A big part of the homestead dream is growing our own food. Fruit trees are naturally part of this plan. Can’t you just imagine walking out your door and picking a ripe apple off your own tree and taking a big, juicy bite? Yum! But, first things first. We must choose our trees, plant them properly, and figure out how to keep the pests away.
How to Choose Fruit Trees
Our first consideration, of course, is what types of fruit do we like? It just doesn’t make good sense to plant an apple tree if no one in the family likes apples. Next we need to assess the space we have available for trees. Standard sized fruit trees can be fairly large with a height and spread of 30’, semi-dwarf 10-15’, and dwarf 7-10’.
We need to also choose variety. Many types of fruits require another tree for pollination. Sometimes it’s another one of the same variety, but more often they require a second variety for proper pollination. You can find charts and guides to help you choose proper varieties for pollination. Peaches, nectarines, apricots, and sour cherries in general are self-pollinating and don’t require another variety.
Proper Planting of Your New Fruit Trees
Fruit trees need sun, so that should be the first thing you consider when planting your new fruit trees. They will do well if there is a bit of morning or evening shade, as long as they are in a sunny spot for most of the day. Now that you’ve chosen the proper site:
Your new trees will come in one of three ways:
- Bare-root: This type of tree is usually obtained through a mail-order source. The tree is shipped in a dormant state; its roots stripped of all soil. This will be the most affordable tree, but also the smallest (youngest) and will take longer to bear fruit. This type of tree should be planted as soon as possible. Dig a hole wide enough to accommodate the roots when spread out properly. Depth of the hole depends upon the tree. When planted properly, it should be planted at the same depth it was before being dug up. You should be able to see a color difference on the trunk. Build a little mound of soil in the bottom of the hole, set the tree on the mound, gently spread the roots out, and fill the planting hole.
- Container grown: This type can be found locally at your big box store or local nursery. This tree has been grown in this pot its entire life. Because it has always grown in a pot, this one will require a bit of special care. Dig the planting hole twice as wide and deep as the container. Gently tip the tree out of its container. You will need to very gently loosen and tease the roots out at the bottom of the soil ball. If the side roots are growing in a circle (around the pot), you will also need to slightly loosed these roots and spread them out a bit. If you have a tree that is very pot-bound (roots grown in a tight circle), they will continue that way unless you loosen them a bit. Before you place this tree in the planting hole you’ll need to back-fill with some loosened soil and maybe a bit of finished compost. Fill the hole with enough loose soil that your tree will be planted at the same depth it was in its container. Because this tree has always grown in a container with loose, soft soil you want this tree to have an easy time sending roots out before it hits potentially harder, native soil.
- Balled and Burlapped: This tree will be found at your local nursery. It was grown in the ground in a field somewhere, dug up, placed in burlap to contain the soil and root-ball. You can buy quite large trees in this type; many that are ready to bear fruit in their first year. You will pay a higher price for this tree, however. Again, dig the planting hole twice as wide and deep as the root ball. Before placing the tree, back-fill with loosened soil. This tree’s tiny roots were pruned off when it was dug up. It will also need a bit of TLC until it recovers from the shock and begins to send out new roots. Plant the tree at the same level it was planted before. Should you remove the burlap? Opinions vary on this. Burlap is bio-degradable. My opinion (from personal experience) is that you should try and remove the burlap, or at least cut away as much of it as you can. I just think the tree does better without it.
- For those living in apartments or on tiny lots; you can grow dwarf fruit trees very successfully in containers. Just make sure you buy a container large enough to house the tree at full-grown size.
Caring For Your Newly Planted Fruit Tree
As soon as your new tree is in the ground, give it a nice, long drink of water. This first watering is important for two reasons:
- Your tree will go through transplant shock and it needs a readily available supply of water to get back on its feet quickly.
- No matter how diligent you are in filling the planting hole, there will be air pockets. Plenty of water will cause the soil in the planting hole to settle into these spots. You may even need to add a bit of soil to the top of the hole to fill in a bit after watering.
For the first year of your new tree’s life, you’ll want to make sure that your tree is well-watered. It’s hard to give an exact measurement here. In general, you’ll want to check the soil around the tree. When the top 2” of soil is dry, it’s time to water. Your tree needs a long, slow, deep watering less often. Shallow watering can cause the tree to develop a shallow, ineffective root system. Also, as hard as it will be, for the first year you need to pick off any blossoms or fruit that is present. What?!! Isn’t that the point of having a fruit tree?! Absolutely but, all newly planted plants go through transplant shock. This depletes their available energy stores. For that crucial first year, you want your tree to expend its available energy on growing and setting its roots. It might make the difference in a solid, healthy tree and a weak, sickly one.
The last step is to place wet cardboard around the tree to keep grasses from growing too near. Grass can steal water and nutrients that your new tree needs to thrive. Cover the cardboard with a thin layer of mulch and/or compost.
Make sure to visit your new trees often so that you may catch any potential problems before they become to big to handle! Want to know how to preserve all those apples you’re going to get? Check out Preserving Apples: 5 Easy Methods.