Twelve Steps to Successfully Planting Fruit Trees

If you're thinking of planting fruit trees, have a look here so you'll know how to do it right.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
September/October 1980
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"Heel in" your new tree—if you can't plant it right away—by placing it in a 45 degree angle trough. Cover the roots with soil to prevent them from drying out.  

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Following these steps when planting fruit trees and with any luck your labors will bear fruit.

1. HEELING IN: If you aren't able to plant your tree as soon as you buy or receive it, you should "heel in" the newcomer. To do so, dig a trough—at a 45° angle—that's deep enough at its lower end to completely contain the tree's roots. Put the fruit-bearer-to-be in the trench, and cover its roots with soil. (This step isn't necessary if your tree has a wrapped soil ball around its roots when purchased.) The important thing is not to let the roots dry out!

2. PREWATERING: A full day prior to planting, thoroughly soak the area where the tree's hole is to be dug.

3. DIGGING: Measure the depth and width of the root cluster, then—separating the top soil and subsoil as you go—dig a hole that exceeds (slightly) those dimensions. When the pit is dug, rough up its sides with your shovel or fork (to give the plant places to grip as it spreads underground ... if this isn't done, the new growth may simply circle in the hole causing the plant to become rootbound).

4. VERTEBRATE PEST CONTROL: If gophers, moles, or the like are a problem in your area, you can line the pit—on its sides and bottom—with a "basket" made from chicken wire.

5. PLACING THE TREE: Build a small mound of loose topsoil in the bottom of the pit, and drape the spreading root structure over the hill. Turn the tree so that the bud union (if your tree has been grafted to a different, usually dwarf, rootstock) will be facing toward your area's prevailing winds ... and—if your locale is often visited by really hearty gusts—position the trunk to lean slightly into the wind.

6. FILLING THE HOLE: Then, making sure the graft (if your tree has one) will be above the ground after planting, put the rest of the topsoil in the bottom of the hole and fill the pit—to about the three-quarter mark—with subsoil. (The purpose of this "earth reversal", of course, is to place the richer topsoil where the roots can reach it right away.) With that done, flood the remainder of the hole with water, wait until the liquid soaks in, and tamp the earth down well.

7. PAINTING THE TRUNK: Apply a coat of white latex interior paint, covering the trunk from the ground level (in the three-quarter-full hole) to point just below the first branch or—where appropriate—about two inches above graft. (This will discourage borers and prevent premature leafing and winter sunscald.)

8. FILLING: Finish placing the subsoil in the hole, and—while doing so—build the earth up to form a mound in the center around the tree's trunk and a shallow trench along the perimeter of the dug-up area.

9. STAKING: If your tree has been grafted to dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock, you'll want to stake it ... as its shallow roots could be ripped from the ground in a heavy wind. To do so, simply position a sturdy support stick—which, after it's driven into the ground, should stand at least as high as the tree's first limb—at a point just beyond the outer edges of the root ball. (Don't, however, use a newly creosoted stake.) Then fasten the tree to the support with strips of cloth or lengths of rubber hose, looping them around the plant about two-thirds of the way up its trunk.

10. ABOVE GROUND VERTEBRATE PROTECTION: Protect the tree's trunk from nibbling rabbits, hungry deer, scratching cats, playful puppies, and so forth by giving it a 24" (approximately) collar of hardware cloth, chicken wire, or the prefabricated tubing available at nurseries.

11. PRUNING: MOTHER EARTH NEWS' tree culturists feel that it's not usually necessary to prune fall-planted trees ... unless limbs have been damaged. In that case, the branches should be cut off below (that is, to the "tree" side of) the break.

12. MULCHING: Now surround the newly planted fruit producer with a water-conserving layer of crushed rock, leaf mold, wood chips, or even freshly cut grass clippings (use the latter only if no herbicides have been sprayed on the lawn ... and even then, spread the material no deeper than two inches) ... and give your new friend another good soaking. (You might, at this time, want to sit down next to the tree and give it a few words of encouragement. After all, you're asking it to spend its life with you!)

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