Common questions about planting fruit trees…
When can I plant fruit trees?
You can plant bare-rooted fruit trees between late October – end of March, according to favourable weather conditions. Fruit trees bought in pots can be planted at any time of the year but will need continued watering if planted in the summer.
Where shall I plant my tree?
Plant your fruit tree in a sunny spot! South or west facing sites will give the best quality fruit, and is a prerequisite for dessert fruit. Sweet and delicious dessert fruits require lots of direct sun light to ripen properly – north facing sites will not normally provide enough sunlight for good quality dessert fruit. However north and east facing sites can be used with success for acid cherries, cooking plums and some early season cooking apples.
Fruit trees also need a sheltered spot in order to thrive. Cold easterly/northerly winds in the spring will hinder pollination if fruit trees are in flower. Trees that are constantly battered by strong prevailing winds through the rest of the year will have their overall growth checked.
Other trees and hedges in the garden or orchard will provide good shelter if they are kept at the right height. 1m in height will provide around 8m of horizontal shelter, so a 5m hedge or line of closely planted trees will provide approximately 40m of horizontal shelter. Having said this, bare in mind what you’ve just read in the previous paragraph: don’t plant fruit trees in shady spots – for example, right under a 5m conifer hedge!
How do I plant my new fruit tree?
Dig a square hole wide enough so the roots of the tree can fan out. Around 60cm across x 40cm deep/2ft diameter x 18” deep is advisable. Use a spade to mark out the edges of the hole. If you then cut a cross shape inside the perimeter you have marked out, you can then remove large chunks of soil in 4 quarters. Not only does this save time, it allows you to easily slice off the turf, leaving you with 4 lumps of turf-less topsoil. Leave these to one side and carry on digging the hole to the correct depth.
You should now have a hole of the correct dimensions for your tree roots. Use a fork to aerate around the edge of the hole, levering with the fork to create fissures in the walls of your planting hole. This is particular advisable if you are on a heavy soil. Bang in a stake if you a using one on the windward side of the hole so that future prevailing winds will blow you tree away from the stake.
Line up your tree a few inches from the stake. It is easiest if someone can hold the tree in position for you. Be careful that you don’t plant the tree too deep – there is often a soil mark on the stem from where the tree was planted in the nursery. This is the correct depth for planting. If you can’t see a soil mark on the stem, make sure the graft union will be several inches above the finished soil level.
Now use a fork or spade to break up those first 4 quarters of turf-less topsoil you removed. This should create a nice friable soil to put around the tree roots. Shake the tree up and down as you do this to get rid of any air gaps. Once half the soil is back in the hole you can lightly tamp it down with your heel. Don’t be too overzealous, you just want to be firming it. Now backfill with the rest of the soil that came out of the hole and firm again with your heel. Attach your tree tie in a figure of 8 so the the tree can’t rub against the stake.
Either use the removed turf elsewhere in the garden, compost it or discard it under a hedge. Do not chop it up and mix indiscriminately with the soil to go back in to the planting hole and don’t place it back around your newly planted tree!
Shall I add fertiliser or manure in the planting hole?
You can add a handful of bone meal to the soil that you dig out (before putting it back in the hole) but most professional growers will advise AGAINST adding any compost or manure in the planting hole.
Do I need to water my newly planted fruit tree?
You do not need to water bare rooted trees planted in the winter. However, if the roots are looking dry before you plant they will benefit from a soaking. Stick them in a bucket of water for an hour before you plant them and keep them wrapped up whilst digging holes so they are out of the wind. If you are planting pot-grown trees in the summer, then it is imperative that you water the tree once it’s planted and continue through the summer. The most important thing you can do to provide moisture for the tree is to mulch.
What is mulch?
Mulch can be either organic (organic in the sense that it is derived from living things) or inorganic. Either way, when used around fruit trees its purpose is the same: to act as a physical barrier to weeds and to help retain moisture in the soil around the tree, i.e. the root zone.
Organic mulches include compost/well rotted farm yard manure/shredded bark. These are especially good at retaining moisture in the soil as they can be heaped up to create a thick bulky layer – 5″/15cm is good with a 3ft/1metre diameter, too thin and weeds will budge their way through. Don’t place organic material right up against the tree trunk, leave a gap around the base of roughly 4″/10cm.
Suitable inorganic mulches include black plastic or woven polythene. These are often better at suppressing weed growth and should last many years (unlike inorganic mulches that have to be regularly topped up) but don’t offer the same level of moisture retention in the soil as a thick layer of organic mulch.
This all sounds too complicated, can you plant my fruit trees for me?
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