Planting Bare Root Fruit Trees

Picture1Ag Biz News Column
Chad Gulley
County Extension Agent—Ag/NR
Smith County


Proper Pruning and Training Important for Newly Planted Fruit Trees

Many people during winter months look to plant fruit trees in their landscape or small home orchard.  Fruit trees are best planted in mid-winter to allow time for root development prior to spring growth.  Planting time for most fruit trees is January or February, during winter while the fruit trees are dormant.

Before a fruit tree is planted, there must be adequate space.  Most fruit trees require an area 25 feet by 25 feet; dwarfs need an area 12 feet by 12 feet.  The site must also have full sun.  For example, a single peach tree can easily produce two bushels of fruit.  Well drained soils are crucial to the success of fruit varieties.  Few fruit trees thrive in poorly drained soils.  Mayhaws are the exception.

There is a simple test to determine if your soil will be adequate for fruit trees.  Dig a hole 3 feet deep with a posthole digger and fill it with water.  If the water is gone within 24 hours, you will have no trouble growing fruit and nut varieties in this area.  If the water is gone in 48 hours, the soil is acceptable, but may lead to some problems down the road.  If the water is still in the hole after 48 hours, plant vegetables or flowers at this site instead.

Fruit trees should be selected according to fruit type, variety, pollination, harvest date, and root stock.  Select fruit tree varieties that will grow well in your area.  Some fruit trees will require more than one variety to ensure proper pollination and fruit set.  These include apple, blueberry, pear, plum, pecans, and some muscadine grape varieties.  Peaches are the most popular backyard fruit tree planted.  Peaches do not require a second variety for pollination.

Plant the trees and refill the soil to the same depth that the tree grew in at the nursery.  Be careful that the tree does not settle too deep.  The soil should not come past the original soil line.  The original soil line can be determined by the transition from brown to grey on the trunk of the tree.  Be sure to keep at least a three-foot diameter circle around the tree to keep the tree free of competing grasses and weeds.  An application 3 to 4 foot around the tree with a glyphosate herbicide should suffice.

After the trees have been planted, water your trees.  Good soaking rainfall should be adequate.  When rainfall is short, a good rule of thumb is to water trees every 4 days for two weeks, then 5 days for two weeks, and so on until you can water the tree every 10 to 12 days without placing the tree under stress.  The key to watering established trees is to water deeply and infrequently.  Water sprinklers set for 15 minutes every other day will not wet the soil sufficiently enough for producing trees.

Newly planted trees should be pruned back rather severe to compensate for loss of roots during transplanting.  Pruning also begins the process of training the new growth into a good form for that particular variety.  It is far easier to cut 3 to 4 foot trees back to 18 to 24 inches than to prune 5 to 6 foot trees back to 18 to 24 inches.  Such strong cutback is necessary to remove apical dominance (inhibition of the growth of lateral buds by the terminal buds of a plant shoot), to put the top of the plant in balance with the reduced root system, and force out strong vigorous shoots that are easy to train.  The roots should be white with no apparent brown streaks.

Stone fruit such as plums and peaches are considered open-centered and should be trained accordingly.  These open-centered trees have a martini glass or upside down umbrella appearance.  Apples and pears, on the other hand, are considered central leader and should be trained that way.  The central leader system resembles a Christmas tree shape with a dominant central trunk and an array of scaffold limbs every four to five feet.

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