A well-planned fruit garden adds shade and beauty to the home landscape as well as providing fresh fruit for family and friends. Plant bare-root fruit trees as early as possible in the spring, about 30 days prior to expected bud break in your area. Bare-root trees planted too late will not be healthy. Container grown trees can be planted at any time.
Choose the Right Variety
Trees grown from seed do not usually grow true to type. Most fruit in the United States is a hybrid variety and the resulting seeds do not have all of the desirable qualities of the parent plants. For best results, choose a nursery tree that is grafted onto resistant rootstock. The rootstock is bred for resistance to diseases and insects present in your area and for cold-hardiness. The graft represents the variety of fruit that will be produced.
Choose the variety that is best for your location and intended use. When planting multiple trees, consider planting trees that will ripen in succession, spreading out the harvest.
Keep Roots Moist
Keep the bare roots moist before planting, and plant immediately after purchase. If roots have been allowed to dry out, soak them in water for 12 to 24 hours before planting. If trees need to be held before planting, place the roots in a shallow trench and cover the roots with moist soil.
Plant in Well-Drained Soil
Plant fruit trees in fertile soils that has good drainage. Poor drainage encourages root rot diseases, and standing water can quickly kill the tree. If good drainage is not available, mound soil or create raised beds to improve drainage. A raised bed increases the need for irrigation, however, so make sure enough water is provided.
Water as needed to keep the soil moist, giving approximately 1-inch of water weekly to the base of the tree. Raised beds may need more.
Plant the Tree
Prune the tree roots as needed, removing dead or broken roots and trimming extra long roots. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root system without crowding. Loosen the surrounding soil with the shovel. Place the tree in the hole at the level it originally grew, with the bud union about 2 to 3 inches above the soil line. Spread the roots out and fill the hole with water, then add soil. Add water and soil together until the hole is filled.
Prune After Planting
Remove the top 1/3 to 1/2 of the tree, if this was not done at the nursery. This pruning will encourage branching and stimulate growth.
Wait to Fertilize
Do not fertilize when planting, instead wait until the tree has sprouted new growth in the spring or early summer. At this point the roots will have begun to grow and the nitrogen will stimulate growth of the foliage. Fertilizing at planting does not allow the roots time to become established. Apply 1 oz. of nitrogen fertilizer around the base of the tree. Water thoroughly. Do not fertilize after mid-summer. The tree needs to stop growing in the fall and get ready for winter.
Stake the Tree
Provide a stake to support the newly planted tree in windy areas. Drive a stake into the ground next to the tree. Tie the trunk loosely to the stake with cotton twine or a strip of cloth. Wrap the twine around the trunk, then around the stake, creating a figure 8. Tie the tree approximately every foot during the first year. Remove the stake once the tree is established. Dwarf trees can remain staked for extra support.