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Planting Fruit Trees For Your Garden

Fruit trees bear at different times of the year. For example, there are apples for early season, mid-season, and late season (well into fall), so it is wise to select trees for the season you want. Just how long it will be before trees will bear is another consideration; apples and pears bear in 4 to 6 years; plums, cherries, and peaches bear in about 4 years.

Besides considering bearing season and length of bearing, you should also think of size. In addition to standard-sized fruit trees there are dwarf varieties that grow only a few feet. There are also different kinds of apples, peaches, or cherries; your local nursery will tell you about these. Your nursery also stocks the type of trees that do best in your area, so ask for advice. Your trees must be hardy enough to stand the coldest winter and the hottest summer in your vicinity.

Many varieties of fruit trees are self-sterile, which means that they will not set a crop unless other blossoming trees are nearby to furnish pollen. Some fruit trees are self-pollinating or fruiting and need no other tree. When you buy your fruit trees, ask about this. Fruit trees are beautiful just as decoration, but you also want fruits to eat.

Buy from local nurseries if possible, and look for 1- or 2-yearold trees. Stone fruits are usually 1 year old and apples and pears are generally about 2 years old at purchase time. Select stocky and branching trees rather than spindly and compact ones because espaliering requires a well-balanced tree.

Whether you buy from a local nursery or from a mail-order source (and this is fine too), try to get the trees into the ground as quickly as possible. Leaving a young fruit tree lying around in hot sun can kill it. If for some reason you must delay the planting time, heel in the tree. This is temporary planting: dig a shallow trench wide enough to receive the roots, set the plants on their sides, cover the roots with soil, and water them. Try to keep new trees out of blazing sun and high winds.

Prepare the ground for the fruit trees with great care. Do not just dig a hole and put the tree in. Fruit trees do require some extra attention to get them going. Work the soil a few weeks before planting. Turn it over and poke it. You want a friable workable soil with air in it, a porous soil. Dry sandy soil and hard clay soil simply will not do for fruit trees, so add organic matter to existing soil. This organic matter can be compost (bought in tidy sacks) or other humus.

Plant trees about 10 to 15 feet apart in fall or spring when the land is warm. Then hope for good spring showers and sun to get the plants going. Dig deep holes for new fruit trees, deep enough to let you set the plant in place as deep as it stood in the nursery. (Make sure you are planting trees in areas that get sun.) Make the diameter of the hole wide enough to hold the roots without crowding. When you dig the hole, put the surface soil to one side and the subsoil on the other so that the richer top soil can be put back directly on the roots when you fill in the hole. Pack the soil in place firmly but not tightly. Water plants thoroughly but do not feed. Instead, give the tree an application of vitamin B12 (available at nurseries) to help it recover from transplanting.

Place the trunk of the fruit tree about 12 to 18 inches from the base of the trellis; you need some soil space between the tree and the wood. Trellises may be against a fence or dividers or on a wall. Young trees need just a sparse pruning. Tie branches to the trellis with tie-ons or nylon string, not too tightly but firmly enough to keep the branch flat against the wood. As the tree grows, do more trimming and tying to establish the espalier pattern you want.

To attach the trellis to a wall use wire or some of the many gadgets available at nurseries specifically for this purpose. For a masonry wall, rawl plugs may be placed in the mortared joints, and screw eyes inserted. You will need a carbide drill to make holes in masonry.

Caring for fruit trees is not difficult. Like all plants, fruit trees need a good soil (already prepared), water, sun, and some protection against insects. When trees are actively growing, start feeding with fruit tree fertilizer (available at nurseries). Use a weak solution; it is always best to give too little rather than too much because excess fertilizer can harm trees.

Observe trees frequently when they are first in the ground because this is the time when trouble, if it starts, will start. If you see leaves that are yellow or wilted, something is awry. Yellow leaves indicate that the soil may not contain enough nutrients. The soil could lack iron, so add some iron chelate to it. Wilted leaves could mean that water is not reaching the roots or insects are at work.

Planting and Caring for a New Tree

Planting and Caring for a New Tree
Planting and Caring for a New Tree

When you have decided on which kind of fruit tree you would like, and where you would like it, you can finally start to plant it. If you buy your tree from a nursery, be especially careful when you are taking it from the nursery to your house. I once had a friend who put the tree in the back of his truck, but clipped a sign on the way home. The entire tree snapped in half, and my friend was left a very sad man.

When you have gotten your tree safely back to your yard, look at the bottom of it and see how big the clump of roots is. It may seem like a lot of work now, but you want to dig a hole that is twice as wide as the clump, and just a little less deep. Making the hole slightly bigger than the clump of roots allows there to be room for the soil that you dug out to be put back in. Otherwise you would be stuck with a giant heap of unwanted dirt, and nowhere to put it. After you have dug the hole, line the hole with some compost or fertilizer so that the tree will grow better. After you have done this you should set your fruit tree into the hole, and spread the roots out evenly so that the tree will be strong and stable.

When all of this business is done, take the soil that you dug up and fill in the hole completely. Unless you want big piles of dirt everywhere, you should be sure you use all of the dirt even is it is a couple inches higher than the rest of your yard. This is because it will compress when watered. Before you firm up the soil, make sure that the tree is completely vertical and will not fall over. After you have checked that the tree is perfectly vertical you can gently firm up the soil.

If the tree’s trunk is not yet completely sturdy and can be bent, you need to tie the tree to a stake with a bit of rope. Be sure not to tie the rope
tightly to the tree, as you need to allow room for the trunk to grow. Once the tree is sturdy enough to withstand all types of weather, you can take
the stakes off of it. When all of this is done you should mulch around the base of the tree. If you live in an area where wildlife can access your
yard, then you should put a fence around your tree, because some animals will eat the bark off of young trees.

Once you have successfully planted your fruit tree it will start to bear fruit after it is three to five years old. Once your tree starts to carry a lot of fruit you should periodically pick some of the fruit so that the branches aren’t weighed down too much. If the fruit gets too thick, the branches can break off. On some years your tree might not bear as much fruit as others, but this should not worry you. Healthy trees often take years on vacation where they produce little or no fruit.

After you’ve planted your tree you might start to have some problems with pests. To help keep these pests away, always rake away old leaves, brush, or any other decaying matter that could be holding bugs that could be harmful to your tree.

To make sure that your tree always stays healthy in the long run, you should prune it during winter or spring. Water your tree every two weeks during dry times, and be sure not to hit your tree with a lawn mower or a weed eater because it could severely damage the growth process. Also just make sure that your tree gets plenty of water and plenty of sun, and your growing experience should be just great.

Spring Pruning Guidance by The Tree Care Industry Association

Three Cuts Diagram
Three Cuts Diagram

When performed incorrectly, tree work is extremely dangerous and can be lethal. In the wake of an increasing number of reported incidents involving tree trimming, the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) would like to remind arborists to use the proper tools and techniques, and for any untrained person attempting tree work to instead hire a qualified tree care professional.

“Pruning is an oft-needed maintenance treatment for good tree health and safety, but pruning without the correct knowledge or tools is not good tree care practice,” says Tchukki Andersen, BCMA, CTSP* and staff arborist with TCIA. “Pruning can be overwhelming to those not familiar with the process, and more often than not can result in undesirable results, including injury to the tree, injury to yourself and even death.”

Pruning tree branches away from a structure? A couple of things can go wrong.

Ladder placement, tie-in points, chain saw size and type of cut all affect the success of safely performing a “drop cut,” or a cut that controls whether a tree branch falls flat to the ground, as opposed to swinging unpredictably. When performed incorrectly, a branch could break mid-cut.

At the least, the cut branch might just tear the bark off the trunk while remaining attached. This would injure the tree and possibly cause a tree hazard in the future. A torn branch still requires a finishing cut, which can have an unpredictable result.

At the worst, the branch could unexpectedly and rapidly swing back into the ladder, knocking it and the worker to the ground. Another all-too-frequent scenario is when the branch weight is cut, the limb that the ladder is resting against will suddenly lift, and the ladder falls to the ground.

Many uninformed people have died attempting to prune tree branches from ladders.

Avoid the accident. Use proper tools and pruning cuts to control the limb.

There are specialty chain saw cuts professional tree care providers use to manage large limbs. But before making the first cut, they select the right cutting tool. It is necessary to use a chain saw powerful enough to make swift cuts through the wood. Do not use the following to cut live limbs from trees:

  • carpenter’s saw
  • hacksaw
  • reciprocating saw
  • low-powered electric saws

Proper pruning of tree limbs involves three cuts.

First Cut: A short distance away from the branch collar, make a small cut in the underside of the limb about a third of the way through. This notch will keep the bark from splitting during the next cut.

Second Cut: Slightly farther out the branch (away from the trunk or parent stem), parallel with, and on the side opposite the first cut, make the second cut, or “top cut,” through the branch until the branch separates. This removes the weight of the branch so the final cut can be made without the branch splitting and falling. This cut requires a firm, two-handed grip on the saw. The saw must run at full throttle to reduce risk of the branch breaking.

Final Cut: The final cut should be just outside the branch collar at the swollen attachment point of the branch into the trunk, following the angle of the branch collar. If the saw doesn’t fit into the crotch at the correct angle, it can be cut from the bottom, up.

Do not try to remove the whole branch with one cut. Making one cut to save time or effort is extremely hazardous. Cut away short, manageable sections from the end of the limb first. Removing “end weight” will reduce the risk of the branch breaking during the cut and swinging. This may require moving the ladder several times as an extra safety precaution.

About that ladder…

Ladder safety is important to consider while pruning.

  • Always have another person around while working from a ladder.
  • Use an extension ladder. Do not use a step ladder.
  • When leaning the ladder against the branch being cut, extend it at least three feet past the branch. The branch will lift significantly past the ladder when the end is removed.
  • Keep at least 10 feet away from energized lines when carrying, setting up and working from an extension ladder.

It is more technical than it looks.

It takes training and practice to confidently cut and manage tree limbs. Those working without proper chain saw experience could cause tree limbs to fall out of control, causing damage to property or themselves.

TCIA does not condone the idea of untrained people using chain saws to prune trees, especially when standing on a ladder. Standards for professional arborists call for them to secure themselves to the tree when working from a ladder, and to have two separate attachment points to the tree when using a chain saw. That’s how hazardous these practices are.

TCIA always recommends contacting a qualified tree care provider to complete tree-pruning projects.

Find a professional.

Contact TCIA, a public and professional resource on trees and arboriculture since 1938. TCIA has more than 2,300 member tree care firms and affiliated companies. All tree care company members recognize stringent safety and performance standards and are required to carry liability and workers’ compensation insurance, where applicable. TCIA also has the nation’s only Accreditation program that helps consumers find tree care companies that have been inspected and accredited based on: adherence to industry standards for quality and safety; maintenance of trained, professional staff; and dedication to ethics and quality in business practices. For more information, visit http://www.tcia.org.

An easy way to find a tree care service provider in your area is to use the “Find A Tree Care Company” program. You can use this service by calling 800-733-2622 or by doing a ZIP Code search on http://www.treecaretips.org.

  • Board Certified Master Arborist, Certified Treecare Safety Professional