Creating your own home orchard can be a very rewarding experience; all it takes is a little planning and preparation. First you need to find a suitable location for your fruit trees; which prefer full sun, a nice breeze and well-drained soil. Fruit trees require a soil pH of 6.5 – 7.0 (with the exception of blueberries); bring a sample of your soil to have it tested, free of charge, before planting. Choosing a site with these characteristics will facilitate healthy growth and allow the tree’s leaves to dry quickly, which will help to prevent fungal diseases. Speaking of fungal diseases, they can be a common problem of fruit trees so be sure to select varieties that are more disease resistant. When selecting your fruit tree, also take note if they are self-pollinating or if they need cross pollination from another variety (read more about this subject here). If in doubt, read the tag. Our Hollybrook Orchards fruit trees include information on each variety, along with suitable cross-pollinators. Yes, this means you will have to buy more than one apple (or pear) tree, but variety creates diversity and adds to the spice of life, right?
Now that you’ve selected your fruit trees and the best site on your property, it’s time to get planting. It’s best to get your trees into the ground in early spring or as soon as the ground can be worked, which means the ground is not frozen or water logged from the spring thaw. This will give the trees time to establish before the heat of summer sets in.
- Remove your tree from its plastic pot and inspect the roots. Gently tease out the roots to encourage outward growth. If the roots are growing in a tight mass, use a knife to make several shallow vertical slits along the sides.
- Dig the hole 2x as wide as and slightly shallower than the size of the root ball. When placed in the hole, the bud-union (the swollen portion of the trunk where the tree is grafted to its root stock) should be at least 2-3” above the soil surface. Do not bury the trunk of the tree!
- Plant. Before backfilling, replace 1/3 of the soil with an organic soil amendment (like compost) and mix well. Work the amended soil firmly around the root ball to remove any air pockets. Use any remaining soil to build a raised berm around the planting hole to form a water basin. Water thoroughly after planting, allow the water to seep deeply into the soil and water a second time. Mulch around the tree to conserve moisture, being sure to keep the mulch 2-3” away from the trunk.
- Water the tree once a week during the growing season (especially if it hasn’t rained). The tree needs the equivalent of 1” of rainfall or roughly 5 gallons per week. Irrigate slowly to ensure the water percolates deep into the soil. During hot weather monitor for signs of wilting and water accordingly.
- Fertilize the tree 3-4 weeks after planting with ½ cup 10-10-10 fertilizer or a slow-release organic fertilizer. Spread the fertilizer in a circumference 1 ½ – 2 feet away from the trunk and work lightly into the soil.
Following these recommendations will get you well on your way to orchard success. Be sure to monitor the tree for signs of pests and diseases throughout the growing season. If you find something out of the ordinary, bring us a leaf sample for diagnosis. The Penn State Extension also has a wealth of information for home fruit orchards here.