How to Select Fruit and Nut Trees

Whether you purchase trees and shrubs from a local nursery or from a mail-order company, this expert advice will help ensure that your plants are healthy and happy in their new home.
By Lee Reich
October 21, 2009
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With a little foresight, you can enjoy homegrown fruit for years to come.
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The following is an excerpt from Landscaping with Fruit by Lee Reich, Ph.D. (Storey, 2009). Reich is an author, lecturer and consultant whose books also include The Pruning Book, Weedless Gardening and Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden. Reich grows a broad assortment of fruit plants in his own garden, which has been featured in numerous publications. Whether you purchase trees and shrubs from a local nursery or from a mail-order company, this expert advice will help ensure that your plants are healthy and happy in their new home.

How to Select Fruit and Nut Trees and Shrubs from Local Nurseries

All your efforts to give your plant the best possible care are for naught if you don’t start out with the best possible plant. The best way to get such a plant is to purchase it from a reputable nursery. Look for a plant whose tops are no more than three times the size of the roots, and whose roots look healthy, plump and neither congested nor sparse. The stems should be plump, and without dark, sunken areas or rot that could indicate disease.

Nursery plants can come potted, bare root or, less commonly, balled-and-burlapped. My preference is for either of the first two. Such plants can be shipped — and so are available in the widest selection — and root damage is less likely to occur between the nursery and your yard. Balled-and-burlapped plants are heavy and any fracturing of the soil also tears some roots. The size at which a plant can be taken out of the soil bare root and then replanted successfully is obviously limited, usually to 4 or 5 feet in height, but that’s a very reasonable size for planting. Watch out for potted plants that have spent so long in their containers that their roots do nothing more than grow in circles — something that continues after the plant is put in the ground, resulting in self-strangulation. Slide a potted plant out of its pot and examine the roots if possible.

Restrain yourself from always seeking out the largest possible plant in an effort to get the quickest landscape effect and harvest. Larger plants, if bare root or balled-and-burlapped, lose proportionally more roots in transplanting than do smaller plants, so suffer greater shock and need more care — mostly watering — for longer. Even a large, potted plant takes longer before enough roots explore surrounding soil to make the plant self-sufficient. Recent research has demonstrated that initially smaller plants, because they suffer less transplant shock and establish more quickly, often overtake their initially larger counterparts after a few years.

How to Care for Mail-order Fruit and Nut Trees and Shrubs

The greatest threat to mail-order plants’ health and survival is their drying out. Any bare-root plant should begin its journey with moist packing material around its roots, any potted plant with one good watering before its departure. A quick and cool journey, then, is ideal.

I immediately unpack my mail-order plants upon their arrival to check that the material around their roots is moist. If not, I water the pot or, if the plant is bare root, unpack the roots and soak them in water for a few hours. If planting must be delayed, I pack the roots back in the material, moistened, in which they were shipped. Bare-root plants need to be kept cool to prevent their leafing out before their roots are in the ground, so I store these plants near the cool, north wall of my home. Their roots can’t tolerate temperatures much below freezing, so if temperatures threaten to drop below that mark, I move these plants to an unheated mudroom or garage. Another way to protect the roots of bare-root plants from excessive cold, yet keep the stems cool, is to dig a shallow hole in a shaded area (such as near the north wall of your home) and temporarily plant the unpacked plant there. In any case, plant out the bare-root plant as soon as possible.

Growth of potted plants can similarly be held in check. If you want to get a start on the season, though, move them to a sunny area.

Recommended Mail-order Nurseries for Fruit and Nut Trees and Shrubs

You can search for specific plant varieties from mail-order companies through our customized search function at MOTHER EARTH NEWS Seed and Plant Finder, or contact the excellent nurseries listed below, starting with the nurseries closest to your home.

Adams County Nursery
Aspers, Penn.

Burnt Ridge Nursery and Orchard
Onalaska, Wash.

Edible Landscaping Nursery
Afton, Va.

Fedco Seeds
Waterville, Maine

Cummins Nursery 
Geneva, N.Y.

Grimo Nut Nursery
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada

Hartmann’s Plant Company
Grand Junction, Mich.

Hidden Springs Nursery
Cookeville, TN
Phone: 931-268-2592

Just Fruits and Exotics 
Crawfordville, Fla.

Logee’s Greenhouse
Danielson, Conn.

Nolin River Nut Tree Nursery
Upton, Ky.

Nourse Farms
South Deerfield, Mass.

Oikos Tree Crops
Kalamazoo, Mich.
Phone: 616-624-6233

One Green World
Molalla, Ore.

Raintree Nursery
Morton, WA

Saint Lawrence Nurseries
Potsdam, N.Y.

Sherwood’s Greenhouses
Sibley, LA
Phone: 318-377-3653

Stark Brothers Nurseries and Orchards
Louisiana, Mo.

Trees of Antiquity 
Healdsburg, Calif.

Tripple Brook Farm 
Southampton, Mass.


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