Getting off to a good start is essential to growing a healthy, long-lived fruit tree.

 

 

 

Site Selection – is probably the most important factor in your success.

 

 You will want to choose an area that has the best soil depth you can find, preferably at least 36”.  Some rocks are ok as long as there is sufficient good soil and the rocks are minimized.  The spot you choose should have full sunlight for at least 6-8 hours daily, even better if you have full sun all day.  Trees without enough sunlight become “leggy” and will produce fewer flowers and fruits. If your property has a slope, planting your  trees on it allows the cold air to drain down to lower levels. Plantings nearer the top of a slope will suffer less spring frost injury than those at the bottom.  Remember that pollenizers, when required, should be within 50 feet of each other, the closer the better. Do not plant your fruit trees in a lawn since most lawns get frequent but shallow watering.  We want less frequent watering for a longer period that will get down to the root zone.  Most roots develop between 18” – 24” deep and exceed the drip line in width.  As an average you will need to apply 1-2” of water per week to the root area depending on the temperature and season.  Less in spring and fall, more in the hot summer months.

 

 Preplanting Care. – Since these are container plants they can be planted at any time.

 

 Obviously we don’t recommend planting in the dead of winter but immediate action is not required.  If you need time to find the correct spot and dig a proper planting hole that is fine.  Keep the tree in a semi shady place and keep it watered daily until planted.  Because summer sun on a black container can get well over 100 degrees it is best to keep at least this part of the tree shaded until planting.  The best time to plant is early evening so they have the cool night to settle in.

 

Digging a Hole. The old rule of thumb is “Don’t put a ten dollar tree in a ten cent hole”  

 

Dig the hole twice the diameter and just a little deeper than the container you are planting.   When digging keep the topsoil and subsoil separate.  Loosen the sides and the bottom of the hole.  Note that the shovel may “glaze” the sides of the hole, especially in clay soils, leaving a hard, compact surface that is impenetrable to young roots.  For this reason it is always advisable to fracture the sides of the hole when filling in.  Loosen the top 6-10” of soil out in a 3’ diameter circle around the hole so that water infiltration and root penetration is easier.   

 

Planting the Tree – Add the top soil to the bottom of the hole

 

and the subsoil to the top of the hole.  This will put your better dirt down where the roots are. When you have backfilled about 2/3 of the way add a little water to settle the soil and eliminate any air pockets then continue to fill up the hole.  Do not add any amendments or fertilizers to the soil you are using to fill the hole. Development of new roots depends primarily on moisture, and contact with high fertilizer concentrations can cause injury, resulting in burning around the edges of  leaves (salt burn). If your tree has a bud union, face it north east or east, on the opposite side of strong prevailing winds.  Carefully note where the soil line is on the plant so that you can plant it at the same depth as it was grown, or slightly deeper.  With grafted trees it is important that the graft union be above the soil. Your trees will have a distinct line that marks the depth where they grew in the nursery.  Plant trees about one inch deeper than the soil line mark. After the soil settles in the planting hole, the tree will be established at the right depth. Add a good layer (at least 4”) of mulch to provide nutrients and maintain even moisture.

 

 Fertilizing your Trees – Fertilizing trees too much can be even more harmful than not fertilizing at all. 

 

How do you know when enough is enough?  Research & experience shows that excess fertilization of fruit & nut trees can result in too much vegetative growth, reduced bloom & fruit set, reduced quality of fruit, & diseases such as fire blight, brown rot & powdery mildew.  Excess nitrogen creates a nutrient imbalance in the plant, which results in weakened cell structure in the leaves and branches which will have high levels of nitrates and the fruit will have lower levels of sugars.  That means the foliage is susceptible to disease and the fruit lacks flavor and does not store well.  On the other hand, Nitrogen deficiency results in weak growth and yellow foliage.

 

Balance is the Key – The key to proper fertilization is a balance of nutrients

 

Nitrogen & Potassium are necessary for plant growth, and especially important in a tree’s formative years when you want to establish a strong scaffold of branches to bear the many years of abundant harvests.  Phosphorous is essential for disease resistance and flower & fruit development.  A common error of many backyard gardeners is to go too heavy on nitrogen (in the form of chemical fertilizers or raw manures) and neglect Phosphorous & Potassium as well as other essential nutrients. Composted manures are good and have a correct balance of the most needed nutrients. Amendments such as composted manures, mushroom composts or home made composts should be added to the top of the soil out to the drip line.  Digging in is not necessary as watering will deliver the nutrients down to the roots.

 

Soil & Plant Analysis – The Instructions Are on the Tree

 

One of the best indicators of soil fertility & tree health is reading the annual growth of the tree itself.  Look closely at the branches on your fruit tree.  If you follow the branch back from the tip you’ll see a clearly defined ring marking last year’s growth (or you’ll see the present season’s pruning cut).  By continuing backwards down the tree you can read how much a tree grew the previous season and how it responded to the previous year’s pruning cuts.  As a rule of thumb you want to see 6 to 18 inches of growth per year on mature trees in the home orchard (younger trees grow more vigorously and should put on more growth).  Refer to the chart below.  If your mature trees are meeting the growth parameters then you have adequate fertility in your soil, and adding more nitrogen may be detrimental.  If you are not meeting the recommended annual growth then read to the right for a guide of how much fertilizer to apply.  We prefer using composted manures as they are a balanced fertilizer, including all of the essential plant nutrients, not just nitrogen.  Many people use a vegetative based compost and that has merits also. For newly planted trees, use about one third of the fertilizer listed in the table below.

 

Nitrogen Requirements & Annual Growth of Fruit & Nut Trees

 

Crop

Sufficient Growth (inches per year)

Composted Poultry manure in pounds

Composted Steer manure in pounds

Almond*

8-12

45

90

Apple*

6-10

20

40

Apricot*

10

25

45

Cherry

6-12

30

70

Fig

6

10

20

Grape

24-48

5

15

Peach & Nectarine*

8-18

20

40

Pear*

6-12

20

40

Plum/Prune*

10-16

15

35

Walnut

10-16

40

75

 

* – Fertilizer figures are for our semi-dwarf trees.    For newly planted trees divide by three

 

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