Home-grown tree-ripened fruit is delicious and nutritious. Supermarket fruit is often picked green, stored cold and travels a long way before it gets to market. Heirloom fruit trees have intense flavors that are not found in standard varieties. Home garden fruit trees are easy to plant, maintain and harvest with some knowledge of their habits. Soil considerations are a good place to start.
"The most important consideration, in any discussion about soils, is good soil drainage," according to a University of California at Davis report on home fruit tree orchards. Soils need to be well-drained to a depth of 4 to 9 feet for good tree growth. Poorly drained soil encourages disease and pest problems. Drainage problems can be mitigated with drain tiles and water diversions.
Fruit trees do well when planted in a hole two to three times the size of the root ball. Breaking up the soil creates aeration and good drainage. Tree roots must push through the loose soil to become established and spread. The majority of the root system develops in the top 12 to 18 inches of soil. Remove any rocks and large clods before planting.
Adding organic matter such as compost at planting time will not improve soil texture and drainage. Soil conditioners and amendments are best used periodically after the tree becomes established. Summer fertilization is more effective than winter feedings. Compost added to the planting hole creates a "clay pot" effect that impedes root growth.
Fruit trees require all sixteen soil nutrients to grow well. Nutrients are leached from the soil through the normal growing process. Some nutrients are returned to the soil from fruit and leaf droppings and some are returned through fertilizers and amendments. Organic fertilizers are derived from natural sources of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium such as feathermeal, bone meal, seaweed, rock powders and animal manure.
Nitrogen is needed in the largest amounts by fruit trees, but it is best utilized when in natural balance with a spectrum of nutrients. Seaweed, fish waste products, alfalfa meal and mined potassium sulphate are several ingredients found in organic fertilizer blends for fruit trees. Standard fertilizers use chemical nitrogen that has been found to be a major environmental pollutant, according to a World Resources Institute report on nitrogen overload.