Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Plant a Fruit Tree!

I'll never forget the first year that our Desert Gold peach tree was heavy with fruit! I realized then that planting a fruit tree is one of the easiest and most practical ways to start your own edible garden. Besides, there's nothing better than a warm, tree ripened peach!
Here in the Phoenix area, we plant our bare root fruit trees in the Spring, that means late December or early January. By mid March the bare-root trees at our local nurseries have been potted or containerized and are ready to bud. The sooner you get them in the ground the better. Here's what you do! Find a nice sunny location. If you are planning on keeping your tree small, which is what backyard orchard culture is all about, think about how tall you want your tree to grow. The best advice that I have heard is, "if you stand on a small step ladder and reach up at arms length, that's how tall you want your tree to grow. No higher!"  If your property is small turn your tree into a shrub or hedge. 
Now, start digging. I like to dig the hole a few days before the actual planting, that way you can fill the hole with water to check for drainage (we do this a couple of times). Fill the hole with water in the evening, make sure it has drained by morning, and you are good to go. Drainage is really important, you don't want your tree sitting in water!  Dig a hole about twice as wide as and no deeper than the root ball.You want the roots to fit nicely, no crowding or bending.  Make sure you let the soil dry out before you begin to dig again, or you'll have big dirt clods and damage the soil structure.

As you dig, slope the sides outward at the top. We take a shovel and score all around the sides, if the soil is really hard ( in Arizona it is!), we use a heavy bar to break up the clay like dirt. This makes it easier for the roots to penetrate as they grow down and outward. We make a mixture of mulch, or organic matter, a few hand fulls of sand and bone meal and add it to some of the native soil.We put this in the bottom of the hole.
Next, cut down the side of the pot, and gently slip the bottom out from under the container. I didn't get a photo of this part because I had to help hubby hold it together. This is really a two person job! You can then place the whole container into the hole. This holds the contents and roots a little more secure, and it causes less stress to the root system, otherwise it easily falls apart. At this point, start to refill around the pot with the original soil that you have taken from the hole. We throw a few hand fulls of mulch in as we fill.

As you fill in around the container, gently lift it out of the hole. Continue filling in around the root ball and as you do hold the tree straight and tall. It should sit in the hole at about the same level it grew in the pot. The top of the root ball should sit 1 to 2 inches above the ground. Make sure the bud union is well above the soil level. Tamp the soil down as you fill, adjusting the tree as you go. 
Keep filling until you get the hole filled in. Pack down to prevent air pockets. 
 Build a nice basin around the tree to hold the water. As the tree grows, extend this basin outward in a circle in a radius equal to the trees height. You want the roots to reach and grow outward, just like the top of the tree.Put a top dressing  around the base of the tree to help retain moisture and keep it weed free. You can use, straw, compost or mulch.
Give the tree a deep watering, fill the basin a couple of times to give it a good start. Always water slowly and deeply to a depth of  two feet, deeper as it matures.  Make sure the roots don't dry completely out, (don't drown it either!). You will have to keep an eye on the tree for a few weeks until the root system gets established. 

After planting, prune your tree ( our peach tree hasn't had it's first pruning in this photo). This helps to establish a balance between the branches and the roots. Stand back and look at your new tree. Think about the size of your tree. If you prune your tree knee height, it will force new branches to form just below the new cut. Later you can choose the best three or four most evenly spaced branches, they will become your main branches or the scaffold branches. If the new tree already has evenly spaced branches, I usually prune less off the tree and use the existing branches. Make sure you prune where there is an outward facing bud. That's the direction that your new branch will grow. Remove all of the smaller shoots. Choose the branches that are more horizontal than vertical. Don't be afraid to prune as the tree grows.
My favorite place to visit when I want to review planting, pruning and other backyard orchard culture techniques is the Dave Wilson's website. Here, is an excellent video on how to prune a fruit tree.

 The best place to find local, organic food can be just steps from your own back door! Fruit trees take a little time and commitment , but it is well worth the effort. Besides, it's the perfect way to eat!

Linked up with The Prarie Homestead here!


Mrs. Smith said...

Thank you so much for posting--that is exactly what I am going to do--plant peach trees. We had one and lost it in the tornado last year. I am glad that you reminded me to get that going and with your help now I can do it properly! Great post!

Boho Farm and Home said...

Now I want to go to Baker's and get just one more tree...:)

SweetLand Farm said...

I look forward to the day we can plant some fruit trees. But for now we have to buy/barter for them.
Your fruit basket with all the peaches looks amazing!

ann said...

Thanks for the lesson on planting a fruit tree. We planted our peach tree late last summer. It had peaches on it then that were very sweet. I do hope that it survived the winter and will fruit this year. I hope to have a nice basket full of peaches--just like yours.

Clint Baker said...

Very informative, thanks so much for posting!

Lexa said...

What a great post! I do want to plant some trees. I think that apples and pears will do well here in Oregon. Your peaches look just amazing!

Connie Nelson said...

Glad I found your blog and that you are a fellow Arizonian is encouraging! I love gardening, but currently live in a place where I have more concrete than dirt. Our place was/is a major fixer upper so it will be awhile before I can garden much. I enjoy your blog though, thanks for stopping by my blog and liking me on face book too!

P~ said...

Thanks for getting peaches in my head! Our family is in the middle of moving from a 1/4 acre in the suburbs to 2.6 acres a little further into the country. Peaches are definitely goin to be on my list of Fall plantings this year!
I'll be checking back... looks like a great blog!
Paul Gardener~