Lets Grow

Orchards – Fall is the Time to Plant

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Published September 05th, 2010

Right now is the best time of year to expand your home orchard. Fall planting gets you one year closer to bearing fruit than if you wait until spring. Fall weather is ideal for low-stress planting. The soil is still warm, encouraging rapid root development, while the tree itself is going dormant and doesn’t need much watering. Cooler temperatures and increased rainfall help as well. Planting container grown trees in fall is better than buying bare root trees for spring planting through mail order catalogs.

We see many young orchards with crooked trees. We recommend sturdy tree stakes for the first few years to prevent this. Sturdy stakes will also support wire fencing, the ultimate deer deterrent. We also recommend killing weeds and grass in the root zone with glyphosate to eliminate competition for water and nutrients. Glyphosate will not poison the soil, but be careful not to spray any on the bark of the trees. We use plastic tree guards to protect young bark from herbicide damage and rodents.

This is the time of year to start protecting young fruit trees from deer damage. Rubbing or uprooting by bucks in the fall is a common problem. Deer like to nibble the new growth during the winter. Both problems can be prevented by spraying trees with a good deer repellent like “Liquid Fence” once a month starting in September and continuing through the winter. Spray deer repellent on trees when planting, since deer are attracted to newly turned soil and will investigate right away.

The only other spraying necessary in fall or winter is “dormant oil”, which helps control certain insects and diseases from getting started in your young orchard. Many new tree varieties are bred for low maintenance (resistance to disease) so very little spraying is necessary even in season.

The most common mistake when planting fruit trees is digging the hole too deep and smothering the roots. The pot soil should be level with the area around the tree, and should be left exposed so the roots can breathe. When planting, mix a multi-mineral, low nitrogen fertilizer with the soil around the tree. Espoma Tree Tone, a specialized fertilizer containing trace minerals like Boron and Zinc, is perfect for this. Trace minerals help prevent problems like blossom end rot and premature fruit drop. Fertilizers with high nitrogen content are not good for fruit trees. Mixing the fertilizer with the soil when you plant is much better than adding it later.

We have been growing our fruit trees in five-gallon fiber pots with great success, and these pots allow you to “plant the pot” making planting easier. Fiber pots encourage a robust root system, so we’ve had fruit on many of our apple and peach trees right in the nursery! There’s no need to disturb the roots; simply place the entire pot in the ground and water it now and then. Once it’s in the moist ground the fiber pot will decompose and the roots will spread quickly into the surrounding soil.

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