I have never experienced discontentment in winter. I know that spring is just around the corner and that late winter is a great time to search for fruiting trees to put in our orchard, found at places like the Brazoria County Master Gardeners Citrus and Fruit Tree Sale on February 10, 2018 at the Brazoria County Fairgrounds.
Once you get a tree, planting seems like it would be a simple task: dig a hole, plop the arboreal beauty in, water and done. Not so fast, my intrepid gardener, there are a few steps to take to ensure a long life and years of production from your fruit tree. Step one is to find an area for your tree that receives full sun. It is important to look up and around at surrounding buildings and trees to ensure your site is not covered by shade during the growing season. Another preliminary step is to make sure the area drains well and to commit a soil test of your growing area. You need a baseline measurement of soil nutrients, pH and texture to determine the right variety as well as practice sustainable tree maintenance. Information reported from a soil test will help guide you to the best ratio of fertilizer for use and if you need to form a raised area to improve drainage.
Next step is to dig a hole twice as wide and no deeper than the root ball. Some may be planting bare root trees or vines, making it slightly challenging to determine how deep to make the planting hole. I suggest creating a hole to match the length of the bare roots and to keep an eye on the part of the trunk that naturally flares at soil level to be your visual guide. The flare is well below any graft union you see on the trunk. Remember that you will have a bit of settling after planting, and I suggest having the final level at least one-inch higher to account for settling.
As you remove your tree from its container or pull away burlap from a ball and burlap tree, look over the root mass and remove any inward growing or curling woody roots. It may be challenging to clearly see the tree roots surrounded by soil from the container. There is a technique called root washing that is debated among my peers. The theory is to remove all soil from the root mass by washing with a hose, exposing any malformed roots for pruning and providing an opportunity to clearly see and adjust the roots as you plant. I believe there is merit to this method, and whatever technique you decide to use always make sure to prune out any malformed roots you see.
Always save and use the native soil for back fill to encourage optimal root growth. Tree roots serve a dual purpose: they absorb and transfer water and minerals as well as provide a foundation and support. Supplemental material like peat moss or shovelfuls of composted material may encourage roots to become more localized and not readily move out of the rich environment of the soil amendments in the planting hole. Use as much of the native soil as you can even if you decide to build a raised bed to increase drainage. Once you place the tree in the hole, back fill with one-third of the native soil at a time, making sure to lightly tamp the soil enough to hold everything in place, water in the soil until you see it pool slightly, then let drain. This action helps reduce air pockets that may collect while planting. Repeat this activity until you fill up the hole to surrounding soil level. Build a 4-inch berm around the tree at least 2-feet away from the trunk and fill the berm with water for final settling. Staking is not necessary unless the tree is top-heavy. If you do decide to stake, make sure to remove the stakes within a year of planting. In the absence of soaking rains, hand water your trees every four days for two weeks, then every five days for two weeks and increase the time between watering until you can water the tree every twenty days. Always take into account soaking rains; the key is not to over saturate the soil, which can lead to root rot. Remember that lawn sprinklers do not replace good old hand watering. Browse online to Aggie Horticulture to find out more specific information about fruit tree culture: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.
I invite you to share your ideas and successes in your garden by browsing online to my Facebook webpage: www.facebook.com/stephenbhorticulturist. Thank you and see you in the garden.