Planting a fruit tree is a rewarding long-term investment.
Once you purchase your bare root tree, you can enjoy years of delicious fruit if you care for the tree well from the start. Fruit trees are more maintenance early on, but as the tree matures, it requires less maintenance. But there are many different facets that shape the art of fruit tree care. Tom Cronin, local fruit tree expert, has been a leader in urban forestry for over a decade, even chairing the the non-profit CityTrees. When I asked Tom for tips in selecting, planting, and caring for bare root fruit trees, he shared these insights.
Bare root fruit trees are usually two to three-year-old trees that are planted when they are dormant, during usually January and February, right before spring. This means when you purchase these trees at your local nursery, these trees are not in a container, and the roots are not covered in any soil. (Hence the name “bare root” fruit trees.) These trees are often as much as half the price of a tree sold in a container.
Once purchased, bare root fruit trees should be planted within 24 hours in order to properly care for the roots, especially in terms of keeping the roots moist enough. It’s important to keep the tree in the state of dormancy, which means careful monitoring of the temperature and moisture. I’ll go into detail about the care of a dormant bare root fruit tree in my upcoming class at Common Ground Garden on February 20, so make sure you sign up soon.
It’s important to remember that fruit trees are grafted to disease-resistant root stock. You can often see where the bare root fruit tree was grafted when you look at its trunk. So, when you are selecting your bare root tree, look for a clean and upright graft junction and a straight trunk. You should also examine the tree’s root structure, looking for a good balance between the root and the buds on the tree branches. Again, I will go into more detail about carefully selecting your tree during my upcoming bare root workshop, since the best way to learn is through practice.
Once you’ve made a good choice, it’s imperative to choose the right location for your tree based on light and spacing. Most fruit trees need a fair amount of sun to develop a good branch and leaf structure that will allow a dappled effect once the tree is mature. Once the space is chosen, the tree should be planted with the root crown (the where the roots meet the trunk of the tree) right at or slightly above grade level (ground level). I personally use a tool or a piece of wood to measure where grade level is, just to be sure. If a tree gets planted too shallow or too deep, it will affect the tree’s overall health. I use a 50/50 mix of native soil and compost to plant the tree.
Interestingly enough, many people don’t realize that bare root fruit trees should be pruned before they are planted to ensure that a good scaffold structure is developed. By scaffolding structure, I mean that the main trunk is often reduced to two to three feet in height in order to develop branches that will be easy to pick the fruit from. Pruning should be repeatedly after the first year of growth to help develop a well-structured tree that will bear fruit over many years. Pruning itself is an art of selecting for lighting and scaffolding structure, and I look forward to teaching you pruning techniques in my bare root fruit tree workshop.
Remember, now is the planting season for bare root fruit trees! Go peruse your local nursery this month and envision your future orchard.
Do you want to learn hands-on how to care for your bare root fruit trees? Make sure to sign up for Tom Cronin’s Bare Root Fruit Tree class on February 20. Click here for more information about the workshop.