March 5, 2009 in Washington Voices

Spring prime time to plant fruit trees

Pat Munts Correspondent
 

Does the idea of walking out in your backyard and picking a tree-ripened peach, apple or cherry sound appealing? Spring is the best time to plant fruit trees. Here are a few things to consider when putting trees in.

Plant them in open areas where they get full sun and a steady supply of moisture. They will also need space to spread out; how much depends on whether you go for dwarf, semidwarf or full-sized trees. Dwarf trees take as little as a 5-foot-wide space with some able to grow in containers. Semidwarf trees can take a 15-foot wide space, while full-size trees will need 25 feet or more. Because some varieties require a pollinator, you may need to plan for two trees to get a crop. Lastly, most fruit trees can take three to five years before they begin bearing fruit and another five to produce a heavy crop.

Secondly, ask yourself if you are willing to apply the organic or conventional pesticides to keep the insects and diseases at bay? Preventing wormy apples and cherries takes applying the right control measures at the right time. Unkempt backyard trees can have a serious impact on our local fruit industry by spreading problems that they must then treat for.

Trees are usually sold as 3- to 5-year old plants as bare-root stock, in pots or in plastic packages. Bare-root trees will have no soil around the roots and will need to be planted immediately after purchase so the roots don’t dry out. Potted trees can be set aside and watered for a few days before planting. Packaged trees tend to be smaller with a smaller root system wrapped in moist wood chips and packaged in plastic. Be wary of packaged trees sitting out in hot sunny places in the nursery where their roots can cook.

Select trees that have straight trunks with a single leader or main branch if possible. Look for branches that join the trunk at greater than a 45-degree. These branch crotches will make strong limbs as they grow. Don’t buy trees that have broken branches or large scrapes in their bark.

Plant the trees in a flat, dish-shaped hole so that the soil will come to the point where the trunk flares out into the roots. Trim any broken roots before planting. Back-fill the hole with the native soil without amendments. Build a moat around the tree and water it well. Stake the tree only if you live in a windy area. Do not fertilize the first year.

Be sure to water the tree a couple of times a week by filling up the moat and allowing it to drain a couple of times for the first two years especially in hot weather. Consider putting the tree on a drip system separate from other lawn and garden systems to meet the need.

Pat Munts is a writer, editor and Master Gardener who has gardened in the same place in the Spokane Valley for more than 30 years. She can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.


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