Planting it "Just right!"
The "Short and Sweet" from Grandpa:
• Make sure each tree's planting site is properly prepared.
• Dig holes large enough and with care to not create "clay pots".
• Grandpa does not recommend soil additives as backfill.
• Plant both bareroot and container trees at the proper depth.
• The bud union is your guide to planting depth. o Most seedling and standard rootstock trees may be planted with the bud union covered and 1-2" below ground level--- Soil level A. o Dwarf and semi-dwarf rootstock trees should always be planted with the bud union exposed and 2-4" above ground level---Soil level B. o Planting too deep is harder to correct than too shallow.
• Compact the soil around all trees well to eliminate air pockets.
• Leave a "bowl" around the tree for the first season to accept irrigation water and rainfall.
• Water thoroughly, often and as needed until trees are well established.
• Mulching can help reduce weed and evaporation.
• Start training immediately or shortly after planting.
Grandpa's "long winded" answer: You have picked up your containerized trees from the nursery or UPS has just delivered them to you, and you are ready to plant. Time to get your hands dirty. Hot dog! Now you are going to be a fruit grower just like Grandpa! In his years, Grandpa saw a lot of good orchards get screwed up at planting time, because they were improperly planted and thus they grew up and became less productive and long lived then they should have been. Grandpa used these steps on both bareroot and containerized fruit trees to make sure they were planted "just right'--- not too deep and not too shallow.
Prepare the site: No matter if you are planting one tree or a hundred, take the time and effort to prepare your site.
• Read "Soil and Site Basics" to make sure you are planting in the best possible location and that your soil chemistry is right before you plant.
• If you are planting out in the lawn, you may want to mark where you want individual trees and, several weeks before planting, kill the grass in a circle two or three feet in diameter at each tree site. Glyphosate, RoundUp®, or other similar grass herbicides work well. The killed grass will make a wonderful mulch for a year or so, and is easier to dig through, too, than living grass.
• If you are planting in worked up soil, make sure you remove rocks, roots, and other debris that you don't want present. In fresh soil, don't plant if it is muddy, sticky and too wet, but wait until it drains out and is more tillable.
• If soil conditions are too dry, water your tree locations first and bring the soil moisture levels up so that adequate moisture will be available to the tree after transplanting. You should have moist soil outside of the hole walls to encourage new roots to expand in that direction. Dig the hole. Remember, Grandpa says, "The hole has to be at least as big as the root system!" In Grandpa's opinion it doesn't have to be twice the width or twice as deep. It needs to be as big as what you are going to plant in the hole, without having to stuff roots in sideways or jump on top of the tree to make sure all the roots are covered. Not too deep, not too shallow.
• Hand digging: If you hand dig holes with a shovel, try to avoid glazing the sides of the hole when digging. Take a hoe or rake and loosen the soil on the sides and bottom so that newly growing roots can easily penetrate the sides and bottom, without "hitting a wall".
• Augering: If you auger holes with a power auger, you will almost always have glazed and hardened sides, even in sandy soils. Loosen them up like above or break them down into the hole so that you aren't forming something similar to a "clay pot" in the ground.
• Tree planter: If you are going to use a tractor powered tree planter, call Grandpa direct, because you are on the road to commercial fruit growing! After all, once you get started you won't be happy until you plant several thousand trees. We would like to sell you bareroot trees at commercial rates! Soil additives: Grandpa planted thousands and thousands of trees in his lifetime, and he never used soil additives. His philosophy was simple:
• Soil additives are expensive, and the only people making money on them are the ones selling them. Grandpa knew how to squeeze a penny!
• The roots of a fruit tree eventually grow out and extend out past the "drip line" of the tree. The drip line is the farthest reach of the limbs, and in fact, many roots will go farther out than this, until the reach and "touch" their neighbors.
• So logically, if the roots reach that far out, then a little bit of peat, "black dirt" or horse "poo" in the hole really doesn't go very far. You want to encourage roots to extend far outside of the hole into the natural soil of the backyard orchard, as fast as possible, so why put something in the hole that discourages that natural extension.
• Some additives can be downright dangerous to getting the tree off to a good start. Check out his Growing Tip on "Soil Additives".
The most important rule: "The bud union is your guide to proper planting depth." Every fruit tree you buy and plant, whether bareroot or containerized, has a visible bud union.
• Above the bud union is the "scion" or actual variety of fruit that you hope to harvest.
• Below the bud union is the rootstock, the actual roots of the tree that take up moisture and fertilizer, anchor the tree, and determine the amount of dwarfing characteristic the fruit tree will have.
• At the bud union is the actual graft, where the bud was inserted into the rootstock in the budding or grafting process in the nursery.
• The bud or graft union usually looks like a crook or jog above a straight rootstock and below the straight trunk.
The easy and simple planting depth table!
FRUIT TYPE on ROOT TYPE---PLANT WITH BUD UNION
Peach,nectarine, plum, prune and apricot on Seedling/Standard--- 1-2 inches BELOW ground level
Sweet and Tart Cherry on Seedling/Standard (Mazzard)--- 1-2 inches BELOW ground level
Sweet and Tart Cherry on "Semi-Dwarf" (Mahaleb)--- 1-2 inches BELOW ground level
Sweet and Tart Cherry on Dwarf (Gisela, etc)--- 2-3 inches ABOVE ground level
Apple and Pear on Seedling/Standard --- 1-2 inches BELOW ground level Apple and Pear on Dwarf or Semi-Dwarf --- 3-4 inches ABOVE ground level.
At the end of this article, Grandpa explains why different rootstocks need different planting depths.
Planting the Bareroot Tree:
• Dig a big enough hole!
• Trim off any torn, broken or severely damaged roots.
• Spread roots out in the hole.
• Depending on the rootstock, make sure the bud union will line up at the proper level, after allowing for compacting and settling of the backfill. If the hole is too deep or shallow, adjust bottom level.
• Cover the roots and backfill with the natural soil you dug out of the hole. If you run short, use some close by topsoil. Cover the roots completely.
• If you dug your hole too deep, you will need to allow for settling of the soil after backfilling, compacting, time, and rainfall. In augered holes, settling is almost always a problem.
• Compact the soil around the roots firmly so that there are no air pockets surrounding the roots. Air pockets will cause the root to dry out, not take root, and possibly slow initial tree growth down, or even dry out and kill the tree.
• Do not be afraid to grab the trunk of the tree, hold or pull it straight up and compact the soil by walking around the base with your feet. You will not damage the roots, but will compact the soil properly and usually remove any air pockets.
Planting the Containerized Tree:
• Dig a big enough hole!
• Remove the container off the tree. You may have to cut down one side and "unwrap" the root system if does not slip off.
• If there is a lot of "root circling" around the bottom of the root system, you may take a pair of pruning shears and cut through and remove some of the most circled ones to promote new growth out from the container. You can also "rough up" the sides a little to promote new root growth. Use common sense if doing either, especially if the tree has a lot of new growth on top. Disturbing the root system too much may cause excessive transplant shock.
• Depending on the root stock, make sure the bud union will line up at the proper level, after allowing for compacting and settling. If the hole is too deep or shallow, adjust bottom level. With a containerized tree it is much easier to determine the proper depth, since the root ball will sit on the bottom.
• Fill around the root system with the natural soil you dug out of the hole. If you run short, use some close by topsoil. Cover the root ball completely. Make sure to put at least a shallow layer of your natural soil (1/2" to 1") over the top of the soil used in the container. If the peat-like container soil is left exposed, it will often act as a "wick", drawing up moisture from the root ball and eventually drying it up.
• If you dug your hole too deep, allow for settling of the soil after backfilling, compacting, time, and rainfall. In augered holes, settling is almost always a problem.
• Compact the soil around the roots firmly so that there are no air pockets surrounding the roots.
• Do not be afraid to grab the trunk of the tree and hold it straight up and compact the soil by walking around the root ball with your feet. You will not damage the roots, but will compact the soil properly and usually remove any air pockets.
Some dangers of planting too deep. Overly shallow planting usually does not cause problems for fruit trees that can not be remedied relatively easy. If the bud union is too exposed on dwarf and semi-dwarf trees, then adding a little more soil around the base of the tree usually solve the problem. On standard and seedling rootstock, excessive suckering often happens if the bud union is exposed, and in the future, you will be removing suckers. Covering with soil helps reduce this, although some rootstocks tend to sucker some anyway.
Often after planting, the tree appears at the proper depth, but after several rains or irrigations or over the length of the first season, the soil will often settle and pull the tree down with it. This often happens on augered holes and holes dug way too deep and backfilled up, without proper tamping down. If you need to raise the bottoms of holes before planting, jump down in there and use your feet to tamp them down firm before planting.
Here are the worst problems that planting too deep can lead to:
• Scion rooting. If the bud union of dwarf and semi-dwarf trees is covered with soil, the scion or variety budded on top will often take root and give the tree a real surge of vigor. Removing soil down to an appropriate level and cutting scion roots is the only way to help solve this problem.
• "Suffocation". Many trees planted with the bud union excessively deep (4-6" or more below the ground level) often fail to thrive until they scion root because the root system is now in the sub-soil layer which has less nutrients, less organic matter and most importantly less oxygen. Roots have to breathe too, and overly deep planting tends to "suffocate" the root system.
Often you will see very poor growth and stunting and wonder why. Water thoroughly after planting. It is often helpful to leave a shallow bowl or depression around the base of the tree that will hold a few gallons of water in place until it can soak into the ground. Filling the hole completely up to the ground level causes irrigation water to just roll off and away from the tree when irrigating. When the tree is more established in a couple months, you may finish filling the hole, always keeping in mind the necessity to maintain the proper clearance of the bud union above the ground on dwarf and semi-dwarf trees.
In heavy wet or tight soils, always finish filling in the cup by the next season so that water can't collect around the base of the tree as it gets older. This can cause root rots and other problems. Mulch after planting. Mulch is wonderful for maintaining an optimum soil moisture level, reducing evaporation, and keeping the base of the tree weed free. Remember that mulch ultimately turns into soil, so over time too much mulch near the base of the trees can lead to scion rooting and other problems. It is a good idea to keep it clear for a couple inches away from the bud union and tree base so that scion rooting and root disease don't have chance to occur. Start to trim and train you tree immediately or within a few days.
Grandpa explains why the bud union level is important:
Standard rootstocks or seedling rootstocks: You should always try to plant the bud union one to two inches below ground level for almost every standard or seedling budded rootstock or fruit tree. Covering the bud union helps to reduce the amount of "suckering" that can occur from seedling rootstocks. Since the variety is budded onto a standard or seedling rootstock, it will grow as if it were on its own roots and can reach its natural, potential full size. Even if there is "scion rooting" the ultimate size of the tree is not affected and remains the same.
Dwarf, Semi-Dwarf, certain other size control, or precocious rootstocks: In order to not loose the beneficial effect of these special rootstocks, which you usually pay more money for, it is important to not plant too deep. Each type of rootstock sometimes has its own special planting depth requirement, but usually if planted too deep you will often loose the effect and end up with a fruit tree similar in size to standard or seedling.
Apples on Dwarf or Semi-Dwarf Roots. Plant with the bud union 2 to 3 inches above the ground level. These are rootstocks with names and numbers such as EMLA, Malling, Geneva, Bud or Budagovsky, 9, 26, 7, 30, 106, 111, etc.
Pears on Dwarf or Semi-Dwarf Roots. Same as apples above. Plant with the bud union 2 to 3 inches above the ground level. These are rootstocks with names such as OHxF 97 or 87, PyroDwarf, Pyro, etc.
Cherries. In the old days, all sweet and tart cherries were budded on either mazzard (full size standard) or mahaleb (often called semi-dwarf) rootstocks. Both are seedling rootstocks and both can be planted with the bud union one to two inches below the ground level. Choice of which rootstock the nursery used was often determined by compatibility factors between the bud and root. With the advent of Gisela® dwarfing rootstocks for sweet cherry, in particular, and others such as MxM® and MaxMa®, and other new developments, it is possible to grow much smaller cherry trees which produce much earlier and more heavily. When you buy "dwarf" cherries most likely they are on one of these. If they are identified as "semi-dwarf", then they are likely to be on mahaleb root. We should assume that "dwarf" means a size controlling rootstock that must be planted at a shallower depth than a standard or semi-dwarf cherry root. Plant dwarf cherry trees with the bud union 2 to 3 inches above the ground.
Peaches, nectarines, plum, prunes, apricots. There are few truly dwarfing rootstock available, so almost all of these may be planted with the bud union one to two inches below the ground.