"The best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. The next best time is now." -- Japanese Proverb*
I spent part of yesterday planting pear trees on my property. I've planted other fruit trees in the past, with and without success. The following are my tips for planting fruit trees, along with what I consider the mst common mistakes people make.
Tips for Planting Fruit Trees
- Dig a hole large enough to hold the entire root ball without the roots touching the sides of the hole. Common Mistake: If the roots touch the sides of the hole and bend or wrap around the edge of the hole, then the hole is not big enough. Digging in red clay or rocky soil is difficult and exhausting, and the temptation is to say "good enough" and plant the tree with some of the roots bending at the sides. This is probably the most common mistake many people make when planting trees.
- Plant the fruit tree to the proper depth. Plant the tree so that all the roots are covered with dirt without having to mound up the dirt around the tree, but do not cover the spot of the graft union with dirt or mulch. The graft union should be about two inches above the dirt and mulch. Common Mistake: Burying the graft union for dwarf and semi-dwarf trees is another mistake people often make. If the graft union is below soil/mulch level, the scion (the tree grafted onto the root stock) will put out roots and the tree will become a standard size tree.
- Loosen the soil for a couple of inches at the bottom of the hole. Compacted soil at the bottom of the hole will be difficult for the roots to grow into.
- Place the fruit tree in the hole, making sure the roots are not bending or wrapping around. Fill in the hole with good quality top soil, packing it gently with your hands or feet.
- Staking fruit trees is not absolutely necessary, but is a good idea in most cases to ensure that the tree grows straight. This is especially true in windy areas.
- Establish a "weed-free zone" at least three feet in diameter around the young fruit tree. Weeds compete with the fruit trees for water and soil nutrients. Mulching can help control grass and other weeds, but be sure not to cover the graft union with soil or mulch.
- Most fruit trees tolerate shade well, but will grow quicker in full sunlight.
- Most fruit trees need another tree of the same species, but different variety, to cross-pollinate with in order to produce effectively. Even self-pollinating trees will be more productive with a partner tree. Common Mistake: Planting only a single tree, or multiple trees of the same variety, will likely result in smaller, or no, yields. (For the record, I planted three pear trees, one each of three varieties - Moonglow, Bartlett, and Ayers.)
- Most fruit trees should be planted in spring, after the danger of freeze/frost has ended.
- Give the fruit trees plenty of space to grow by not planting them too close together or to already established trees - 12 to 15 feet apart in most cases.
- Thoroughly water newly planted fruit trees, and keep them well-watered for the first few months until they get established. Common Mistake: Letting the soil dry out around a young fruit tree before it gets well-established (takes at least a few months) is a major cause of death of young trees. It is easy to remember watering the first time or two, but it is also easy to forget to keep watering them weeks later.
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