Saturday, October 2, 2010

It's Planting Time!

A few weeks ago, I bought some discounted fruit trees at a local nursery. So although this post is technically overdue, I still wanted to share some simple planting tips if you should have the urge to plant anything from a small orchard to a lone apple tree.

The best time to plant is in the spring or the fall
Now is the perfect time to plant perennials (plants that come back year after year). With the fall weather, your plants won't be as stressed as they're past the prime growing season.

Choose disease resistant varieties for less care
The tags on fruit trees are usually choc full of information, but won't necessarily tell you which diseases the tree can naturally resist. The word "hardy" is sometimes thrown in there, but the best thing to do is to write down the varieties available and then do some online research. I can say that pears are the easiest of the more popular fruits to grow. Our new ones are a Kieffer and an Orient (which surprisingly, is not an Asian pear), and the plan is that they will someday replace the older pear trees out back.

Some trees are self-pollinating, some aren't and some are in-between
Another tip for planting fruit trees is to find out if they're self-pollinating or not, since many trees need a companion in order to achieve pollination and bear fruit. Our new Elberta peach is partially self-pollinating, but I'd like to get another so that it produces to its fullest potential. Pear trees generally need two different varieties in order to produce fruit, which is why we got two. Finally, we planted a Damson plum, which is self-fertile. I was also excited to find out that the plum tree that's no longer part of this property (and also very went into survival mode and dropped all its fruit early this year) is a Damson! There are several apple and peach tree varieties that are self-pollinating, which is handy if you don't have much space.

Don't bombard yourself with fruit!
If you're planting several fruit trees, try to find varieties that produce over several months, so you won't be bombarded with fruit for two insane weeks in August or something of the sort. Some peach varieties, especially, produce fruit earlier in the summer. I'm quite anxious to plant a couple apple trees, and Pink Lady is on the top of my list because it produces later in the season and is the best. apple. ever.

Okay, got your tree? Plant it!
First, dig a whole that's about twice the size of the pot your plant came in. Not rocket science. When you pack the dirt in, you can add some planting mix from your local nursery. Some plants like this, and some actually thrive in poor soil (like figs), so it's best to check first.

Lots of rocks in the soil here. Byron collected some to fill in the ruts in the gravel driveway.

Next, water your tree. We use rinsed out milk jigs with small holes poked into the bottom. This lets the water seep out slowly, allowing it to penetrate the soil more deeply. It's also handy to use these jugs in a vegetable garden.

Finally, Byron mulched around the trees with pine needles. It's important not to mulch right up to the trunk of the tree; this can promote the spread of disease. Leave several inches around the trunk so it has some breathing room.

If you're planting fruit trees, you should water them with about a gallon and a half of water daily for the first couple weeks to get them established, especially during dry weather. You can tell if you're watering them too much because the bottom leaves will begin to wilt, as opposed to too little, at which time ALL the leaves will begin wilting. And don't be surprised if your tree doesn't bear much - or any - fruit the first year. In fact, some old timers around here told us you shouldn't let it fruit at all the first year, though we haven't researched that. It will usually produce better the second year anyway, and by the third year it probably will have paid for itself. Best of all, you know where your fruit comes from, and it's more or less organic without paying the hefty prices at the grocery store!

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