As Autumn and Winter approach minds can turn to the planting of fruit in the garden or allotment. Without doubt, the most important day in the long life of a fruit tree is the planting day, so every effort must be made to get it just right. Getting things right, means following the Three P’s. Planning, Preparation, Planting.
PlanningFruit Trees are a long term investment into the garden and are likely to live for upward of thirty years - ensuring that the right tree is planted in the right spot is key. Consideration must be made as to the position, aspect and the style in which you wish the tree to grow.
As a fruit tree is long-lived, it is vital to ensure that the planting site for the tree fits with any future plans for the garden. A change in path layout, sitting areas or even future building work should all be taken into account.
Fruit trees as a whole are sun lovers and trees planted in shaded areas will never reach their full potential and will disappoint. This does not rule out north facing plantings for some varieties so long as there is uninterrupted light. It does however rule out planting for all fruit beneath large overhanging trees or hedges.
There are many differing ways in which to grow fruit trees, from the elaborate Espalier and Cordon trained trees, through Fans and Step-overs and onto Bush and Standard trees, with many more styles in between. It is true to say that in almost every case, the tree that you plant can be grown to each one of these styles. So, from the very outset, the decision must be made as to How do you Wish to Grow Your Tree?
Once the decision has been made about the planting site and the style in which the tree is to be grown, then the preparation work can begin. For trained trees, it will be important to erect the post and wire work that is required and remember that for best effect, the support structure will need to fulfil the life of the tree.
For free standing trees such as bush, half-standard and standard trees then a long lasting post must be firmly placed into the proposed planting site, and a suitable tree tie made ready.
The stability of the tree after planting is key to a good root system developing and to prevent water-logging around the roots due to the continuous movement of the tree at ground level during windy weather periods.
Soil preparation is vital for the tree to develop quickly. Fruit is really quite adaptable to varying soil types and so long as a ph value (Soil Acidity) of between 6 - 7.5 is present, then with good drainage most trees can thrive. In the vast majority of cases, the ph values of garden soils are towards the neutral (or the slightly lower end of the scale), and the addition of garden lime during the site preparation is a good rule to follow.
The soil in which you plan to plant must be free of perennial weeds and in particular, grass weeds. There is great competition for moisture and nutrients between establishing fruit trees and weeds and ideally there should be a 1 metre square of bare soil around a fruit tree.
The soil should be dug over at least twice before planting the tree - the ideal is to dig it over two weeks prior to planting, and then again one week prior. The soil preparation should be to a depth of at least 30cms and 40cms if possible, and should extend to 75cms square. If you are planting a fan trained tree against a wall then describe a 50cm arc as a semi-circle and ensure this is dug over in the same way. If the wall has considerable foundations, then enlarge the prepared area accordingly.
It is best to incorporate additional organic matter into the prepared soil. This can take the form of very well-rotted manure, well-made garden compost or the recycled garden waste which is now available. Avoid peat at all costs as this will reduce soil ph values and in addition when dry, is almost impossible to re-hydrate, again causing water stress on the fruit tree.
When you take delivery of the new fruit tree it will either be bare rooted or potted. In the case of the bare rooted tree, the roots should be plunged into a large bucket of water for at least 8 hours. This will ensure that the roots are fully hydrated before going into the soil and the capillary action of the root system can begin immediately. In the case of a potted tree, tap the pot from the tree carefully and gently tease the roots apart. Do not worry about losing the compost from around these roots as it is far more important for the roots to begin spreading away from the tree than being grouped together. The potted tree can be thoroughly soaks as for the bare rooted tree. Do not worry about compost that floats away from the roots.
The planting hole should be dug so as to be 10cms wider than the spread of the roots and as deep, so that the tree is planted to the soil mark from the nursery field or pot. This is quite obvious to see. Place the tree in the hole about 10cms from the tree stake or supporting wire work, ensuring that the trees branches are facing the way in which you would like to see the tree to develop. This is particularly important for fan trained or espalier trained trees.
Start by back filling the hole with the friable soil from the hole to a depth of about 10 cms. Gently firm that soil with an old broom handle or similar size diameter branch. Repeat the procedure until the tree is fully planted. The tamping down of the soil fills in all of the air holes within the soil which prevents any water logging during heavy rains and places the soil in direct contact to the roots. You should not stamp the soil down hard as this will force all of the vitally important air from the soil. Be gentle!!
When the soil is completely back filled around the tree, the soil level should be slightly above the nursery soil mark to allow for soil shrinkage over the winter months.
Finally the tree must be tied to the stake or support structure.
For Bush, Half Standard and Standard trees
It is usual to only tie the tree once to the stake, using a soft tying product. There are many on the market ranging from tying belts to a spaghetti like soft plastic tubing. If you do not have access to these products, then using a pair of ladies tights works very well. In any case, the tying procedure will always result in a buffer of the tree tie between the tree and the post. This is vital to stop damage to the tree by the post. Finally ensure that the tree stake does not rub against any branches. If this is the case, then cut the stake lower to avoid this problem.
For fan and Espalier trained trees
The tree should be tied to the central post or bamboo cane of the support structure and then the branches attached to bamboo canes which are firstly attached to the wires. This helps to prevent any damage done by metal wires to the delicate branches. A soft garden string can be used to tie the branches to the canes but ensure that a figure of eight is described with the string to ensure a buffer between the cane and the branch. Do not make the ties too tight. They should support but not hold the branches in a vice like grip!.
Planting Fruit Trees in Pots
Nearly all species of fruit can be successfully grown in pots and planters given the correct variety, good conditions and good care, but once again the Three P’s are once again vital.
Selecting the right site and aspect is critical for successful pot culture in fruit. You may have only a small space, sometimes very small such as a balcony, or you may wish to add the delights of fruit and all that it can contribute to your terrace or patio. So long as there is good sunlight and a free run for excess water to drain away then you can be successful.
Choosing the right size of pot is also a very important consideration, as a pot capable of holding at least 15 ltrs of soil should be the eventual goal, although this final size is often best achieved in stages. With that in mind, ensure that the pots you chose do not have an overhanging lip or be wider at the base than the neck which will make “potting on” at best difficult, and in some cases impossible without damage to both tree and pot.
Once you have selected a good site for your fruit tree and a suitable pot, place the pot in space and ensure that the drainage holes are well clear of the ground.
Trying to move a pot after planting will not only disturb the fresh planted tree, but may prove very difficult with the combined weights of soil and pot.
Place a good layer of drainage material in the base of the pot. These can range from pieces of broken pot to layers of spent oyster shells. So long as the soil is held back from blocking the drainage holes in the pot, then many different drainage choices can be made.
The compost is most important and should always be a soil based compost (John Innes No.3 or similar) to which you should add and mix well, 25% by volume grit and 15-20mm stone to aid the drainage. You can add additional organic matter to the mix which will certainly help with soil structure and I advise upon planting the addition of slow release granular fertiliser suitable for shrubs and trees. It is commonly found in good gardening outlets.
Unless the fruit trees that you have chosen to grow are very low growing bush type, such as Blueberry or Bush Figs, then the provision of a stake and tie is necessary to stop tree rock.
Position the tree inside the pot and raise or lower it so that the soil mark on the stem where the tree was planted in the nursery is about 40-50 mm below the rim of the pot. It is to this level that you will back fill with the compost mix. This will ensure that you have room to pour water into the pot without it spilling out. Add compost around the spread out roots in layers and take an old cut off broom handle or similar and tamp down the compost which will fill in the air spaces between the roots. When the pot is about half full, add the stake ensuring that it does not touch the main stem. Continue to fill the pot in layers. Once the correct depth of compost has been reached, pay special attention to tamping down the compost around the stake which will firm that in place. Finally secure the tree to the stake.
You will now have a properly planted tree of which you can be proud.
If planting in the Autumn or Winter it is unnecessary to water the tree unless there is severe drought which is most unlikely. However, if planting does not occur until March or April then it is advisable to water the tree directly after planting.
Good luck and enjoy the many years of delicious fruit which your fruit tree will bring.