It’s winter! It’s time to plant an orchard! You can do this at any time of the year but in winter it is much easier and probably cheaper because you can buy them at the garden centre bare-rooted. This simply means that they aren’t in soil and don’t have soil on their roots.
You probably think that the trees would die without soil but fruit trees are deciduous which basically means that they go to sleep in winter. They lose all of their leaves, stop growing and don’t need any food or water. When spring comes, they burst out of their slumber, start to produce leaves and get growing again so by then they need to be back in soil again.
Growers grow their bare-rooted fruit trees in the ground and at the beginning of winter they pull them out, wash off all the soil and send them off to the garden centres for you to buy. They look just like sticks but don’t be fooled; they are raring to go!
The options in bare-rooted trees are endless but include apples, pears, plums, crab apples and apricots. There are also dwarf varieties and sometimes multi-grafted trees which means that two different fruit grow on the same tree!
When you get your bare-rooted tree home, here are some tips to get the best results:
- If the branches of the trees haven’t been pruned, they need to be cut down to about half their height. This is because half of the trees roots have already been pruned off by the grower so the tree will struggle to feed all of those branches and leaves. Once the branches have been cut down the tree will put all of its energy into growing new roots which then feed and grow new branches.
- Dig a hole that is about two times the size of the root ball. If the soil is sandy, mix some compost or manure through the soil that has been pulled out so that it is full of nutrients for the new tree.
- To decide how deep to plant the tree, scrape the bark off the surface of the trunk just above the root ball. Look for the spot where the trunk changes from white to green and this will show how deep the tree needs to be planted.
- Place the tree back into the hole at the correct depth and put the soil back in. Lightly firm the soil.
- Make a well around the base of the tree. This means, spread the soil so that it is lower near the trunk of the tree and higher about 20cm out. So, when the tree is watered the water will fall towards the trunk.
- Sprinkle a good handful of complete fertiliser around the trunk of the tree and water it in really well.
- Water it again really well every 7 to 14 days for at least six months.
It will take a year or so for the tree to establish but a few years for a crop of fruit to grow so be patient. The best things in life are worth waiting for and one of the joys of gardening is being able to walk out and pick delicious fruit from your own tree.