Planning for Fruit Trees
Inspect roots to be sure they are not dry and are healthy
By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardeners
Most West Texas gardeners would like to have a few fruit trees in their gardens along with their vegetables. If you are worried about space, consider dwarf fruit trees. Knowing when, what and how to plant is important.
Fall and winter planting will help trees to establish some root growth before they bloom in the spring which can help when the heat of July and August hits. If you plant in the spring they can struggle because they don’t have enough root growth to absorb needed nutrients and water.
Texas A&M advises that apples are the hardest to grow in Texas and pears are the easiest. Before you go buy your trees check out Aggie horticulture fruit site. There are fact sheets there which give variety recommendations based on our location.
When you get to the nursery to buy your tree give yourself plenty of time to find the healthiest one. Check for injuries the tree may have suffered during shipping and look at the tree’s roots to be sure they white (healthy). Be on the lookout for nodules which could be a sign of root rot nematodes. Also be sure the roots are not dry or wrapped around the base.
Once you get your tree (or probably trees) home it is time to decide where to plant it. You will want well drained soil which is not usually a problem in our area. Avoid areas where water may sit such as close to a leaking water faucet since trees can drown.
If possible, it is recommended that fruit trees be planted on the north side of the property. The tree needs to stay cold while it is dormant for as long as possible. If it can avoid late day sun that is as asset as well since that can lead to early bud breaks. It can also help to avoid late spring freezes which we see frequently.
When planting, knock off the soil around the tree’s roots and inspect them. If they are wrapped around the root ball, cut them back to prevent it becoming rootbound.
The hole you dig should be the size of the root system, typically 12-18 inches, and deep enough to plant the tree so that it is level with the ground. This will be the “root collar” and there will be a distinct color change in the trunk there. It should not be planted deeper than that collar.
I have good luck filling that hole with water and letting it soak into the surrounding soil before planting. It seems to soften the area and allow the roots to penetrate the surrounding soil. Carefully place the tree in the hole and fill in with the original soil. Water well to settle the soil.
Next, cut the tree back. I know this is a hard thing to do. Fruit trees should be cut back to 18 to 24” tall. The reduced root system and cut back will make the tree go into growth mode.
Keep the grass and weeds away from the tree for at least the first five years since they will be in competition for the water and the nutrients the tree needs.
Lastly don’t kill your tree with kindness. Just let it grow. When the tree begins actively growing keep it well watered. That is about an inch of water every five to seven days. At first the water should be close to the trunk of the tree but moved to the edge of the tree canopy as it grows.
After your fruit tree has grown about 10” fertilize it with ammonium sulphate with 21% nitrogen. Water it in about 18” from the trunk.
There's room in most every garden for at least one or two, especially if you chose dwarf kinds. So in case you're hesitant, here are some reminders to help you get started with fruit trees.
If you have questions, call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700.
Additional information, and our blog for access to past articles, is available at westtexasgardening.org. Click on “Resources”.
Plant to proper depth and build a berm to hold water