If the warmer weather holds, this will be a really good time to plant fruit trees as soon as they show up in the nurseries. In general, fruit trees need a place with full sun, a well-drained, loamy soil and the availability of regular watering. Fruit trees come in several sizes so there should be one that fits even a pot on a sunny deck. Columnar trees stay under 10 feet and only 2 to 3 feet wide. Dwarf trees will reach between 8 and 12 feet wide and tall. These two types can be planted in large pots. Semi-dwarf trees generally run between 12 and 20 feet wide and tall. Standard sized trees can reach 20 to 30 feet wide and tall or more and are best in very large spaces. They will need tall ladders to reach the ripe fruit.
When buying a tree, do some research to find varieties you like. The grocery stores generally carry only a half dozen of the more than 5,000 varieties of apple that are out there. Apples, plums and pears all do well here while peaches and nectarines are at their hardiness limits so choose trees that can take minus 10 degrees or lower. A good nursery person will know which trees are the hardiest.
Trees will come as bareroot leafless trees, in pots or in packages that keep the roots moist with wood shavings. Bareroot and packaged trees should be planted as soon as possible after purchase so that their roots don’t dry out. If you can’t plant them immediately, remove the packaging and nursery wrappings and heel them into a temporary bed. Water them well.
Select trees without broken branches or major scrapes to the bark. The crown of the tree should have well-spaced branches that meet the trunk at a 45-degree angle. Don’t allow the nursery person to trim the branches back. The tree needs all the leaf area it can use to make food for the roots.
The trees should have a large root system with lots of fine roots. This will ensure the tree will be able to establish itself quickly. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to tell what the root system looks like on a potted or packaged tree so be sure you are buying from a reputable source that stands behind their plants.
Dig a dish-shaped hole as deep as the root system and three to four times as wide. Set the tree in the hole so that the point where the trunk flares into the root system is at ground level. Backfill with unamended native soil, build a low berm around the tree and water it in well. Water every two weeks during the growing season for the next two years.
Pat Munts can be reached at pat@inlandnw gardening.com.
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