If part of your homesteading dream includes a backyard fruit tree orchard, the time to start in most part of the country is in the spring. For zones 7-10, where the winters are mild and the summers are hot, planting in fall is preferred. There are other considerations before you start, however. Here is a basic primer on the ideal soil characteristics for fruit trees.
Check Your Soil Drainage
Most plants and trees don't do very well if their "feet" are constantly wet. Consistently saturated soil can lead to root rot and other problems which will eventually cause death to the tree.
Use a post digger or a shovel to dig a hole 12 inches deep where you want your orchard located. If you are planning on planting more than six trees, dig a few holes spaced out over the area of your intended orchard. Fill each hole with water and then let sit for three or four hours. When the time is up, check the hole(s) to see if the water has drained. Refill each hole, and check again after three-four hours. If the water drained each time, your site drainage is good. If some or all of the water is still standing, you should not plant at that location. In the event this is the only site available to you, you have two options. You can build a raised bed and plant your trees there, or you can construct a French drain, which is a trench with a pipe topped with gravel that will draw excess water away from the site.
Test Your Soil
Once you have determined drainage won't be a problem, move on to the next step and get your soil tested. The ideal soil for fruit trees has a sandy and loamy texture. The site also must have a deep layer of top soil. For example, the soil may be fine, but if the site is located over rock and the soil is shallow, the roots won't be able to dig deep enough. Check with your local nursery or county extension office for how to take a soil sample and where to send it.
Add Soil Amendments
If the laboratory analysis of your soil comes back with an overly alkaline or acid soil pH, you may need to add lime, sulfur, or other supplements. If the soil has heavy clay content but still passed the drainage test, you may want to consider adding compost. Once your soil is ready, you can head to the plant nursery to choose fruit trees that are recommended for your heartiness zone and get planting.
For more information or assistance, contact companies like Penngrove Nursery.