Fruit trees are not only beautiful additions to your yard, they can provide you with a delicious fruit crop each year. But in order to enjoy such a bounty, you must ensure that the fruit trees you install, thrive. This entails a number of different responsibilities, including ensuring that your trees receive enough of the things they need, such as water, sunlight, and minerals, as well as keeping them pruned and maintained.
However, the single most important thing you can do to ensure your trees thrive is to install them properly. This will help reduce the chances that they will develop girdling roots or languish in damp soil that doesn’t drain quickly enough. Additionally, healthy, vibrant trees are more likely to fight off pests, fungi, and disease, than struggling trees are.
Follow the seven tips below to help make sure your trees reach their full potential and produce a bountiful crop, year after year.
- Select a suitable planting site. Most fruit trees require at least 8 hours or so of full sun each day to reach their potential, so be sure to select a location with adequate sun exposure. Additionally, look for a location that is not subject to high winds, nor one that is located at the bottom of a water shed – the soil in such areas typically remains too damp throughout the year for the roots of most fruit trees. If you do not have access to a suitable planting site, it is best to select another species entirely, rather than trying to nurture a poorly suited tree for many years.
- Dig the planting hole wide and shallow. Preparing the hole for your new tree is one of the most critical aspects of the installation process. If you fail to make the hole the proper size and shape, it is unlikely to reach its full potential – it may even struggle to survive. Trees require a relatively shallow, very wide planting hole, rather than a deep, narrow hole. Try to ensure that the planting hole is wide enough to accommodate all of the tree’s existing roots, and that it is not so deep that the tree’s root flare sits below ground level. Flare the tree roots out so they spread evenly through the planting hole, and be sure to prune any encircling, kinked, or damaged roots at this time.
- Skip the gravel. Many people faced with poorly-drained soil place gravel at the bottom of the hole to help with drainage. However, this practice is extraordinarily counterproductive and best avoided. Water contained in a substrate with large pores does not infiltrate readily into surrounding substrates with smaller pores. This means that the water will remain in the planting hole until the gravel layer is completely saturated, and rather than increasing the rate at which water drains from the soil, a layer of gravel will help to ensure water remains in the tree’s hole for longer than if no gravel were present at all.
- Water your trees well after replacing the soil. Newly planted trees require a lot of water to hit the ground running and grow quickly. Water them thoroughly after completing the installation process (this also serves to settle the soil in the planting hole, which improves the tree’s stability), and then water them once or twice per week for the first two years of its life. It’s almost always preferable to water trees deeply and infrequently, rather than the opposite. This helps to encourage deep root growth, which will help prepare it for future droughts or water shortages.
- Cover the critical root zone with mulch. Placing a thick layer of organic mulch over a tree’s roots is one of the best ways to support a tree. Mulch helps to protect the tree’s delicate absorbing roots from temperature extremes, as well as things like mowers, bicycles and feet, which may compress the soil. Mulch also helps prevent the growth of weeds and grass, which may compete with your tree for resources, and provide important micro-nutrients to your trees, as the organic matter present in the mulch decomposes. The critical root zone is generally defined by a circle with a radius in feet equal to the trunk’s diameter in inches. In other words, a tree with a 2-inch-thick trunk has a critical root zone stretching at least 2 feet away from the tree in all directions.
- Avoid staking fruit trees if possible. While staking has its place, they are rarely necessary for properly planted (fruit) trees, and they may actually cause harm if not applied correctly. Staked trees fail to develop the strength to withstand winds, which can cause them problems as they mature. Another problem caused by staking involves the tendency for people to forget to remove them in a reasonable amount of time. When this occurs, the cordage used to stake the tree often becomes very tight (actually, the tree’s growth causes the cordage to tighten). This prevents the tree from transporting nutrients up and down the delicate phloem layer, ultimately leading to the tree’s demise. This forgetting to remove stakes happens more frequently than you think!
- Prune the tree as necessary. There is no need to “balance” the canopy with the root system as was commonly thought decades ago. However, it is still wise to prune trees immediately after planting, to correct any structural problems or remove broken branches. Be sure to remove and branches with narrow attachment angles – this is especially important for trees with multiple leaders. In such cases, it is wisest to allow the stronger of the two leaders to remain, while removing the weaker of the two. Try to avoid removing too much of the tree’s canopy when doing so, as this can lead to stress, as the tree struggles to produce enough food. Generally, you should strive to remove no more than one-fifth to one-fourth of the canopy.
Try to incorporate these tips whenever you set out to add new fruit trees to your property. Proper planting won’t alleviate every possible problem, but it will help ensure your trees get the best start possible. With these tips and a little luck, you are sure to be enjoying fresh fruit for years to come.
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