Preparation & Planting
Layout is influenced by tree cultural requirements and other characteristics. Consider grouping species requiring similar pest and disease management strategies – stone fruits together, pome fruits together, etc. Or, group by expected bloom dates where the effects of microclimates are pronounced. Put species earliest to bloom at the warmest location. Consider tree size and location in the orchard. Walnuts and semi-dwarf apples present great contrast – inherently larger species are better positioned to the north of smaller ones.
Remember that management becomes more difficult as the number of species increases. If your area is only the size of the average country garden or city yard, you must be selective.
To find the number of trees per acre for any uniform spacing:
- T = Feet between trees
- R = Feet between rows
- T × R = TR
- 43,560 ÷ TR = Number of trees per acre
|Feet between rows|
|Feet between trees||6||1218||907||726||605||519|
|Number of trees per acre|
More information about layout at Site Considerations.
In handling trees, never allow unplanted trees to dry out or freeze. Roots can be kept moist (not wet) in transit, and for short periods (48 hours) of time prior to planting using a variety of materials-burlap, cloth, tarps, plastic in shade to maintain humidity, shredded bark, etc.
Heel in the tree if planting must be delayed, keeping the roots moist and top cool. This can be done carefully in well drained, light soil, in a sand pile, in sawdust, compost, or other materials that will maintain the cool, moist condition. Do NOT heel into redwood or cedar sawdust or rice hulls. Redwood and cedar, especially when fresh, contain compounds that can be toxic to roots. Rice hulls can become too wet and heavy, and have been known to heat up.
Do not dig the planting hole any deeper than the roots of the tree as purchased. The hole may be made somewhat wider than the root mass when the roots are spread out. The hole can be larger laterally, or fork-loosened laterally beyond what is needed for the width of the root system. If holes are augered, break down the sides of the hole with a shovel to prevent roots from winding around or becoming rootbound.
Consider nutritional amendments that can become part of the backfill at this time. Place NO conventional (commercial) fertilizer in direct contact with roots. Certain organic and naturally occurring materials may be considered with caution. Mulches, compost or organic matter will best serve trees when applied to the surface around trees after planting rather than blending with the backfill.
It may be helpful to add a cup or two of phosphate-containing fertilizer, such as bone meal or super phosphate, in the bottom of the hole and cover it with approximately three inches of soil.
Make a small cone of soil in the center of the hole and place the tree so that the roots are fanned out around the cone. Add soil until roots are covered by several inches and tamp gently, then add the same amount of phosphate as was placed in the bottom of the hole. Cover with soil to fill the hole using the soil which was removed to make the hole. It is not necessary to add soil amendments other than the phosphate. Do not use fertilizer containing any nitrogen when planting.
Plant the tree a little high to allow for tree settling in the hole. The darker color or stain on the trunk below the bud union usually indicates the original soil level. Orient the inside of the trunk bend (the concave bend immediately above the bud union) toward the north or northeast to reduce heat stress and sunburn to the trunk curvature above the union; the sun is less able to impinge directly on the young bark and trunk when so oriented. Using the best, friable, clod-free soil available at the site, backfill leaving no air pockets around the root system. After settling, the soil level next to the trunk should be at or below the level at which the tree grew in the nursery field.
After planting, the soil line on the trunk should be a couple of inches higher than the surrounding ground line, which in turn, should slope downward away from the tree to prevent water from accumulating near the trunk. The graft union should be four to six inches above the soil surface.
A basin for water may be made around the base of the tree (not next to the trunk). Fill the basin with water several times to settle the soil around the roots and to remove any air pockets.
After planting, irrigate once if necessary, keeping in mind that young trees will not be extracting or depleting soil moisture until growth is well underway (several inches of new growth).
Cut the tree off at knee height to produce lower branching for ease of training, spraying, pruning and harvesting fruit. This will also ensure a stronger tree which will mature earlier.
Paint entire tree with a mixture of ½ interior water-based white flat latex wall paint and ½ water. This is to prevent sunburn of the bark with its resulting insect attacks. Be certain to paint at least to ground level or slightly below.
Lastly, a permanent record of the tree(s) and layout should be made and filed in a safe place. Do not rely on tree tags. A permanent, filed record of dates, tree location in the orchard, cultivar, rootstock, cultural notes, and other pertinent information is a must in the home orchard.