Planting Bare-Root Fruit Trees
Planting your bare root apple tree
by SCMG Joe Michelak
Bare root fruit trees are showing up in nurseries all over the County right about now, and if one of your New Year’s resolutions was to plant an apple tree, now is a great time to select the right one for your yard! (See An Apple a Day for how to select an appropriate apple tree). Planting most trees is best done in the winter dormant season, but with bare root trees it is mandatory. Dig a hole twice as wide as the rootball and twice as deep. Mix one part of the native soil that you have excavated with an equal part of any amended soil. Create a cone in the hole over which the roots can be spread to help anchor the trunk. Place the trunk of the tree on the top of the cone with the bud union, which is at least four inches above the soil line, facing north (to avoid sun-scald on the union). Fan out the roots over the cone. Then back-fill with the soil mixture until the hole is half filled and water it in. Finish filling the hole with soil and tamp the soil to eliminate any voids or holes in the soil around the root ball. Now create a moat around the tree with an
outside radius about two feet from the trunk and water in the tree immediately. To protect the young tree from sunburning, paint the trunk with a 1:1 mixture of white latex interior paint and water. This paint needs to be applied from 2 inches below the soil line to two feet up the trunk.
Placement of the tree in one’s yard is critical, as fruit trees require at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day to produce enough carbohydrates for growth and the development of fruit. Without adequate sunlight, the tree may not set fruit spurs, or producing buds. Also, without adequate light the fruit set may be light, the color may be poor, the fruit will not size up properly, and the sugar level in the fruit will not have the desired level of sweetness, making one question why it was planted in the first place!
Ongoing care of apple trees
The worst insect pest that apple trees in this county have to put up with is the codling moth. It can overwinter either under the loose scales of bark on the trunk of the tree or in the ground around the base of the tree. This moth can produce up to four generations a year, which makes it hard for the backyard gardener to monitor. There are, however, insect monitoring traps, which can be used to check the number of moths in the area at any given time during the growing season. If the population is not too large, non-chemical methods such as proper sanitation, pheromone traps and trunk banding can control the pest. The most effective way to control the overwintering of the larvae is to provide a clean environment around the tree by removing any debris under the tree, including all of the leaves and any loose bark on the trunk. To band the trunk, cut corrugated cardboard into three inch wide strips and wrap it around the trunk at least eighteen up from the soil line, making certain that the tubes in the cardboard are vertical and the band is snug. Secure the band with staples and place a sticky substance such as Tanglefoot in a one inch band on the cardboard.
Thinning of the fruit is very important in the control of the moth as the moth will go from one fruit to another if the fruit are touching. In the beginning of May, thin the fruit set to one fruit per spur and one fruit approximately every six inches along the branch. Finally, be certain to remove, either from the tree or on the ground, any infected fruit. The removal of the fruit should continue throughout the growing season. This fruit should be destroyed. DO NOT put this fruit into the compost, or you will have further infestation from the contaminated fruit.
Do not rush the tree into production by leaving too much fruit on during the first few years after planting. It is best to remove all fruit on the tree until the third year. This allows the tree to get well established and for the pruning and shaping of the canopy during those formative years of growth.
Aside from the summer pruning to control size mentioned above, apple trees should be pruned in the winter dormant season, initially to encourage the tree to develop a strong, solid branching structure and then on an ongoing basis to maintain shape and encourage fruit production. This generally means cutting out crossing branches, competing leaders, upward growing inside branches and downward growing branches. Some varieties produce suckers, which are best removed as soon as possible. They are the shoots that grow from the rootstock around the base of the tree. They can often be pulled off when small, or cut with a pruner. If desired, you can treat then with Sucker Stopper, which prevents them from growing back.
Once all of the winter pruning has been completed it is imperative that a dormant spray be applied to the entire tree and the ground immediately under the tree canopy. This spray, which consists of dormant oil and Liqui-Cop, helps to reduce the population of insects which are detrimental to the well being and health of the tree. It also promotes the production of good fruit.