Orchard Time is NOW!

Do you have fruit trees? How about berry bushes?

Even if you don’t live in the country, there’s no reason you can’t incorporate fruit into your landscape. Many dwarf varieties of fruit trees are complimentary to a suburban landscape, and they produce rather quickly. Berry bushes and shrubs will produce within the first year or so of planting. Regular-size fruit trees take a few years, so NOW is the time to plant.

I don’t only mean NOW as in now-rather-than-later, but also NOW as in winter!

When you purchase fruit trees and bushes from a professional orchard (I order mine from Willis Orchard in Georgia), they ship while the trees are dormant and you need to get them into the ground as soon as the soil can be worked. For most of the United States, that’s between January and March.

Your trees/bushes will arrive looking like dead sticks with some straggly roots, but they are not dead. They are just dormant. Dormancy is the period when growth and development has temporarily stopped. This is the perfect time to ship them and transplant them into your yard. To avoid as much shock as possible to the tree, plant it as soon as you get it, or at least within the week.

So, what do you plant??

That’s simple.

Plant what you eat. If you don’t like blueberries, don’t plant them. If you love pears, plant those.

Once you know what you’d like to plant, research online to find out how your particular plant pollinates. Some trees are self-pollinating, while others need a companion tree. Also look into the plant’s growth in your planting zone. Peach trees just don’t do well in the North. Just a fact.

Now, figure how much room you need to plant those trees. A standard-size apple tree should be planted 30-35 feet from another tree. A standard-size peach tree needs 15-20 feet. A dwarf peach only needs 10-12 feet. A blueberry bush can be crammed in between other bushes and trees. Blackberry bushes make a nice hedge to block out something unsightly, and you can get them thornless!

Now you know what you want to plant and how many you can fit in your yard, so you now have some decisions to make on your tree order. You can purchase new trees for less money than two-year-old trees, and those for less than three-year-old trees. This decision depends on your budget and your patience level. A one-year-old apple tree could take 5-7 years to start producing. Is that wait worth the $10 you save by purchasing the younger tree? Only you can decide that.

Once your trees/bushes arrive, you need to get them in the ground within the week. Dig out some old buckets and fill them with water. Unwrap your trees and soak the roots in the water for 1-6 hours before planting. Dig a hole twice as large as the root ball. Spread out the roots in the hole and replace the soil, keeping the tree the same depth as it was at the nursery. Since you have no soil to measure this by, you can look for a bump near the bottom of the stem. That is a grafting union. Make sure that bump is 2-3 inches above the soil line. Tamp out any air bubbles in your hole, and water well. If you live in a windy area, you may also want to stake your trees for the first year while they are establishing roots. You may also want to fence them to keep critters from destroying them. We planted a 1/4 acre orchard and after having the lone mulberry uprooted and the dwarf cherry broken in half, we bought an electric fence from Premier 1. The troublesome deer haven’t touched anything since. And don’t be hesitant about an electric fence. It’s a piece of cake!!

There are differing opinions on whether or not to use potting soil, fertilizer, rocks in the bottom of the hole for drainage, and so on and so forth. My personal opinion is two-fold: If the tree won’t live on its own in my native soil, it’ll just be an ongoing struggle to keep it alive and healthy – and – if you fill the hole with fertilizer, potting soil, etc., your tree’s roots will only stay in that hole, circling around and around, and won’t spread out, looking for water and nutrients, hence, making it a weaker tree in the long run. Therefore, I don’t put anything at all in the hole and don’t amend the soil when I plant trees. My trees are stronger and healthier for it. I don’t baby them.

Once spring and summer arrive, monitor your rainfall the first year. I was lucky to have a wet year after I planted my orchard, but if you have a dry year, you’ll want to water your young trees.

If you’re wondering what we planted in our orchard, we planted: 1 Fuji apple, 1 Golden Delicious apple, 1 Gala apple, 2 peach, 2 pears, 2 plums, 1 Elderberry bush, 1 Mulberry tree, 1 dwarf sweet cherry that got killed by the deer, 2 crabapples, 6 blueberry bushes, 7 Concord grapevines, 5 raspberries, and 6 blackberries. Except for the deer incident, all are doing well. We even had a few berries and grapes the first year. If you’re wondering about the bottom line of such a large purchase, the trees/bushes were about $800.00, and the electric fence for the 1/4 acre was about $1200.00. For the amount of fruit we will harvest for years and years to come, it was worth every penny. We had blueberries at our old property and harvested a quart every other day for two months. From two peach trees on the old property, the hundreds and hundreds of peaches from one harvest translated into three year’s worth of frozen and canned peaches. A friend of mine currently has two pear trees and invited everyone she knows to come over and harvest pears this year. The abundance is crazy and worth the initial investment.

Once your trees are planted and you’re waiting for them to start producing, look into Neem Oil to protect them from insects and disease. Also look into proper pruning. There’s really no way to mess them up once they’re established. Just prune the top and let them grow sideways so you can reach the fruit without a giant ladder. Also look into companion planting. You can easily plant onions, garlic, and herbs under your trees. Finally, look into ways to store your harvests. There will be years you get hundreds of peaches, and there will be years you get no peaches due to a late freeze. Always store your harvest in case you have a late freeze THREE years in a row! (No, I’m not bitter. Dumb winter.)

If you decide to pop in some trees this winter, let me know what kinds you choose. I’m always interested in what other folks are growing and new ways to store these big harvests. 🙂

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