Our Fledgling Orchard
Jimmie and I had a really good couple of days the other week, during a brief respite in the weather, planting some trees in our fledgling orchard.
The trees we planted were mainly apples on this occasion, and they were bare rooted. Bare root is the traditional and slightly cheaper way of planting trees, if you are planting more than one or two at a time. Bare root simply means the trees are dug up in the dormant season (winter), washed off, packed and delivered to the purchaser. They then need to be planted or potted up as soon as possible. If you only want one or two tree’s it will be cheaper and more convenient to purchase pot grown trees from a local garden centre or nursery, like ourselves, as bare root tree’s are dug up to order, so cannot be held in stock, and will be subject to one off transport costs. Pot grown tree’s will also be happy to wait until you are ready to plant them.
The method we employ is to unpack the trees as soon as they arrive, keeping them moist and frost free until planting. Immediately before planting we soak the roots in water for 30 to 60 minutes whilst we prepare the site. The holes need to be deep and wide enough to easily accommodate the roots as they splay out, without forcing them in. We usually incorporate a little compost with the soil before backfilling, particularly where, as it was in our case last week, the soil is quite stony or heavy. We also added a good handful of bonemeal to both the planting hole and to the soil we backfilled with, as this will aid root development, and get the tree off to a good start. Alternatively, I often use mycorrhizal fungi, which helps the tree develop a wider feeding and drinking system, via a kind of microbiological symbiosis, which occurs naturally in the wild and in organic gardens with good soil health.
Finally, we staked each tree securely until they can stand alone; and added spiral tree guards to prevent the countless rabbits around from having a little nibble. There is a great product available called Grazers, which can be sprayed onto plants to deter rabbits, but it does need re-applying after heavy rain, and as the rabbits must taste it first to find they don’t like it, it’s much more effective to protect green deciduous plants which re grow quickly. An apple tree with the bark nibbled all the way round (girdling is the technical term) won’t re-grow and it will die, so physically protecting newly planted trees is essential if there are rabbits, or other grazing animals, around.
Trees should always be planted at the same level in the ground as they were in the pot, or before being dug up. It’s usually fairly easy to see where this was. In any event when the tree is a grafted one, never plant the tree with the graft union below the surface. The graft union is the swollen area where the rootstock has been joined, or grafted to the top growth, which will come from a different variety of the same species. Planted below the surface the tree may very quickly start to grow roots from above the graft, which may completely change the ultimate height of the tree, or top growth may appear from below the graft which will be completely different to the tree you thought you had planted.
Trees are grafted for two main reasons, the first being that they can be prepared for market more quickly, and the second one is that the type of rootstock the tree is grown on can help determine some characteristics like ultimate size of the tree. For example, the same species of apple tree may be suitable for growing in a patio pot on one type of rootstock, but too big for a small garden on another. Grafting ornamental plants and fruit trees / RHS Gardening & Rootstocks for fruit / RHS Gardening
The other thing to be careful about when choosing apple and other fruiting trees, is that compatible pollination partners exist nearby. There are some trees which are partly or even fully self fertile - they will pollinate themselves - but often even these fruit better when paired with a compatible tree. Always best to research or get advice on this, but generally apple trees are grouped into five main pollination categories, plus a couple of very small ones, according to the times they flower. Most trees will be pollinated by another tree in the same or an adjacent group, although a few will require two other pollination partners. A pretty comprehensive list can be found here: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/pdfs/ApplePollinationGroups.pdf
Looking forward to seeing if we got it right, because I picked a few varieties I know do very well in these parts, but also a few less well known varieties because I just fancied having a go!