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Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

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Planting young fruit trees

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The critical points to get right to ensure that the trees to do well.

1) The soil is the tree’s home. Only the best will do. Use John Innes compost number 3 as a soil improver, if necessary. Ideal pH: 6.3- 6.8

2) Choose a spot in full sunlight.

3) Do not plant the tree on live roots of any other tree or on old orchard land.

4) Stay away from any type of hedge. The distance depends on the height of the hedge: for example if the hedge is 3 metres tall, plant the tree at least 3 metres from the hedge canopy.

5) Prepare the planting spot well before the tree’s arrival.

6) Moist soil is fine. Waterlogged soil is a no. Plant in a raised bed when in doubt.

7) The tree should be staked at all times from planting, right through its life. Use a 2”diameter, round, treated stake, 6 feet in length, treated against wood rot fungi.

8) First put the round stake upright in the ground, to a depth of 1’6”.

9) Then dig a decent-sized planting hole at spade depth. Approx. 1’6” diameter. Loosen the sub soil with a rigid tine fork. Keep the union of the tree above soil level.

10) Put the top soil in a wheelbarrow and mix it with some blood and bone meal and some garden compost or well rotted manure.

11) Always make sure crumbly soil is put back on top of the roots. Not big lumps of stiff clay. Firm the soil with your boot.

12) Tie the tree with a flexible adjustable tie. An old nylon stocking is perfect.

13) Put a rabbit guard on the trunk. If deer are a problem, use the appropriate guard.

14) Keep 1 square metre of soil around the trunk free from grass and weeds, during the growing season, from April to September during the next 4 years. Use a soil membrane from the garden centre. WITHOUT THIS, THE TREES WILL STRUGGLE. Grass is the worst enemy of young fruit trees.

15) Water your tree weekly during the growing season, above all from May to September. A full watering can for each tree. The first 3 years are decisive for healthy tree development.

16) Prevent aphids from damaging your trees. This applies in particular just before flowering time and soon after that. Any garden centre will stock what you will need for this. Use an approved organic method in order to save the ladybirds, lacewings and earwigs. These are excellent predators and the earwigs remove lots of caterpillars.

A quick method of finding out whether the soil is suitable for fruit trees

We are now at the time of year most suitable for planting trees, because they are dormant. If they are planted between now and the end of March, they have time to settle down in their new home so that they are ready to grow new feeding roots when the temperature starts going up with the arrival of spring.

We often receive questions about whether the soil is suitable or unsuitable for planting fruit trees. The most important thing is not to plant in soil subject to waterlogging, because standing water is highly detrimental to trees. To be sure, dig a planting hole right away to a depth of about 8-10 inches. Wait for 24 hours. If the hole does not fill up with water in this time, you can go ahead and plant the tree – or you can order the trees that you want and plant them when they arrive. Take a look at our Tree Varieties page.

Always make sure that crumbly soil is put on top of the roots, not big lumps of clay! If necessary, you can use John Innes soil-based compost number 3.
It is essential to use a rabbit guard to prevent animal damage to the trunks of the trees.

These are the main factors to bear in mind. If you order trees from us, you will receive instructions and recommendations with the trees that provide more information on ensuring that the trees do well. And if the hole that you have dug has filled with water, don’t despair, there is a method! Just send us a message describing your situation and the trees that you would like, and we’ll provide the solution according to your site.

Tree planting hole

It’s important that the hole doesn’t fill up with water. Cats are OK! Photo courtesy of Michael Cornelius/flickr.com

Big trees, little trees, can they compete?

Photo courtesy of Moreland's emerging urban food gardens/flickr.com

Photo courtesy of Moreland’s emerging urban food gardens/flickr.com

It’s not tree planting time yet. But, if you’ve already ordered your trees, this is the time to start thinking about how to ensure that the new tree will survive in your garden. In this post, I’m thinking particularly of situation in which you already have healthy, well-established trees in your garden, and you want to fill a gap with a new tree. In this case, you have to follow a certain procedure to give the new tree or trees a chance to compete successfully with the trees already there, and ensuring them a constant supply of moisture, light and nutrients throughout the growing season. Here we go:

1) Choose the correct fruit type, rootstock and variety compatible and vigorous enough to compete with the already established and larger trees in close proximity. If you need advice on which trees to purchase, there is some basic information here. Otherwise, take a look at our Tree Varieties page, fill in the form, and provide some information on your situation in the box ‘Special instructions or local conditions.’

2) Use a mini digger to prepare the planting hole, and cut and remove all the roots of surrounding trees that are crossing the planting hole. The size of the planting hole needs to be 1 metre square and 45 cm deep. (If you don’t have a mini digger, well, it’s going to be spade work… take your time, take it easy, do some warm-up exercises before you start. If you have back or heart problems, ask someone who is fit to do it… or hire a mini-digger.)

3) Next, loosen the subsoil but do not take that soil out of the planting hole.

4) Remove and cut back all overhanging branches of other trees, which will be taking away the light of the newly to be planted tree or trees.

5) Mix plenty of garden compost or well rotted straw based farmyard manure into the soil.

6) When planting your trees make sure the union of the trees is at least 4 inches above soil level once planted.

7) Plant the trees well away from any building or wall, which might create shade.

8) Firm the soil around the roots, but with only moderate force. No stamping. Stake the trees with a 6 foot, round, 2” diameter stake, which has been treated against fungi. If it is not treated against fungi, it may rot off at soil level.

9) During the growing season do not forget to water the trees weekly, with 10 litres of water for each tree.

10) Apply “Growmore” spread evenly over the 1 square metre area, twice a year, in February and June. Do not allow any weeds or grass to grow on your specially-prepared soil area, around the trunks of the trees. Mulch the trees if possible. Follow instructions on the packet of the fertilizer. Do not exceed the stated rate of application.

If you do all the above you will succeed. Good luck and all best wishes!

Preparations for planting

The rewards of a well-tended orchard

The rewards of a well-tended orchard

Fruit trees will look after themselves if you do the following things.

So you’ve decided that you’re going to plant some fruit trees, you’ve placed the order, and you know that you’ll receive the trees some time from November to April, the ideal planting time when the trees are dormant. Now is the time to prepare the planting site!

Check the pH of the soil. It should be between 6.3 and 6.6. Garden centres stock inexpensive pH meters.

Set out the planting positions, with tall bamboo canes, well before the trees arrive. You’ll have worked out the planting plan and the distances between trees with your supplier. Remove one square metre of grass sward for each tree position and remove this grass totally from the planting position. The reason is that the grass roots compete fiercely with the tree, and tend to stop the tree from establishing itself on the new site. Newly planted trees and grass are BAD companions!

Grass roots are very bad for the trees in the early years, when the trees need all the water available. Break up the topsoil and loosen the subsoil over 1 square metre for each tree. This is very important as tree roots hate stagnant water during the winter months. Keep the soil of the tree positions free from weeds for the rest of the season and for two years after that. The planting hole needs to be at least 1’6” in diameter and approximately 6” deep. Only put the best top soil on top of the roots. No subsoil. Loosen the subsoil with a rigid tine fork, before you plant the tree.

While the soil is reasonably dry, this is the best time to put the stakes in place near the planting positions. Set a stake upright in the middle of each 1 square metre. The stake needs to be 2” in diameter, 1’6” in the ground and 4’6” feet above the ground. Total length 6 feet.

If you think that you won’t be able to plant the trees straight away when they arrive, you’ll have to heel them into a shallow trench 8 inches deep and 6 inches wide.

Good drainage is absolutely essential for the trees to thrive. If drainage is suspect on your site, the trees will have to be planted on a mound. The height of the mound needs to be at least 10 inches above soil level and 3 foot wide in diameter. Only use the best topsoil to construct the mound.

Click here to read the complete story – including the planting operations and the tree’s first season

© Dan Neuteboom  5 Oct 2012