The planting season for fruits other than strawberries extends from leaf-fall, usually early in November, until the resumption of growth in March or early April but always slightly later in the north.
For rapid re-establishment close contact is necessary between the particles of moist soil and the tiny root hairs. This is more likely to be achieved early in the autumn than in the winter when the soil is sticky. Another reason for early planting is that the soil then still retains sufficient warmth to encourage immediate root growth.
Early planting is particularly valuable for the fruits which start first into growth in spring-the apricots, peaches and nectarines.
It is one thing to plan to plant early, quite another to accomplish this. October and November rains may make the soil unsuitable, transport difficulties may hold up your new trees, the nurseryman may not have immediately just what you want or may be slow to deliver or frost may freeze the soil solid or the planting site may be deep in snow.
Should the fruit trees or canes arrive before you are immediately ready to plant them, heel them in temporarily. For this take out a slit trench with the spade with one face at an angle of 45. The trench must be deep enough to take the roots when roughly spread out and so that they will be covered to the same depth as they were in the nursery (notice the soil mark on the stem). Lay the trees along the sloping side of the trench, return the soil, covering all the roots and firm it.
If the trees arrive during hard frost or snow so that planting is impracticable, unfasten the bundle and place the plants in the garage or a shed. Cover them and protect them from mice. If, when it comes to planting, the roots look dry, soak them in water for a couple of hours.
Staking and Tying
Finally, stakes and tying materials should be obtained and prepared. In light land all posts should be sunk at least 2 ft; in heavy soil 18 in. is sufficient. Above ground the stake must extend to just below the lowest branches. Strong stakes are necessary because they may have to do duty for many years. Peeled chestnut is excellent, so is 3 in. x 3 in. hardwood. The underground part of the stake and at least a few inches above should be thoroughly soaked (not merely painted) in a copper-based preservative.
- All tree fruits need to be staked on planting and those on dwarfing rootstock will need support for the whole of their life.
- If a single vertical stake is to be used, this should be inserted before planting to obviate root damage. Some growers prefer a longer, oblique stake which is inserted at an angle of about 45° and pointing towards the prevailing wind. Such a stake must be long enough to cross the tree’s trunk just below the lowest branches. Another method is to drive in two vertical stakes, one each side of the tree and at least a foot apart, then fix a crosspiece to these to which the stem will be fastened.
- Apple or pear trees to be grown as oblique cordons require a system of horizontal wires. Preferably these should run from south to north and be 2, 4 and 6 ft. above the ground. Use gauge 12 galvanized wire and insert an adjustable straining bolt at one end of each wire to keep it taut. The end posts must be really stout (concrete or angle iron posts are often used) and should have angle struts facing down the row to take the strain.
- Whether grown in the open or against a wall, fan-trained trees will require a system of horizontal wires about 6 in. apart.
- Soft fruits such as currants and gooseberries do not require any support except where they are grown as cordons. Blackberries, loganberries and other hybrid berries need four horizontal wires at heights of 3, 4, 5 and 6 ft.
These preparations completed, planting may be carried out, provided that the soil is quite friable.
Take out a planting hole wide and deep enough for the roots of the tree, bush or cane to be spread out to their natural length. Clip off with the secateurs any damaged roots and shorten any one root which is substantially longer and stronger than the rest.
Break up the soil at the bottom of the hole with a fork and draw in a little topsoil to form a slight mound at the centre so that the tree ‘sits’ on this. At this stage of the proceedings, an assistant to hold the tree is most helpful. When planting is completed and the soil firmed down, the tree should be at the same depth as it was in the nursery (the soil mark on the stem will probably be visible). Where tree fruits which do not grow on their own roots are concerned, it is essential that the join (known as the ‘union’) between the top part (the ‘scion’) and the rootstock should be quite clear of the soil, at least 4 in. above it. Most soft fruits should be at their previous, nursery, depth, except blackcurrants which should be slightly deeper than before.
Now, your helper’ holding the tree at the right depth (a stick laid across the planting hole will indicate the final soil level), begin to replace the topsoil round the roots. A little moist peat mixed with this soil as you proceed will aid rapid new root growth. Never add manure. Use your fingers to work the, soil well in beneath and around every root. Firm it occasionally as you work. When ground level is reached firm with your feet and then just rake over the surface.
Finally, spread over the root area a 2-in. Deep mulch of rotted manure, compost or peat to preserve moisture in spring.
- Immediately after planting fasten the tree temporarily to its stake. Permanent fastening should only be done a few months later when the soil has had time to settle. Inspect and adjust the fastenings of all newly-planted trees frequently in their early years.
- Patent plastic straps are excellent for fastening fruit trees because these incorporate a plastic buffer which prevents the stem from chafing against the stake and because they are so easily adjustable as the tree grows.
- Alternatively, use soft string for tying a newly-planted tree, first wrapping a piece of sacking, old rubber inner tube or something similar round the bark.
- Cordons should be tied with soft string or plastic tying tape to canes which, in turn, are tied to the horizontal wires. Similarly, espaliers and fan-trained trees should have their ‘arms’ tied to canes which are then fastened to the wires.
- Oblique cordons should be planted at an angle of 450, pointing to the north and with the scion part of the union on top of the rootstock part so that when the tree is bent down to a more acute angle this will tend to press the two parts of the union together rather than tear them apart.