The nurseries will be full of fruit trees soon, so here are a few tips if you are thinking about planting a few.
Fruit trees will need room in a garden, even the dwarf ones. How much will depend on whether you plant dwarf, semi-dwarf or full-sized trees. Dwarf trees take as little as a 5-foot wide space with some able to grow in containers. Semi-dwarf trees will need 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 it is going to take a while to get fruit; most fruit trees can take three to five years before they begin bearing.
All fruit trees need full sun and a steady supply of moisture to produce bumper crops. Put them on their own irrigation line if you can. They will need pruning to maintain their shape and allow light and air into the tree canopy. Codling moth in apple, cherry worms in cherry and peach leaf curl are just a few of the insect and disease problems you will have to deal with in your new orchard. Regardless of whether you use conventional or organic control methods, the success of both methods depends on getting the sprays on at the right time. Check with the Master Gardeners on the proper chemicals and spray times.
Trees are usually sold as bare root, in pots or in plastic packages. Bare root trees will have no soil around the roots and will need to be planted immediately so the roots don’t dry out. Potted trees can be set aside and watered for a few days before planting. Packaged trees are bare root trees packaged with moist wood chips. They tend to be smaller trees with smaller root systems. Plant as soon as possible. Buy your trees early in the season for the best selection.
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 angle. 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 once a week for the first two years. Fill the moat a couple of times at each watering. If the weather is hot and windy give them an extra drink. Consider putting the tree on a drip system separate from other lawn and garden systems to meet their needs.