If you have a yard and are looking into beautifying it with some trees, why not plant fruit trees? They provide shade, look pretty (apple and cherry trees have wonderful blossoms on them every spring) and they give something back to you each summer or fall. When we decided to put in fruit trees, my friends asked why? Their main concern was that I would then ‘have to do something’ with the fruit every fall. This is how lazy we have become, when people avoid putting in fruit trees because they don’t want to ‘have’ to do anything with the fruit!
Even if you do nothing with those fruit trees, they are a small insurance policy. If we are ever faced with a long term emergency or hard times, those trees will be there giving you food when maybe nothing else is. You can always put an ad on Craig’s List and give your tree’s fruit away. There are plenty of people who would be willing to come and pick it, that way you won’t have to ‘do anything’ with the fruit but you would still have the trees just in case. There are also gleaning clubs that you can contact, that will come and clear off all the fruit when it is ready, some clubs even donate to local food banks. Of course, ideally you would want to learn how to preserve your fruit and not let it go to waste. This can be done through canning, freezing, drying, wine making, and through jams and jellies (click here for a recipe and instructions on making easy jams and jellies). But first, you have to start with the tree!
When to Plant
Fruit trees can be planted in early spring as soon as the frost in the ground has thawed. If your soil is waterlogged, wait until it drains to plant. You can also plant in the fall, but winter temperatures may damage young stock if you live in colder climates.
Bare-Root or Potted
Bare-root nursery stock is usually less expensive but it will still establish and grow well, if planted in April or early May. If you must store the trees a short time before planting, keep them in a cool, shady place where they will be out of the sun and wind. Pack the roots in moist sawdust or moss to prevent them from drying out. Potted or ball-and-burlap trees are preferable for planting dates in late May or early June, and are usually more expensive than bare root trees.
Choosing a Site
Pick a site with direct sunlight, preferable with southern exposer. It’s also important to read the tag and do a little research to find out just how big your tree will get. Allow enough room for future growth between your tree and other buildings, avoid power lines and give other future trees space if you are planting more than one or want to plant additional trees in the future.
Set your tree in a bucket of water to soak while you dig the hole. Cut through the sod with a shovel and make a hole big enough for the root ball so the roots don’t touch the edge of the hole anywhere. If you are planting your fruit trees in your lawn, set the chunks of sod aside so you can reapply them to the surface around the tree when you are done. Next, water the hole so the ground is nice and damp for the tree if your soil is on the dry side.
Trim off any broken or dead sections of the tree’s roots, also take this opportunity to prune your little tree, this may seem harsh as you haven’t even planted it yet but it will often shock the tree into growing more aggressively, increasing it’s chances of surviving the transplant.
When planting the tree, if you are concerned about poor soil, you can mix in some compost or peat moss at this time, but avoid fertilizer as it may damage the roots which are already in shock. If your tree has a ‘graph union’ (a point where they joined a branch to the rootstock – this will look like slight to sharp bend in the trunk, see above graphic) bury it so that the soil line is 2-3 inches below the union. If you have a dwarf or semi-dwarf trees and you bury the union, the tree will become a full sized tree. Position your tree in the hole so that one higher branch is facing south, this branch will give your tree shade during long hot days. Fill the hole with your soil of choice and compact it by gently stamping your feet around the base of the tree, reapply your sod if desired then water your tree with 2 full 5 gallon buckets of water pouring slowly so that it does not run off. Also consider staking or caging your new tree not only for support but also for protection against animals and for visibility.
Fertilizer and Water
After several weeks it should be okay to apply some fertilizer, although in some areas it is recommended you wait till the next growing season, check with your local county extension office for their advice on your area (click here for a general fact sheet on fertilizing fruit trees). Watering your new tree is also important to help get it started, especially in the first few weeks after planting. Try to apply five gallons of water around the base of the tree every week of the growing season in which there is less than an inch of rainfall.
Be patient and keep in mind, depending on the size of your newly planted tree, it may take several years for it to start producing fruit.