Plant a Fruit Tree: an activity for children of all ages. Planting fruit trees is one of the best things you can do in your garden. Planting fruit trees is like making an investment in your garden. They may take anywhere from two to five years to start bearing fruit but the return on investment is well worth the wait. You plant them once and can harvest fruit for many years. They do require annual pruning and thinning of fruit but the work input is relatively light compared to the rewards in the form of yummy fruit! Unlike tomatoes, squash and other garden fruits, with fruit trees you only have to plant them once!
- tree(s) – You can buy these in pots or get “bareroots” from your local nursery (the “bareroots” usually take better and produce fruit faster but are only available during late winter and early spring so call your nursery to see when they get their shipment).
- digging supplies (any combination of the following that works for you and your soil)
- pick axe
- posthole digger
- tractor with an auger (if you’re going to plant a lot of trees and don’t have a lot of time)
- soil amendments if needed (any of the following). If you have rich soil this will not be necessary (check with your local nursery).
- composted manure
- coffee grounds
- worm castings
- mulch (any of the following)
- wood chips
- galvanized chicken wire (optional) – This is used to keep gophers away from your tree roots for the first couple of years while they get established (if you live in an area with lots of gophers this is a very good idea).
- Dig a hole twice as wide as the pot the tree is in (or the pot the tree would fit in in the case of a bareroot tree).
- Mix in your soil amendment of choice with the soil you dug out of the hole (if you need soil amendment).
- Prepare your tree for planting. For potted trees this will involve removing it from the pot and loosening up the root structure so the roots are pointed outward and not in the circular shape of the pot. You may have to cut some of the roots to accomplish this, but they will grow back quickly. Bareroots are more ready to plant – just remove them from the bag of moist wood chips they are usually packed in and trim any broken roots.
- Make (or purchase pre-made gopher baskets on Amazon or your local nurseries.) a chicken wire basket and place it in the hole (for areas with gophers). To do this, simply make a cylinder of chicken wire a little bigger than the pot for the tree. Twist the ends of the wires together to complete the gopher barrier. Then fold the one end of the cylinder like a box top to close it off. You can watch the following video for further instruction.
- Place the tree in the hole. This sounds simple enough but there are a couple of important things to consider. The graft (where the rootstock is bonded to the scion or fruiting wood – see the following picture to see what a graft looks like) needs to end up a few inches above ground level so that it doesn’t rot out. Also, the graft should point northeast in the northern hemisphere or southeast in the southern hemisphere. This prevents the graft from getting “sunburned” from overexposure to the suns rays.
- Fill dirt in around the roots and gently pack it in. Make sure you don’t bury the tree above where it was growing in the ground or pot.
- Using your shovel, hoe, or hands, dig a deeper area around the tree to make a well around it. This will allow the tree to hold water as it soaks in to the roots.
- Put a three or four inch layer of mulch around your tree but make sure you don’t cover up the graft.
- Give your tree a good watering (four or five gallons) and make sure it soaks in.
- Prune the top of your tree to stimulate growth. Removing about a third of the growth is a good rule of thumb but there are many methods to choose from. If you want to do goblet-style pruning and keep your trees small, you should cut the whole tree off at about knee level. This may seem crazy, but it will not reduce the amount of time for a tree to produce fruit. Many peach and plum varieties will still bear fruit the second season after this heavy pruning.
The following videos will give you further instruction on planting both bareroots and potted trees.
This video explains planting bareroot trees.
The video below shows the planting of a bareroot as well as a conservative pruning approach.
This video demonstrates planting a potted tree.
This video shows both planting and the extreme pruning mentioned above.