Believe it or not, now is the time to plant fruit trees – while they are dormant. Not to mention they’re in garden centers and starting to bloom! In early spring, there’s less chance of damage to the roots and branches of the tree, and less chance of transplant shock.
The ideal conditions to plant fruit trees is rich, well-drained soil, with the water table about 4’ deep. But most people don’t have the “ideal planting conditions”. Gardeners in the Willamette Valley tend to have various types of clay soil they have to deal with. Almost all clay soils can be amended. Adding Garden Compost, or VeggieBoost Compost, which has Mycorrhizal fungi along with micro & macro nutrients, will give your fruit tree a fighting chance at survival in clay soil.
Location, Location, Location
The location you plant your fruit trees is crucial; plant in a spot with full sunlight and at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sun each day, ideally catching the morning and afternoon sun. Give the tree space to spread its roots – don’t plant too close to buildings, roads or walkways. Tree spacing is critical. If you are planting more than one tree, figure the height of the mature tree and that will be the total distance from trunk to trunk. For instance; if a tree will mature at 15 ft tall when it is fully mature, the distance from trunk to trunk will be 15 ft from the base of one tree to the next.
It’s All in the Prep
To prepare your fruit tree for planting, soak your tree in a bucket of water about six hours prior to planting. Add a little liquid Vitamin B to the water solution (following the directions on the bottle), which will help with transplant shock and give the tree a boost for survival.
Measure Twice, Dig Once
Dig a hole twice as wide and deep as the root wad of the tree. Score the sides of the hole and leave several shovels full of loose native soil in the bottom of the hole.
Don’t Bury the Crown
Mix the soil in the hole with about 60% compost. Mound the mixed soil & compost slightly in the center of the hole. Place the tree in the hole on top of the mounded soil. Cover the roots with a 50/50 mix of soil & compost around the roots, taking care not to cover over the grafted crown, leaving the crown about 1 inch above the soil surface. I find that shoveling alternating scoops of native soil and compost into the hole works best for a ‘rough mix’ and will acclimate the tree to the soil it will be living in. Sometimes I use Nature’s Best Planting Soil instead of a rough mix to minimize work. It will give you about the same result, but it is faster.
Gently press the soil in around the roots to push out any air pockets and then water thoroughly with at least 5 gallons of water (I pour the remaining Vitamin B solution around the base of the newly planted tree. The first year after planting a new tree, make sure you water deeply at least once a week (more in the hot summer months), until the tree gets established. This takes about one year.
Mulching is very important to your fruit tree’s health. By mulching often, this will help control weeds and protect the tree roots from any temperature extremes. Mulch around the tree between 3” to 4” per year with compost to protect it from moisture loss and temperature extremes. I use either Blended Mint Compost or Barnyard Compost to fertilize trees in early spring and regular Garden Compost for the fall mulching.
Prune the tree if the Nursery hasn’t already done that. If they have, then you can wait to prune your fruit trees next February when the tree is in dormancy.
Lastly, make sure you keep accurate records of the name of the tree, the date you planted it, the location of the tree in your yard or orchard and what you have done to the tree during planting. I keep mine on a rolodex (yes, I still use them!) and draw up on graph paper the layout of my orchard. I use the metal tags you can write on and loop around a branch. Make sure the loop is secure, but loose so it won’t girdle the limb.
- Select planting sight
- Dig hole twice the size of the tree root
- Mix a 50/50 Native Soil & Nutrient Rich Compost
- Place a small mound of mixed soil in hole
- Plant tree in hole, careful not to cover tree graft
- Cover roots with soil mix
- Tamp down soil around root
- Water deeply
- Mulch around tree
- Prune as needed
- Tag the Tree & Document its location
Note: These tips can also be applied to planting shrubs, just on a smaller scale.