Planting Fruit Trees

While different types of fruit trees may have different requirements and thrive in different plant zones, the actual planting of fruit trees of all types is quite similar. Most fruit trees have similar soil, site and planting needs. There are a few important rules to practice when planting that can help a fruit tree to thrive.

Choose the Perfect Spot
All fruit trees prefer to be in full sun. A sunny, sheltered spot is ideal. Shelter from wind can come from a building, hedge or tree windbreak. Smaller dwarf trees can be grown against a wall or fence. If protection from the wind isn't available, most fruit trees will still grow but may be slower growing and require more water.

Sandy loam is the ideal soil, with a pH near neutral. Citrus prefers a slightly acidic soil. Have your soil tested before planting fruit trees and correct any nutrient deficiencies. Fruit trees are heavy feeders and need good, fertile soil or supplemental fertilization.

The most important part of choosing a site is to make sure that the soil drains well. Fruit trees will not survive in wet soil. If water stands in an area for more than an hour after a rain, or if you dig a hole and hit water, it is not a good place for fruit trees.

Do not plant fruit trees down in a hollow or other low spot. Low spots collect cold air in early spring and flowers may be killed by a frost that won't occur on higher ground nearby.

Plant your fruit trees close enough to the house so that you can water and care for them easily. If you have lots of land, planting your trees closer to the house rather than far away may keep animal pests like deer from doing as much damage. But too close to the house is not ideal either. Fruit trees do not make good landscape trees. They require regular spraying and pruning that makes them look less appealing than most other trees, but that will result in better fruit.

Fruit trees also attract insect and animal pests with fallen and ripe fruit. A cherry tree near the home will result in a lot of bird-stained items. Rotting fruit under a tree attracts yellow jackets, a nasty member of the hornet family, and may bring other undesirables too close for comfort.

Let's Dig the Hole

You can amend heavy clay soil with lots of compost and other organic matter. Amending with sand will create cement. You can also amend soil that is sandy and drains too quickly with organic matter. Do not amend individual holes; work the amendments into the soil before digging holes.

Current research has shown that holes for trees should be refilled with the soil that was taken out of them, and amendments like peat and compost should not be added to individual holes. If holes are amended and the surrounding soil is not as welcoming to plant roots, they tend to circle around in the hole rather than venturing bravely out to find food and water. This can stunt tree growth or even kill trees.

Setting the Fruit Tree
Fruit trees are often purchased with bare roots. Make your hole just deep enough to accommodate the length of the root from the tip to where you notice a dark ring on the trunk. This ring should signify the soil level where the tree was growing in the nursery. Potted plants should have holes just deep enough so the surface of the root ball is even with the top of the ground.

Never wind roots around in a hole. This encourages roots to circle around in the hole and sometimes they will actually strangle the tree, cutting off water and nutrients to the trunk. You can make your holes as wide as you want; it helps to loosen the soil around the new tree.

Look for the graft union on your fruit tree. Most fruit trees are grafted on to different rootstock. It is important that the graft union be well above soil level. If soil covers the graft union, the tree may send up shoots from the roots, and the less-desirable rootstock may overtake the desirable top stock. Graft unions are a slight bulge, or scarlike area on the trunk about 18 inches from the top of the roots. If you planted the tree correctly, you should not have to worry about this.

Refill the hole with the soil you took out and water the plant to settle the soil. Do not tamp the soil down. You want your tree in a loose, gentle environment. Some people like to make a dam around the tree with soil so the ring it creates can be filled with water that will seep into the soil.

Fruit trees can be mulched after planting. Mulch has advantages and disadvantages. It keeps down weeds that compete with young trees and preserves soil moisture. However, mulch can hide fruit tree pests such as insects and voles. Mulch should never be more than a couple inches deep and should not actually touch the trunk of the tree.

If you do not mulch, keep the area beneath the tree mowed short, but be careful not to damage the tree trunk when mowing or weed-whacking.

Standard and semi-dwarf trees should not need staking. Staking encourages weak trunks. Dwarf trees however, may need a stake to support them, or they may need to be tied to a trellis or fence. The trunks of newly planted fruit trees do need protection from animals that are very fond of tender bark. You can use circles of fencing with small openings, called hardware cloth, or wrap one of the spiral plastic tree wraps around the trunk.

It is very important to protect as much of the trunk as possible, especially in the winter. While three feet of wire may keep rabbits from eating the bark in the summer, if two feet of snow fall, the rabbit may be able to sit on top of it and damage the tree.

Water the newly planted trees once a week if it is dry, more often if the soil is sandy and the weather hot and windy. Once fruit trees are established, they can stand some drought. However, you will get larger and better-tasting fruit if you water them.

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