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Preparing in Summer & Fall for Spring Fruit Tree Planting

by Heron Breen

Friends, is it not the thought that counts? Maybe you’ve planted many a tree, or are looking forward to planting your first of many, but if we can think ahead during the Summer & Fall before we Spring tree plant, our futures can be that much more fruitful. Let us count those thoughts! Here are four:

Thought One: What kind of fruit trees do I intend to plant?

As we consider the myriad of tasty fruits for our family & friends, dive into our How to Choose the Right Varieties for You blog. Beyond purpose (fresh eating, cider, baking, etc), disease resistance and cold hardiness, the unique pollination requirements of each fruiting species is important to consider. Some fruiting species, like Apples, need at least another apple variety nearby to bear fruit. We recommend another Apple variety within 50 feet for good future harvests. And Pears also do best…in pairs! But Peaches and Pie Cherries thrive and offer bounty as well-cared for individuals.

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So, if Apples are on your mind, you will need space for at least 2 varieties…meaning 2 trees! Which gives us all an excuse to choose from diverse flavors and uses (best pie apple anyone?). As you consider the possibilities, also know there is something in Apples and Pears called “triploids”. Triploids are fruit varieties whose pollen is sterile. This means they cannot help a nearby same-species variety bear fruit. In the case that your favorite Apple variety is a triploid, you will need 3 different Apple varieties for good fruit on all trees involved. Because of this complicated conundrum, Fruition does not currently sell any Triploid varieties!

Thought Two: Where to Plant?

Now that you know what fruits you want to plant, and know how many trees you need at minimum by species, you can discover where best they fit into your home site. If you haven’t already, hop over to our 5 Keys to Establishing an Apple Orchard blog for clues to consider in any season. Summer is the best time to see where the shade of existing trees and buildings extend.

When we try to assess this in barren, leafless Spring, we can be convinced by our Urgency that a certain spot is ideal to plant our recently baby Trees….and that can be our first, worst decision for the new tree’s success. Let’s take the abundance of time now to think things through!

  • Use the lush shade of high Summer to accurately assess where your future trees can get full sun, year round.
  • Imagine your trees fully grown, filling that space…are they going to collide or compete with their surroundings? They will not be small in just a few years time!
  • Imagine how your new trees will eventually cast their own shadows. How will this affect other landscape or garden elements?
  • Northern windbreaks are good, whether tree or building, but not if we attempt to plant too close to such a buffer. Plant trees a minimum of 50 feet from windbreaks.
  • Is your preferred or ideal sunny spot near or far from your home?
  • Young trees will need weekly watering if rains are lacking, so consider how you will deliver/carry water to them that first year. The farther from a spigot, the more likely you “forget”.
  • Young trees are also tasty buffets for Deer. The farther from your home, the more the need for intentional & sturdy protection. Nearer makes them more dear, farther brings more deer! 
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  • Your future Trees will need water, but be careful of the water volume that can cascade off of nearby roofs, or the nearby huge mature tree that is hogging all the water in a 100 diameter area.
  • Plant at least 20 feet from driveways and turn-arounds, and at least 50 feet from roadways. Soil compaction, Salt toxicity, and Snowplow damage are no one’s friends.
  • Get that soil tested! Here’s how. Once a full sun site has revealed itself, we can send away a soil test, and also test the drainage.
  • Correct pH & nutrient issues revealed by testing in the Fall…and keep testing in the first few years. Fruit trees, in general, are seeking well-drained soil with a PH of 6 to 6.7.
  • To test soil drainage, dig a hole 12” deep. Fill it with water. Refill it in 12 hours, and see how long the hole takes to drain. In well-drained soil, the hole should drain in 2 to 3 hours. If water remains in the hole 6 hours later, that spot is too wet for Fruit Trees. 
  • Imagine the Tree’s future rootzone: remember to amend the soil of an area that extends 10 to 20 feet beyond the chosen planting spots.
  • If drainage is an issue, and your best planting spot is wet, wet, wet, consider diverting with drainage pipe or tiling. Or, creating a berm to plant into is a grand plan for keeping tree roots from being soggy and sad. But, if you realize that maybe you do not have the best site for macro-fruits like Apples and Plums,  maybe raspberries or blueberries will be better choices?

Don’t Rush! Patience! If you discover that soil and/or drainage issues will take time/resources to address, no harm is done by waiting a year to plant trees. Urgency often only temporarily intervenes upon Reality. 

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Thought Three: What’s the Plan, Stan?

Are you designing a more traditional tree planting pattern of trees in blocks/groups, rows or scattered artfully in your landscape? If so, be mindful of ease of lawn care and accommodations for access.

  • Imagine the trees you might plant in the future as you create your Plan.
  • Be sure to allow enough potential space to mow under, around, and between your trees when they are full grown.
  • Don’t block access to key property elements like your power lines & leach fields…you’ll hate yourself for destroying a mature fruiting tree when the septic fails.

Are you hoping to install a High Density Orchard Trellised System? When your fruit trees are grafted onto semi-dwarf or dwarf rootstock, a Trellis System can be a great way to include many trees into a finite area.

  • While rewarding in the future, this approach is also expensive and time-consuming upfront. Only go the Trellis System route if your money/time resources allow. There is no good “halfway” version. 
  • Do your research and install the core elements of your chosen Trellis System (such as permanent posts) by the Fall.
  • Sourcing all the other Trellis System supplies ahead of Spring will support success and reduce frustration.
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Thought Four: Now that I have a good spot, and a plan, what groundwork can I do now?

  • As named above, amending the greater tree area for proper pH and balanced soil nutrition is such a bonus!
  • Find your supply and source of good compost and hardwood chips ahead of next Spring
  • A great start for next Spring is to dig your holes this Fall! Removing the sod, digging the hole to the proper depth and diameter, removing any large rocks from the substrate, and back-filling into your tree’s future home makes next Spring sooo much simpler. This also gives you a sense of how soil settles when dug and back-filled, which allows you to assess how much compost and hardwood chips you will need.
  • And if that Sod represents soil biology & nutrients you’d rather not waste, you still have time now to tarp or cardboard sheetmulch the heck out of your future tree spots. Karmic rewards for Sod-cyclers! Consider tarping or sheetmulching a 10 foot diameter area where your tree will be planted.
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Just as we are all thinking what’s best for our future trees, we here at Fruition are also keeping you in our thoughts. Join our seasonal Apple Q&Q webinars to have your questions answered in real time.

See you then, if not sooner!

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1 thought on “Preparing in Summer & Fall for Spring Fruit Tree Planting

  1. Dear All:

    What can I do this winter to prepare for trnasplanting 2021 grafted rootstocks in Spring 2024? When do I dig them up – I have to transplant from CT to Maine and I worry that the early season in CT will add to tree stress if I just dig them up in Spring. They are getting pretty big (6′ high and 1″ diameter at base). Any tips appreciated.

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