fruit trees, hence more planting options, is probably the case for the great majority of home trees planted, but not necessarily the great majority of prospective home growers. With space available, and wanting high density, I would plant hedgerows at two- to four-foot spacings, depending on quantities wanted and soil fertility. I reckon hedgerow is how most BOC trees are planted.
The DWN recommendations have perhaps seemed to address the not-much-space-available customer more than others. Backyard Orchard Culture was developed to encourage people to grow fruit trees according to their situation, which would usually mean trees closer together in the backyard than in the commercial orchard. How close? As close as you want if you prune them accordingly. And so, to make the point, one of the key examples of BOC is the extreme of three or four trees in one hole.
The original BOC paper (thank you, Ed Laivo) had hand-drawn diagrams of spacing suggestions which are still on the DWN website. The hedgerow shown there is a 3' x 9' planting. When I first started traveling the western states selling DWN trees in the early '80's (pre-BOC) I planted about 100 stone fruit varieties in my yard: two hedgerows at about two-foot spacing, the rows about 9 ft. apart. Most of them I grew just long enough to fruit and evaluate. But over 20 years later several apricots at 18-24" spacing were still giving lots of nice fruit every year. They were never especially well tended, but were easily kept low and productive by removing all growth above about 7 1/2 feet and selectively below that height once per year in the summer (missing some years). The fruiting wood began at about 3 to 3 1/2 feet, but was mostly at 4 to 7 ft.
My greatest concern in BOC promotion is that folks new to growing fruit trees who plant high density will let the summer pruning get away from them in the first few years and will become discouraged. Someone who is in their yard frequently and tracks their trees' growth will likely do fine; someone who tends to be busy elsewhere might not.
Fruitnut, I know you could keep four trees in one hole size-controlled and productive if you had a reason to. Someone with only a spot or two in the yard (and knows how good tree-ripe fresh fruit can be) has that reason. If they like to garden and tend their plants it's easy: remove the new growth that doesn't fit the plan.
We expect to be adding content to the website this year and next. Renewal pruning should be included. Entire-tree renewal is treated in a DWN article here.