Creating a backyard orchard is a wonderful way to utilize your landscape. Planting your own fruit trees is one more step towards a more sustainable lifestyle. You can also use your harvest to support you community. In addition, they make excellent shade trees and are beautiful to see.
Many gardeners find that their fruiting trees and shrubs, once established, provide more produce than the gardener or his family can consume. Think about how often you’ve been given a few extra tomatoes or zucchini. Even a single fruit tree can produce more than you can eat, even if you preserve the fruit. Community food banks and local shelters are often the grateful beneficiaries of gardeners’ over-production. If you choose to plant fruiting shrubs or trees, please consider calling some of these charities to see if they might have needs you can fill during the harvest season.
Before you harvest, you first must plant. Planting fruit trees and shrubs isn’t drastically different from any other tree. Here are the basic instructions for planting a tree.
Selecting the location.
Fruit trees needs a lot of sun. The more sun, the better! The light from the sun helps the tree develop the sugar that will make your crop sweet and tasty. If your tree or shrub doesn’t get enough sun, it may not produce good fruit or it may not give you a harvest at all. Find a sunny place for your fruit tree. Most will need a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight per day and well-drained soil.
Consider the mature size of your tree when you plant. A rabbit eye blueberry bush may seem small when first purchased but it will be about 10-12 feet tall and 8-10 feet wide at full maturity. It’s not a small plant like a strawberry. A large tree like an Arbequina Olive can be 20 feet tall and 12 wide. Give your tree or shrub plenty of clearance from your home and any other structure, power lines and other trees too.
Set the tree in a bucket of water while you prepare its new home. This will allow the roots to absorb some much-needed water before it experiences the inevitable (and hopefully short-lived) transplant shock. Cut through the covering, usually burlap or a similar fabric, in an X-shape to help encourage the roots to explore.
Cut the sod from the surface in a circle about twice the diameter of the root ball and put it in the compost heap. Once this area is clear of sod and weeds, you can start digging. Dig a hole big enough so that root ball can sit in it without touching the sides. One and a half times to two times the size of the root ball is a good rule of thumb. Make a pile of the top soil first (usually darker in color) and then one of the subsoil (usually lighter in color). Rough up the sides of hole with your shovel or pick so the roots can find places to grab.
Water the hole. Give it some moisture now. The tree will need it and watering will help soften the soil at the bottom. Give the hole a quick rinse and don’t let it flood.
Locate the graft if your tree has one. This is the point where the root stock and cultivar have been grown together. If it bows at the graft, point the bowed area towards the prevailing wind.
Place, don’t drop, the tree in the planting hole. Layer the soil back into the hole, subsoil first and then top soil. The graft should be at least 6 inches above the surface. You may need to stake it loosely and low on the trunk for stability and flexibility.
Water, DON’T fertilize.
Water the tree in well so that there are no air holes in the soil. Keep it well watered for the first several months. Supplement the rainfall until the end of the tree’s first summer when it begins to go dormant. Don’t fertilize just after planting. The roots are too new and sensitive for fertilizer.
Your tree may need horticulture oil or other protection against insects. Ask at your local garden center or county extension office for recommendations for your zone and specific location.
Some trees and shrubs will produce in the first growing season, but many take a year to become established. Be patient and wait. The results will be worth it.
Soon you’ll be sharing the fruits of your labor with you family and friends and hopefully your community as well.