Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bare root fruit trees

Bare root apple tree.  Note the fine roots.  In general, bare root fruit trees with an abundance of fine roots will do much better then trees with a few large roots or very few roots at all.  Also note the white band just above the roots in the center of the picture.  This white band is where the apple scion (stem) is grafted onto a root stock system.  The roots should be planted to a depth just below this white band.

Several years ago I started planting a variety of bare root fruit trees and vines.  A bare root tree is simply that, when purchased the tree doesn't come in a pot of soil but rather comes with the roots bare and wrapped up in sawdust or something else that will keep the roots moist.  At first I was a little scared that everything I planted would die.  However, I have now planted many peach, apple, plum, grape, blackberry, and persimmon trees successfully, not one of which have died.   I have found bare root trees easier to handle than potted plants, you just have to be a little more delicate with their root systems.  Fruit trees are probably the easiest and cheapest way to garden.  For several hundred dollars you can plant a relatively large orchard and never have to put any money into it again.  The hardest work is also up-front with planting these trees.  But once the trees are planted the hardest work left is harvesting and pruning.  Fruit trees are a simple way to add value and productivity to your property.  Here are some basic guidelines to growing your bare root trees.

Chilling hours: It is important that you select trees that have fewer chill hours then your local climate.  Chilling hours are the number of hours a location has with temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees.  These hours are needed in order for a fruit tree to bud, flower, and produce fruit.  In Phoenix we have less then 400 chilling hours each winter so we must select trees that have 400 or fewer chilling hour requirements.  It also may be helpful to look at USDA plant growing zone information when selecting trees.   If  you select trees with too many chilling hours you may get either no fruit or inconsistent fruit.

Root stock:  There are many types of root stocks available for all the different types of fruit trees.  These stocks have a variety of different effects on the growth of trees or the soils they are adapted to.  Dwarfing stocks are often popular but I have found them difficult to deal with in desert conditions.  For this reason, I favor seedling or semi-dwarfing root stocks, they seem to deal with drought conditions far better then dwarf stocks. 

Site selection:  Sites generally needs at least six hours of direct sunlight a day.  Also, select a site were it will be easy to water if needed.

Planting: Dig a hole slightly larger then root ball and plant to just below graft point or where tree was originally planted.

Pruning: After planting prune tree to 18 to 24 inches.  This allows for more roots to feed less stem and leaf area which is very important for aiding establishment of the tree.  This is especially true in desert areas.  After the first year prune to the desired shape in late summer and while the tree is dormant in the winter.  You can prune your trees to fit the space they are planted in.

Here are some other resources I have found on bare root fruit trees:

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