For many gardeners, planting a first fruit garden is much like the day new parents bring their baby home from the hospital. Months of exciting preparation are behind you and now, all of a sudden, near panic… oh my gosh, what am I supposed to DO with this? How do I plant it? How much do I feed and water it? How do I prune it? The questions go on.…
Relax, you can do this! Just keep a few basics in mind. Spring planting is by far the most common for fruit trees and berry bushes. Fall planting is also an option in areas with mild winter climates and may be preferable where summers are very hot and dry. In either case, it is best to plant when the tree, bush or vine is dormant. Here is a step-by-step guide to getting your fruit garden safely planted and settled in the ground:
- Plant on a cool overcast day, preferably with as little wind as possible.
- Keep roots protected from drying wind and sun while you dig each hole. Wrapping roots in damp burlap or newspaper works well.
- Your planting hole should be large enough to easily accommodate the roots. A good rule of thumb is dig it twice as wide as the rootball.
- A hole about 18 inches deep is usually sufficient for all but the largest fruit tree. For smaller berry bushes a shallower hole may suffice.
- Break up the sides of the hole a bit with a shovel so that the roots can grow outward later.
- Spread roots out uniformly around the hole. If there are any excessively long side roots, it is best to trim them back a bit to fit the hole. This will stimulate new root growth once the plant is settled in.
- Do not wrap roots around the hole or they will continue to grow that way; permanently stunting the plant.
- Try to avoid planting in very wet soil. Wet soil will pack too tightly around the roots and suffocate them by not allowing enough air spaces in the soil.
Specifically for Fruit Trees
In the center of the hole, leave a small mound of dirt on which to position the tree. At this point, an assistant is helpful to hold the tree in place.
If the tree is not grafted, set it in the hole so that it will be about two inches higher than it grew in the nursery. You can usually see the old soil line on the trunk.
Trees that are grafted on seedling rootstocks are normally planted with the graft at or just below the ground.
If you purchased a tree that is grafted onto dwarfing rootstock, take care to plant the graft union two to three inches above the ground level. If the graft union is planted at or below ground level, the scion variety of the tree will take root and you will loose the dwarfing characteristics.
Orient the lowest branch toward the southwest to shield the trunk from winter sunscald.
On a windy site, tip the tree into the prevailing wind three to five degrees. It will grow upright over time and be less likely to be pushed over by strong winds.
Especially for Berry Bushes, Plants, and Vine
The crown of most berry bushes can be planted level with or just above the soil line.
If berry bushes are potted and growing, it is important that the soil ball be fully buried. Otherwise it may wick water to the surface and dry out.
Refill the hole with soil, gently bouncing the tree or bush up and down a bit to fully settle the soil around the roots. Once the hole is full, firm the soil with the heel of your foot so that no large air pockets remain to dry the roots. About two feet out from the center of the bush or tree trunk, build a shallow soil dike to retain water. Mulch the dike with compost, leaves or straw. Gently water until the soil is well soaked and settled. Add additional dirt if the soil has settled below the surrounding ground level. Water deeply once a week until the tree is established.
©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.