You have studied your climate, tested your soil, identified the perfect planting site, and decided what fruit it is you want to plant. The time to actually pick out your berry bush or fruit tree has arrived. But, how do you make sure you are getting a good healthy ones?
First, buy from a reputable source. High quality, good service and selection, and a respected reputation usually go hand-in-hand with a business’ longevity and success. Specialty nurseries are most likely to offer disease-free plants that are true to name. Word of mouth may help you find favored sources among experienced gardeners.
As for what to order and look for if you are dealing with a mail order catalog -
- One year old trees and bushes usually adjust best to transplanting.
- Look for trunk diameters between ½” to ¾” inches on apple, apricot, cherry, pear, and plum trees. Peaches tend to have diameters from ¾” to 1½.
- Bigger is not always better. Often it means a large branch area to support with a limited root system, leaving insufficient energy for adjusting to transplanting. Research has shown that smaller trees and bushes overtake larger transplants within a few years. This has been attributed to less transplant shock.
- Dormant trees and bushes, in most cases, survive shipping best.
- Most mail order nurseries ship trees “bare root.” You should expect a balanced, symmetrical root system; no badly broken major roots or cracked tap root. Roots should be kept moist with damp sphagnum moss or shredded paper and possibly a plastic wrap. Although a very minor bit of mold may be visible, roots should not be heavily infested or rotting.
- Some smaller berry bushes may be shipped in small pots, which is fine.
- Tissue cultured brambles are often sent as plugs in trays. These are not dormant and must be protected from cold and wind. They should be hardened off like any other tender seedling.
- If you are shopping at a local garden center most of the above recommendations are still applicable. Since you can see the plants before buying, look for a few additional qualitites -
- Tree trunks should be straight; preferably with no branches below knee height. You should remove any low branches at planting time.
- The graft union — where the rootstock and variety scion are joined — of dwarf trees should be well developed and healed. It will look like a bulb shaped thickening in the trunk a few inches above the soil level.
- Fruiting bushes and trees at garden centers are often potted rather than bare root. Look for a good supply of plump, actively growing roots. Remove the plant from the pot for a peek if possible.
- Check that potted plants are not rootbound. Roots wrapping repeatedly around themselves in the pot or growing out of the bottom can be an indication that these where actually poorly growing plants held over from a prior season. They will not grow as well as vigorous one year stock.
A few things to look out for are branches with dark, sunken areas; old dead leaves remaining at the tips of branches; or oozing discolored bark. These could all indicate disease. You do not want to bring this home and get your home orchard off to a bad start or introduce disease spores to your healthy garden. Borer damage will appear as holes or tunneling around the bud union. This can be a prevalent problem on stone fruit and some apple rootstocks.
Regardless of where you purchase your plants, there are a few other considerations -
- These are perennial plants. They are an investment that will be living in your landscape for 10 or more years. Choosing varieties adapted to your conditions will allow them to produce to their best potential.
- Choosing disease resistant varieties will save you time and work. It is also good for the environment as fewer pesticides will be needed to control pests or diseases.
- If you are a complete newcomer to fruit growing, starting with the tried and true will be your best bet.
- Once you have gained fruit growing experience you might want to try suitable fruit types and varieties that are not readily available at local grocery stores and farm markets.
- One of the great adventures of home fruit growing is enjoying some of the novelties that are otherwise unobtainable.
©2013. Adapted from the Backyard Berry Book: A hands-on guide to growing berries, brambles, and vine fruit in the home garden and the Backyard Orchardist: A complete guide to growing fruit trees in the home garden by Stella Otto.