a hole about 18 inches (50cm) in diameter (or preferably more) and
18 inches deep. Unless you know the soil to be free draining, do
not dig the hole before being ready to plant. If it rains heavily,
or water seeps through the soil, the hole will fill with water on
heavy soils and it will be impossible to plant the tree without
trapping water in the loosened soil. Wet soil is also difficult
to compact satisfactorily. Waterlogged soil can cause the roots
to rot and the consequent lack of aeration will slow down root development.
The aim is to have the tree planted in loose but compact soil that
will ease the travelling of root growth and will trap small air
pockets rather than trap water pockets.
Unless you know your soil to be deficient in some particular nutrient(s)
you can assume that the soil will yield up the necessary minerals
needed for healthy growth of the tree, without any additions to
the soil itself. Any deficiencies found in the future can be treated
with top dressings, so you should not be unduly concerned. Where
the soil is light, dry and lacking humus/fibre or has been intensively
cultivated, it will be beneficial to mix some of the soil with broken
down, mature garden compost or well rotted manure. Do not mix the
soil more than 50:50 with such composts and avoid using more than
a sprinkling of such additives as bonemeal/blood,fish and bone.
Do not use fresh manure except at very low levels. Too much kindness
with such materials can lead to root scorch from high salt concentrations
and later health problems for the tree arising from excess fertility.
It is better to add top dressings of fertilizing materials, as the
need arises, later. The main purpose of mixing composts with the
soil is to help the soil become looser and more friable, particularly
in clay soils which can tend to settle back to impermeability, and
in light soils, which do not retain moisture without the addition
of organic/fibrous material.
Having dug the soil and mixed in any composted/nutritional material,
add some soil to the base of the hole and tread it down lightly
so that the tree, when tapped out of the pot, and placed in the
hole will have the top of the tree compost an inch or two below
Remove the tree from its pot, leaving the shape of the compost and
roots as undisturbed as possible. Do not tease out the roots, as
advised by some books. This advice applies only to badly pot bound
plants and our trees are not pot bound. Teasing/loosening the roots
will only damage the soft fibrous root system and set the tree back
by several months. Place the tree, intact, into the hole, adjusting
the height of the hole base as necessary. Then return the soil to
the hole being careful to hold the tree vertical. Compact the soil
by treading on it lightly, but avoid significant pressure on the
tree root system – ie within 4-5 inches of the stem. The final
soil level can be 1-2 inches above the height of the compost in
the pot but not more, or the graft union will be in danger of rotting
from too close a proximity to the humid soil and water splash. Having
compacted the soil all round, water the tree well if the tree is
still in leaf. If planted in winter and the tree is dormant, there
will be no need to water. If you believe the soil is not as fertile
as you would wish then apply a liquid feed of fertilizer, when the
tree is in growth. Applying fertilizer when the tree is dormant
will not achieve anything. Too much fertility can cause health problems
for fruit trees.
Staking or support is necessary in the early life of a fruit tree.
In some cases/situations/rootstocks it may be necessary for many
years. The prime need is to stop the young tree from rocking in
the wind, where the wavering tree base would open up a void where
water could settle in, freeze and cause subsoil bark damage, or
where pests could enter and shelter. The constant rocking motion
can also seriously disturb and damage the principal roots. Maintaining
the correct upright position is vital for the long term future of
the tree. Be sure to avoid the roots when driving in a stake close
to the young tree. Also give serious consideration to using a tree
guard – either a spiral guard or a guard tube. It takes only
one rabbit/deer/vole/strimmer, on one visit, to kill a tree.
Unless the tree surround is kept weed/grass-free by hand, it will
significantly speed the growth and development of the young tree
if weeds/grass are mulched out – either by mat or with compost/decayed
grass cuttings. The tree benefits by the retention of moisture over
the dryer months and the lack of competition from weeds/grass. After
a couple of years the benefit is minor and grass/weeds can be allowed
to grow. Do not put too thick a mulch around – just enough
to exclude light. An over-thick mulch can provide a cover for voles
which will chew around the tree base and may even kill the tree.
Do not ignore this advice if planting in open fields. It is a regular
and catastrophic occurence.
If you are uncertain about any aspect of planting, you are welcome
to contact us.