There’s nothing more rewarding than growing and harvesting your own fruit. But, before the farm-fresh produce hits the dinner table, and even before the fruit starts developing, you’re going to have to tackle the daunting task of planting your young fruit tree.
There are some fairly easy steps you can follow in order to plant fruit trees successfully.
It really is that easy! But knowing the ins and outs of each step can make or break your tree’s chances of success. Let’s dive in, shall we?
I know it’s tempting to pick the most scrumptious-looking fruit in the supermarket and say, “That’s the tree I want to grow.” The fruit isles in the grocery store are a great place to get inspiration, but when it comes to picking the exact cultivar, do future you a favor and quickly search which trees are most successful in your region.
You’ll find that some fruit trees grow best in hot, dry climates while others need a minimum number of hours spent in below-freezing temperatures.
If you live in the deep south, you might consider fig or pomegranate trees. These are going to be fruits that will flourish in the relentless heat and don’t need chill hours.
Those of you in zones 9 and higher can pick from a number of choices such as peaches, nectarines, apricots and SOME apple varieties (We suggest trying Pink Lady in the higher zones).
If you’re dwelling in regions of the country that are regularly hit by harsh winters, your best bet will be to pick from apple, plum and pear trees.
Another consideration is whether you have room for two trees. If so, then feel free to pick a variety that needs a pollination partner. If you’re hoping to just have one tree, you’ll want to shop around for a self-pollinating fruit tree.
Next to selecting the tree, deciding on on your location is the most important factor in determining your success.
It’s a good idea to test your soil using a testing kit but it’s not imperative as long as you have a clear understanding of whether your soil is well-draining or not.
If you have well-drained soil, then you’re free to move on to the next step. If you don’t have well-drained soil, you’ll want to either mound up a pile of native soil from elsewhere in your yard to about 18 inches above the soil line or find a new spot.
If you’d like to know more about determining the drainage in your soil you can check out our blog on it here.
Drainage shouldn’t be your only consideration. Making sure your newly planted tree has good air circulation is important as well. There are plenty of reasons why, learn more about them here.
This part is pretty easy in theory. (of course, anyone who has dug a fairly large hole knows the physical act is no walk in the park.)
When you’re ready to start digging your hole, you’ll want to have a rough idea of how big your tree’s root ball is. The bottom of the hole should be no lower than the roots extend and wide enough to support the entire root system.
Accommodating the entire root system means digging your fruit tree hole twice as wide as it is deep. If you’re digging 12 inches down, you’ll want to dig your hole two feet wide in diameter.
But how big should I dig the hole if I don’t have the tree in front of me?
If you’re getting a head start on the labor, you might find yourself digging before the tree is there for measurements. In these cases, we suggest digging as big of a hole as possible. You can always backfill with soil if it turns out the hole is too big.
Yes, it seems straight forward but we just wanted to mention a couple of things. The first is that once you’ve removed your tree from its plastic container, you’ll want to gently tease its roots apart.
Having loose roots will make the next step easier, we promise.
After digging, you might be tempted to throw the tree in the hole planting hole, pack in extra dirt, and be done with it. But there’s a little more to it.
When planting bareroot trees, you’ll want to make a mound in the center of your hole and place the tree on top of that mount with the roots spreading out evenly across the mound. This helps keep the root growth separate and growing in different directions. No need if you’ve got a container-grown tree.
While situating the roots, keep an eye on the base of the tree. It should sit no lower than where it was originally planted. If you’re planting a bareroot tree, keep an eye on the graft at the base of the trunk. You should plant your tree with the graft above ground level, and the widest part of the trunk (the root flare) should also be above the soil line.
Once you’ve got your tree placed, go ahead and cover the roots with soil and pat down well.
Take a moment to step back and admire your hard work. You planted a tree, nicely done! The job isn’t finished yet though. Like all newly planted trees, you’ll want to grab the hose and water well.
This archives two things. The first being it gives your tree a nice long drink, which it’ll appreciate after being planted. The second is the water will help to get rid of any remaining air pockets. Air underground near the roots can cause all kinds of problems and will generally make your tree unhappy.
Slowly saturate the soil with the hose running at about half rate with no nozzle. As the entire root area soaks, the dirt may settle and you might need to add a bit more soil in some areas.
Your first instinct might be to reach for the fertilizer. We’re going to gently encourage you instead to reach for a bag of mulch.
Your fruit tree doesn’t need any kind of additives to the soil but a layer of mulch will help maintain the moisture and buffer the soil temperatures, keeping roots cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
Our general rule of thumb is to add a 3-4 inch layer of arborist wood chips over the roots starting about an inch away from the base of the tree. Works like a charm!
Ok, now you can step back and admire a job well done. Continue watering when needed over the next year while it establishes itself and stay patient while it readies itself to be your productive produce provider.
If you'd like to see these steps in action, check out our video on planting a bare root tree: