Currently we grow about 30 varieties of apples in our orchard. Over the last two years we have grafted several more varieties (about 50) that we have received scion wood from collectors and will offer for sale in the near future.  Many of these we have field planted to grow up to size.  However we don’t have a lot more room to devote to planting fruit trees therefore our decision was to container grow these.

Tree grown for scion wood

Scion wood is 1 year growth from a specific variety of fruit tree.  The small twig or branch portion usually has 3 or 4 buds and is grafted onto an appropriate rootstock. Commercial tree growers that grow young trees for fruit farmers to plant, generally  keep what is called a “mother block”.  This is an orchard that the trees are pruned to maximize branching and twiggy growth so that the largest number of scions can be cut and grafted to become new trees each year. These are pruned to make wood and not fruit.  Several hundred scions can be cut from a single tree and many of these big growers may just have one or a few of each variety which they use to make hundreds or thousands of new trees yearly.   The picture shows a mother tree after dormant pruning.  In the mother block trees can be planted closer than normal since no fruit is desired and usually fertilized higher than normal with nitrogen to promote vegetative growth.

In our new scion nursery we chose to plant semi-dwarf instead of dwarf as would be Digging treesnormal for container growing.  We felt SD rootstock would give more and faster top growth. Add to that the natural dwarfing by container growing and heavy pruning should work better for our purpose.   Of course we don’t want to prune as heavy as the big guys since we also want fruit from these!  Container growing also eliminates weed competition and gives greater control of nutrient use. It also allows us to leave lower branches since the trees are elevated about 2′ above ground level.

setting containersThis Saturday was warm with low wind, a rarity for this time of year. The guys started by lining up railroad ties. This protects a faucet and drain that each year gets run over by cars plus will help hold the bark chips we will add around the containers.  After that they centered the 25 gal. cans at 48” in 2 rows alternating for better sunlight penetration and air circulation.  While this is close spacing, the benefit of container growing is they can be spread apart if more space is needed.

Next we backed up the pickup with a load of our potting mix to make filling easier.Ready to fill  This load held about a yard and a half. The mix can be purchased by the yard from Soilutions in Albuquerque.dug tree low branches

Trees were dug one at a time from our field planting.  We chose to leave some native soil on the roots to protect them from drying out during transplanting and also to inoculate the pots with the mycorrhizal fungus that is so important to the root’s ability to absorb nutrients.

all plantedThe trees were then planted and new tags applied. Along with that we made a map of their order which will be entered into our computer records.  Mapping your plantings and saving to disk is invaluable when tags disappear or fade and when your memory disappears or fades also!

We were able to get 19 trees planted with this load of soil mix or about 12 per cubic yard.  After the planting was completed we then went back and applied a 1” layer of composted and aged goat manure.  Goat manure, while not as readily available here as horse manure, is better because the multiple stomachs of a goat digest weed seeds better than a horse’s single stomach.  Also the nutrient profile is a little better for plants.Top dressing manure

We have room in this area for about 30 trees and will finish planting  with the next good weather .  After that we will fill the area with wood chips to stop weeds, add drip irrigation and mulch the trees. We have also gathered log rounds to use as stepping stones to get through on the west side.  At this point we have preserved and worked around the  native trees and will probably need to do some summer pruning on them.  We also helped to define a loading and parking area for customer pick ups on the east side with the use of the railroad ties.

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