Growing Your Own Fruit – Planting Fruit Tree Tips
Planting Fruit Trees
In an age of containerisation it is possible to buy and plant fruit trees at any time of the year but, in my opinion, it is still advisable to plant them whilst they are in a state of dormancy or, at the very latest, just as the buds are beginning to burst. The main reason for this is that they are usually transported from the garden centre in the boot of the car and are very liable to damage at an advanced state of bud development.
Bare-rooted trees are less frequently sent out nowadays unless large quantities are being supplied. In which case they should be unpacked as soon as they arrive and, if conditions for planting are not suitable due to frost, snow or for any other reason, they should be heeled in. This is possible even if snow has to be removed or a slight crusting of frozenremoved, provided you can get down to unfrozen soil and this is far better than leaving them in a shed or garage. Take out a trench to accommodate the roots, put back the soil and tread firmly. It will do no harm if any snow is put back over the top. In the case of bush fruits where it is obvious that the tops have been dried then the whole lot, stems and all, can be laid horizontally in the trench and completely buried for anything up to a month before planting. During this time, moisture will be absorbed by the canes which will plump up the buds.
After selecting positions for the fruit trees, the hole should be dug larger than the full spread of the roots and of such a depth that when the roots rest at the bottom, the final soil level (when filled in) is at the same height on the stem as it was in the nursery. This depth can be found from the soil mark which will be clearly visible on the stem. In the case of containerised trees, soak them thoroughly and allow them to stand for a few hours so that the water can percolate through the whole of the roots.
Remove the container by slitting on both sides and if the root ball is very compacted the roots on the outer side of the ball can be released by gently picking at them with a pointed stick, taking care not to damage them more than is necessary. The roots of open field trees may be damaged as they are now often lifted with a plough instead of the spade, and any jagged ends should be trimmed neatly with secateurs making a sloping cut so that the underside of the cut faces downwards. When digging the hole, make two heaps putting the top soil on one side and the lower spit to the other. Break up the bottom of the hole thoroughly with a fork and mix in compost or well-rotted manure, working in just a handful of bonemeal but no other form of artificial fertiliser.
Bang in a stake and then carefully position the tree in the hole. Fill in using the top soil and work this well around the roots by gently jigging the tree up and down. This will not be possible with the containerised root system so the top soil should be put in the space between the root ball and the side of the hole. When half the soil has been used, break down the edge of the hole with a fork and gently firm by treading with one foot only. Fill in the remainder of the soil and top up with the bottom soil even if this be almost pure clay.
With a container-grown tree there is bound to be a surplus of soil, so dispose of this about the garden and do not mound it up around the stem of the tree. Don’t worry if the surface is then covered with clayey soil as this will break down quite quickly under the influence of rain, sun and wind, or, in winter, by the action of frost. With heavy clay soils do not leave the surface trampled down but lightly prick over the footmarks and mulch with compost or well-rotted manure; the emphasis being on well rotted.
Planting is carried out between October and March, October being preferable. Spring planting entails the risk of drying out so unless the soil is moist to wet, pour in a bucketful of water when the hole is half filled in. As far as the age of the trees is concerned, preferably they should be three to four years old for most types but in the case of cordons two to three-year-old trees are the most suitable.
Planting Fruit Trees in Grass or Open Ground
The fact that in old grassy orchards apples and pears produce heavy crops of well-coloured fruit tends to give the impression that this is the best and easiest way to grow them. The fact of the matter is that in nearly all cases these trees were initially grown in well-tilled, well-cultivated, weed-free soils and over a period of time have been deliberately grassed down to save labour.
There is no doubt about it that the fruit from grassed-down orchards is of high colour and in the past exhibitors used to take advantage of this by gathering apples and pears a few days before a fruit or flower show and letting them lie in the grass or covering them with mown grass for a few days. However, grass does militate against the apples growing in it in the following ways:
1. Lowering the water supply
2. Decreasing some elements in the food supply
3. Reducing the amount of humus
4. Lowering the temperature of the soil
5. Diminishing the supply of air
6. Adversely affecting beneficial microflora
7. Forming a toxic compound that affects the trees
I mention this because there are occasions when it seems a nice idea to have an apple tree on the lawn or to make a piece of rough grass productive without any trouble. In these instances it is necessary to retain a cultivated area at least 4 ft in diameter, either square or circular, round the tree. Keep this area clear for at least twelve or fifteen years until the tree becomes thoroughly established.
Feeding Fruit Trees
Whether apples are grown in grass or in cultivated soil – cultivated incidentally only with a view to providing a well tilled but not deeply cultivated soil around the trees – they should be fed at least twice a year. Once in early spring and again as the fruit is swelling after theare fertilised. The early spring feed should be high in nitrogen using a fertiliser such as urea, nitrate of soda or even sulphate of ammonia. In contrast, the early, summer feed should be of a complete compound containing nitrogen, phosphates and potash, such as commercially available Growmore fertiliser. This basic general fertiliser contains 7% nitrogen, 7% phosphates and 7% potash.