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Your Own Fruit Trees - On a Budget!

A Small Home Orchard

Many gardeners toy with thoughts of a small orchard as part of their food gardens. I always did, but at some of my houses it wasn't possible, usually poor soil, shallow wells and low funds. Young fruit trees aren't cheap. But I'm not sure if even higher prices of late are a shortage of good rootstock or simple laws of demand and ‘sock it to ‘em' prices.

Buying Fruit Trees

Redhaven Peach Tree

Redhaven Peach Tree in my Zone 4 Yard

I purchase young trees on year end clearances and shamelessly ask for them as mother's day and birthday gifts. Mostly I preferred dwarf stock as I dreaded massive trees needing a cherry picker truck at harvest time - 20 years away. Now that I'm in a house in which I'll hopefully stay a long time, and have some space, I simply purchase varieties I really want regardless of rooting stock. If some trees are standards, I'll deal with them later by pruning ruthlessly. And I have enough varieties that I don't worry about pollinators. If you're not sure, ask your seller if your tree needs a pollinator mate and if it's hardy for your area.

Planting Out Fruit Trees

Where I live, most trees come in peat pots with raised lips. This guarantees roots won't be disturbed during planting. But before they're planted, I cut off the top 3-4" (15-20cm) of peat pot, careful not to slice roots. This trimming ensures the pot won't protrude into the air which wicks out moisture and dries out trees. I also allow a lot of space between trees for good air flow, sunlight and size differences.

Numerous studies have been done on the ideal size of planting hole. Personally, I dig as large a hole as I can. My soil is so poor and gravely, that the tree needs all the help it can get. The hole is deeper than pot height, and 3x the width at least. Once dug, I pour several buckets of water into the empty hole and let it soak in. I always find the hole bottom is so dry that there's nothing to encourage the tree roots to probe deeper.

Fertilize the Fruit Tree

When the water is gone, I throw in a few handfuls of blood & bone meal and about half a bag of composted manure (it's all I can get). I test the pot depth in the hole and adjust. Before I actually leave the tree in, I throw in at least one cup of mycorrhizal bacteria (explained in Soil Additives) where it will sit. When roots finally break through the peat pot, the bacteria is right there to encourage lots of feeder roots. After setting the tree in place, I alternate layers of soil, more compost and blood/bone meal to the top. Don't exceed the existing pot surface or you risk suckering.

Italian Plum Tree

Italian Plum Thriving in it's second year

Of late, I've implemented a new technique. I cut about a yard (1M) of old hosepipe, pierce holes along its length, and fasten a doubled piece of weed fabric to one end. This end will curl once around the bottom of the hole, the rest runs vertical beyond the surface. Soil is filled in, fixing the protruding hose in place. This end has another doubled piece of fabric to keep out dirt and pests. The reasoning here is for easier feeding and watering directly to where the tree most needs it - the roots. My first attempt filling the hose blasted me a faceful of water. I've since learned to slowly fill the hosepipe to match soil uptake.

To finish off planting, I wrap the trunk with protective wrap or a slit length of weeping pipe against rabbits. Then a top layer of compost or manure then a thick mulch, and water well again. And I keep watering every 2-3 weeks for the first year. The second year needs almost as much watering, more so if it's a dry year; by the third, an occasional bucket of water, along with yearly manure and mulch toppings, is adequate.

Cultivation of Fruit Trees

It's best to not let young trees bear fruit for the first three years. They can better utilize energy in growth now and will later handle a fruit load without snapping branches. Also, prune sparingly until then and only if branches go inward or the main stem gets ridiculously tall. Check often for bugs, diseases, dryness and other problems.

So what's in my orchard?

5 Cortland apples, 1 Snow apple, 2 Transparent apples, 1 Golden Delicious apple, 1 Bartlett pear, 1 Red Anjou pear, 1 Italian plum, 1 German plum, 2 Redhaven peaches and 1 Reliance peach. They all live within a shelter belt of old trees, but the peaches are close to the house where it's warmer. And easier for me to be a glutton.

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