There’s an old proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
Has anyone ever told you that the first thing you should think about doing when you buy and move into a new home is to plant trees? My dad told me this, as my grandfather had told him this as well. It really is sage advice, and we’ll get into why in a bit. Well, the first year in our home, my primary concern was getting the plot cleared for my raised garden beds, building those out, and then also a little project like building an addition to our home for my parents! But as we eclipsed the one year mark in our house and headed into winter, I knew that I was finally ready to start addressing my home orchard. You see, I want my home to produce not only vegetables, but various fruits and berries all year round. I have dreams of fresh squeezed orange juice and homemade apricot jam, cherry and apple pies. Of course, my mom’s the baker (not me), but that’s why I brought her to live with me, right! So let’s dig in…
Why You Need to Plant Fruit Trees Right Away
Frankly, the reason is simple. Trees take a while to grow to a size where they are producing the amount of fruit you want. You could always buy mature trees, but that would be extremely expensive. If you want to have a sizable orchard (ours is at 8 different fruit trees right now), then you need to get younger trees and give them time to grow. One to two year old bare root trees ran us about $35 each. Once transplanted, these will take another 2-3 years to produce fruit. Somehow my peach tree already has 4 peaches on it, but that must be an anomaly.
What are bare root fruit trees and what are the benefits?
Bare-root trees and plants are…
- Field grown for one to three years
- Undercut and dug in fall and spring
- Handled with no soil left around the roots
- Stored with moist roots and dormant tops until they are planted
You only get bare root trees during the winter when the trees have lost all their leaves and have gone dormant. This greatly minimizes the shock of transplanting. Other benefits over potted trees include them being cheaper, lighter, and with longer roots.
What trees should I get?
The best way to pick out trees is to ask yourself what fruits you and your family enjoy the most. Then research to see which ones do well in your Plant Hardiness Zone. From there, research the number of chill hours your area gets and make sure you pick out varieties that will do well in your specific conditions. Chill hours are the number of hours that temps are below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Most deciduous fruit trees need a minimum number of chill hours per season in order to fruit. This is especially important to me because I live in Southern California, so my area only gets about 200-400 chill hours per winter season.
My family’s decision process looked like this:
- We love peaches and apricots especially for jam; cherries and apples for pies or just eating plain; and my kids go crazy for pomegranate seeds
- Pomegranates grow easily in our climate while for the other fruits, it depends on the specific variety due to chill hour requirements
- So I grabbed bare root trees that specifically only needed 200 chill hours or less. That is hard to find for apples, so I did grab a Pink Lady variety that requires around 500 chill hours (and then I will cross my fingers)
You also need to know whether the tree can self-pollinate, or whether you will need two trees that will pollinate each other. Most of mine were self-pollinating, but I did have to get two different cherry trees (but you can plant them both in the same hole and prune them as if they are one tree!)
Entire books have been written on this subject, so I am not going to go into all the specifics here. I just recommend that you get a small pocket reference on pruning fruit trees as every type of tree has different requirements. I was surprised at the amount you should prune, though, so don’t be afraid.
Planting Bare Root Trees
Here’s the easy part. I planted all of our bare root trees all by myself.
- Dig a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the roots
- Mix the dirt that you dug out of the hole with equal part organic planting soil that has compost in it
- Start filling the hole and then set the tree’s roots in it and continue filling until the tree is firmly upright and the hole is full
- Tamp down the soil to remove air pockets
- Add an organic mulch (like cedar) around the tree, leaving space around the trunk
That’s it! You do not even need to water a bare root tree until you see the first signs of leaves forming in spring.
Watering the Fruit Trees in your Home Orchard
I have to say, this is the area I struggled to find clear help on what to do. Sites are either overly scientific – telling you to know exactly how much water the specific tree needs based on your climate and the type of soil, etc., or they are overly vague – for instance telling you to water a couple times a week during summer.
What I did land on is that drip irrigation appears to be the best way to water your trees. Not only does it conserve water, but it allows the water to penetrate deep enough to the root level. For now while our trees are small, we have run 1/2″ irrigation tubing across the area where our trees are. Then we connected 1/4″ soaker hose to this and circled the soaker hose around the “drip line” base of the trees. As the trees grow, this will allow us to easily expand the circumference. Once the trees are fully mature, I have plans to put more permanent 1/2″ drip line around the trees.
With this setup I am watering twice a week for about 45 minutes to an hour at a time. We have not hit the dry heat of summer yet, so I may need to increase that to three times per week.
Watch and Wait
And there you have it! It’s pretty easy to get your trees and get them in the ground. Now I love taking a stroll with my morning coffee to inspect the growth on the trees in my home orchard. It’s amazing how fast they put on leaves and grow. Inspecting them often also helps you to identify if they may need more water (if you see sad, drooping leaves). And even though I do not expect fruit for a couple years, I did get a gorgeous display from my peach tree flowering bright pink flowers this year!