Fruit Tree Planting & Care
After selecting the type of fruit tree you’re interested in growing, there are some essentials to keep in mind before you get your hands dirty.
There are three considerations for finding that perfect spot for your tree: sun, soil, and space. In the case of sun, plants generate valuable nutrients through photosynthesis, and at least six hours of direct sunlight is essential for proper growth.
When it comes to soil, knowing the type that exists in your garden will allow you to make changes if needed. For example, soil with a high clay content will need to be mixed with diverse organic content to improve biodiversity. In addition, the soil should be nutrient-rich and have proper drainage.
No one likes being crowded, and that includes trees. If planting multiple trees, make sure there is adequate airflow and sun exposure for each. The general rule of thumb is to plant each tree at least twelve to fourteen feet apart.
Closely following the best practices for planting trees results in a more abundant and fruitful crop. To guide you, here are the stages to properly planting your new tree:
- Dig a hole that is an inch or two shorter than the root mass. As a mid-step, remove the plant if the plant is in a container. Proceed to untangle or cut away any matted, tangled, or otherwise unhealthy-looking roots.
- Place the tree in the hole and make sure the top of the root ball is higher than ground level. The bud union, or where the branches start to deviate from the trunk, should not be buried.
- As mentioned, you will want to optimize your soil for growth. Fill in the hole with organic matter, such as peat, planting mix, or manure.
- Once the hole is filled, lay down a layer of mulch two to three inches thick.
- Water gratuitously!
Water is Essential for Life
Make sure to water your trees properly; their lives depend on it! When the tree is first planted, watering thoroughly is key to aiding its acclimation. In the first month, expect to water your tree more frequently and on unusually dry and hot days.
Make sure to drench the soil enough for water reach the bottom of the root ball. Your soil type will determine the frequency of heavier watering sessions. For example, sandy soils require a more frequent deep watering schedule, as little as every seven days, while clay soils can be deep watered every ten days.
To properly water your plants thoroughly, you can utilize a soaker hose to avoid just watering the soil’s surface. Alternatively, letting a hose trickle at the tree’s base for three to eight hours will also thoroughly wet the root ball.
During rainy seasons it’s important to note that showers run off quickly and should not substitute a deep soak. However, a half-day of steady rain can substitute for normal watering. Continue this schedule until the late fall, and if necessary, repeat the following year.
Before the trees start to produce leaves in the spring, spray your trees with horticultural oil to lessen the need for pesticides later on. Aim to spray the oil when the temperature is around 40 degrees, and spraying twice with seven to ten days between is recommended.
There are recommended times and methods for pruning all types of fruit trees. Here are a few common types:
- Apples and Pears – Prune in late winter while the tree is still dormant. Then, you can utilize Mid-summer pruning to control any aggressive growth.
- Cherries – Later spring or summer is the optimal time for cherries as they are susceptible to diseases that infect them opportunistically in cold and wet weather.
- Peaches, Nectarines, and Apricots – Early spring and after the last frost date are the best times to prune these stone fruits.
- Plums – Plums are best pruned in the winter, making sure to both cleanup and shape the tree. Like apples and pears, mid-summer is good for additional shaping. Plum trees are aggressive in their growth and can not be over-pruned.
Additional Pruning Tips
In general, pruning the right way and at the right times will maximize fruit production. However, it is very difficult to over-prune fruit trees, so don’t worry about being heavy-handed.
That first year of pruning will affect the tree’s general shape trajectory. After that, you should prune down new trees to four to six feet, and as the tree matures, the shape will always be something to watch for.
The desired shape of your tree will depend on the type of fruit being produced. The goal for apple, pear, and cherry trees are to leave the main branch and let branches grow from it, much like a Christmas tree. For peach, nectarine, apricot, and plum trees aim for a vase shape. All of the branches should reach upwards, with no obvious main branch.
When doing general wellness checks for the tree, look out for and trim inward pointing branches, branches that are twisted together, and suckers (or the off-shoots that grow below the bud union.) As a tree matures, suckers become less of a problem.
Another consideration is to cut back the tips of larger branches—this aids in thinning out the fruit. In the first year, try to leave about eight inches between fruit and clusters, and maintain this practice as the tree matures. Leaving too much fruit on a tree diverts the tree’s resources, resulting in smaller and less succulent fruit.