Fruit trees can be an attractive and functional addition to your landscape. If you take care of the tree, it will be around for many, many years to bare fruit, save you money at the grocery store and give your garden some shade and beauty.
Here are a few tips on giving your new fruit tree a good start.
1. Plant early. The best time to plant is early spring as soon as the frost is out of the ground – usually from mid-March on. If you’re willing to take care of it, you can plant all summer long, but it’s harder on the tree after it has leafed out. You can still plant in May and June. If you wait any longer, the 100-degree heat is very taxing on any kind of young tree. Plant when it’s cool so that it has a chance to root in and get set before the heat.
2. Location, location. Before purchasing your new fruit tree, it’s important to find a favorable site to plant. I don’t like to see fruit trees in the landscaped lawn area because they drop fruit and draw flies. A good location could be the edge or back of a yard, or in an orchard, where kids and dogs won’t be running around. Also, consider a location where the tree will be protected from the ever-prevalent southern Idaho wind. That can be pretty tough, but if you can plant your fruit tree where you have big pine trees or behind a fence, it will hold its fruit much better. Around 90 percent of our wind comes from the west, but we do get breezes from the south and east.
Remember, your fruit tree will be around for decades if you take care of it. Plan ahead – don’t plant where you might build a shed in 10 years.
3. Select a tree. Now that your spot is picked out, it’s time to visit your local nursery to find that perfect young tree. You want a nice, straight trunk and good offset branching. Avoid branches that cross or make a “V” shape, as those will break under the weight of its fruit. Don’t buy a mail-order tree because it runs a greater risk of mold and fungus in the roots. Instead, buy from a reputable local nursery – because a planted tree is better than one that is stuck in a bag somewhere.
4. Plant the tree. Like with any new planting, good fertile soil is key. Put some soil aid in the bottom of the hole. You should use root stimulators (they cost around $6 per quart) because they spark the root hairs to grow and help with transplant shock – it’s like buying planting insurance. Avoid fertilizer because it will burn the roots. Don’t plant the tree any deeper than the graft. If it’s in a windy place, stake it for the first year using a wide band of rubber or a soft cloth.
After planting the tree, water it so the dirt can work down around the roots and fill the air pockets. For 3-4 applications, every 10 days, add some root stimulator when you water.
5. Fertilizing. You don’t need to fertilize the first couple of months because you’ve been using the root stimulator, which has a light fertilizer in it. After the tree has been established for a few months, you can use a fertilizer, especially in the fall, heading into winter. Then you should fertilize on a spring-fall basis. Use a good phosphate fertilizer to set fruit and grow roots. Ask your local nursery what type of fertilizer they recommend.
6. Fight off the pests. No one likes a wormy apple, so start protecting your tree from insects early. If you plant them early in the spring before they have leafed out, use a dormant oil spray and kill any kind of bugs that can be left on there. If you’re planting after they’ve blossomed, get started on about an every two-week section of spraying. It is important to rotate your chemicals. Don’t use the same chemical all the time – if you do, the insects will get used to it and it won’t affect them. You also have different sprays for different bugs, so rotating sprays will ward off a broader spectrum of insects.
Absolutely never use a systemic insecticide on fruit trees. Any type of a systemic goes up through the roots and ends up in the fruit, making it potentially deadly to whomever eats the fruit. Talk to your nursery and they’ll set you up with the best combination of insecticides.
7. Fruit. Due to transplant shock, you might only get one or two pieces of fruit on your young tree. In the second year, you may get six or eight. About the third year is when you’ll start to see a good bunch of fruit set on. Prop up young branches to support the weight of the fruit, or thin the fruit, so that the branches don’t break.
8. Enjoy. If you take care of your fruit trees – prune them correctly, keep them fertilized, keep them watered, keep the bugs out of them – they can last for 30-40 years. Remember, it’s the healthy trees that produce, not the diseased ones. Keep your tree healthy and it will produce for many years to come.