This is the time of year to be planting your orchard with fruit and citrus trees. Let’s dig in with a brief review of site selection and planting basics for a healthy and productive orchard.
As mentioned in previous articles, the success of any planting starts from the ground up. The challenge in Brazoria County is the predictable unpredictability of our native soil profile. The success of your orchard relies on deep, well-drained soil with adequate amounts of organic matter. Invest in the health of your orchard by committing a soil test that will provide a basic understanding of existing site conditions and help guide you to resources needed to keep your trees fruitful. For a modest fee, you can download forms, send in soil samples and get more info from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Soil, Water and Forage Testing Lab: http://soiltesting.tamu.edu. Determining soil drainage as well as nutrient and soil type will also help with placement of your trees in the landscape. You may consider relocating plans for orchard placement if the soil of the target site remains saturated a day or two after a heavy rain. Building a raised bed is also an option and utilize the native topsoil to create a 6 to 10-inch high mound approximately 10-feet wide for each tree. Remember to situate your fruit trees with full sun exposure to encourage adequate production. A general rule of thumb for spacing between standard sized fruit trees is 20-feet, and always take into consideration whether the tree is semi-dwarf or dwarf species for less spacing.
Late winter is the best time to plant your fruit trees from either container or bare root, and in our growing region this could mean anytime between mid-January to late February. Since fruit trees like peach, nectarine, pear or plum as well pecan are pruned to the central trunk at planting, our goal is to encourage good root development prior to leaf emergence during this dormant season. Citrus are typically purchased in container with a modest canopy. Care should be taken to protect the top growth of tender citrus varieties after planting in case we receive a late freeze.
Once you receive delivery of bare root trees, open the bundles immediately and check for damage and general condition. Do not accept the trees if the roots appear to be dried out. You may decide to heel in the trees in a shallow trench if you are not ready for planting by covering the roots with moist soil for protection. Prior to planting, soak the bare roots in water for no more than an hour for hydration. For planting prep, dig a hole as deep in approximate proportion to the root system. A general recommendation is no deeper than the size of the container or length of a bare root tree. For bare root planting, create a small cone in the center of the hole to support the tree and fan out the roots around the cone. Use the native soil to backfill the hole, gradually placing layers of soil and preventing air pockets from forming around the roots. Compost and organic matter serve the planting best when applied around and at the surface of the tree rather than blending with the backfill. Apply water in the hole when half-filled and let drain, then water well when you are finished with planting.
I encourage you to visit my website and search links related to our Urban Orchard program to find out more about fruit and citrus tree culture at: https://brazoria.agrilife.org/horticulture. Brazoria County Master Gardeners also celebrate home orchard production with annual in-house and outreach programs. For more information, browse online: https://txmg.org/brazoria. Tree cheers to you and I’ll see you in the garden.