Seems like ages since I last chatted you up about gardening. May 18th to be exact. I know. I know. It’s hardly ideal for keeping in touch, but believe-you-me, you and my blog are always on my mind. I take hundreds of photos in the orchard and garden, jot down notebooks full of ideas, even start a post or two only to be distracted mid-way through. “Bein’ a busy boo” is an understatement this time of year for me (and I’m sure for you as well) ~ but I feel totally and completely blessed for it. I’m also so grateful that my health is at a point that I can be crazy busy in my orchard and garden. To top it off, I’m tickled to have such wonderful friends, like yourself, who get it.
Gardening is simply amazing, isn’t it? And the rewards… to literally eat the “fruits” of your labor. And, if you’re growing biologically, like me, to achieve the highest brix/nutrient dense foods possible, every time you eat the fruits of your labor the cells in your body lights up and sparkles health :) Right now, hubby and I are gorging ourselves on figs, pluots and a rainbow of incredibly large and juicy heirloom tomatoes. I feel the only way to describe our feasting joy is to say it in Italian… “Delizioso il mio caro amico. Delizioso!” (yeah, I looked this one up on Google).
My Bare Root Fruit Trees Arrived, Now What?
The purpose of this post is to help you properly stage your fruit trees for planting if you’re unable to plant immediately after arrival. Personally, I like to give my trees at least 24 hours to settle in before I plant them out in the orchard. I do this to help my new fruit tree arrivals recover from the stress of travel in less than ideal conditions (a.k.a. a box) in addition to being banged around during shipping and who knows what else. Yes, the bare root fruit trees are dormant at the time of shipping, but it’s way outside of their normal environment and conditions. Also, it gives you the opportunity to prepare yourself for planting, clear your calendar, thoroughly inspect your new arrivals, etc.
Keep in mind that the process I’m about to share with you is more specific to bare root fruit trees though if you’ve made the decision to plant a containerized fruit tree, I’ve got you covered. I’ve jotted down a few things just for you at the bottom of this post, so feel free to read on with the rest of us either for the entertainment value or as a source of information and inspiration for future fruit tree plantings :) For those of you who are planting bare root fruit trees, let’s forge on.
With your hole dug and ready to go ~ you’re prepared to receive your new bare root fruit trees. Regarding the timing of their arrival, most reputable online nurseries will let you select the delivery month at the time you place your order. Typically, bare root fruit tree pre-orders begin late August/early September. I usually request an early February for my deliveries. January always seems too cold or unpredictable weather-wise. March is just too late for my liking. I like to give my new baby trees a little more time to get settled in before the onslaught of heat and wind is upon them plus, everything is starting to bloom and leaf out in March. So February is my preferred month ~ the weather is starting to warm up, it’s generally nice outside, and the ground is more workable… it’s just nice.
Whether you plan to pick up your bare root fruit trees at a local nursery or have them delivered to your door, there are a few things I highly recommend you pull together a few days ahead of time to help make the arrival and/or receiving process go much more smoothly.
- Make sure someone is home to receive your new baby fruit trees if they are being delivered or make certain you add a shipping note when you place your order that instructs the delivery person to place the box in a shaded area. Here in the desert, a box sitting in the direct sun for a few hours can cook its contents, even in cool weather.
- 1+ yards of quality compost (depends on how many trees you’ll be receiving). This is for those of you who will be unable to plant their fruit trees within 1-2 days after receiving them.
- Trash Can(s) or 5-gallon buckets setup in a shaded area or in a garage filled with fresh clean water (fill the containers with water as soon as you receive your trees)
- Air stone and small pump (helpful, but totally optional)
Step 1: Rip Open The Box
Well, maybe not rip open the box. I know, you’re pretty excited to see what your new babies look like, but relax, take a deep breath, and open the box without hurting yourself or your new fruit trees.
Typically, when you open your box, you’ll see that the nursery has cut back some of the branches and roots in order to fit several fruit trees into one box. This is absolutely normal and in no way harms the fruit tree, though some of the cuts may not be ideal for your planting situation ~ we’ll discuss that in just a bit. Occasionally, the fruit trees will have a broken limb or two that may have occurred during shipping. Simply trim those off with a sharp pair of hand clippers versus pulling it off, which could tear and damage the fruit tree.
After you opened the box, you may have noticed that the roots are covered with plastic or a plastic bag. This is quite normal and is done by the nursery to help keep the roots moist during shipping. Inside this plastic, the roots are typically wrapped in some type of wet material like newspaper, sphagnum moss or saw dust. For now, just leave the plastic and wet material in place until you’re ready to inspect the roots ~ the roots must stay moist at all times.
Step 2: Help your tree to recover from its travels
With your trees safe and sound in your loving care, it’s time to help the bare root fruit tree(s) recover from the stress of travel and prepare them for planting. To do this, simply remove the plastic and all of the wet material wrapped around the tree’s roots then set the fruit tree roots directly into the bucket(s) of water. Note that the water level should be slightly below the graft union. This can be easier said then done when you have multiple trees soaking in the same bucket, but do your best. Let your tree roots soak for a couple of hours ~ or up to 24 hours.
For those of you who purchased more than one bare root fruit tree, begin this step by carefully separating the trees to prevent unnecessary damage.
Want to take it up a notch and give your fruit tree an extra added boost? Earlier, I mentioned an air stone and a small pump. Placing an air stone into the water helps to oxygenate the roots ~ you can certainly skip this part, but it can help to rejuvenate and rehydrate the trees after being boxed up for a few days in a dark oxygen-deprived box.
Over the years, I’ve encountered some debate around the need to soak the roots prior to planting. In my research, I have yet to see any strong arguments against soaking. Usually, the folks I’ve come across who are advocates for the “no-soak approach” are unable to provide reasons that would negate the benefits of soaking. I use the technique of soaking to refresh and rehydrate the roots for all of my newly purchased bare root fruit trees. I look at it this way… the bare root fruit tree received is dormant ~ not dead. It is alive! A living thing that is strongly connected and grounded to the earth, that just traveled by plane and/or truck for, in some cases, hundreds of miles. Give the poor thing some water. I’ve been soaking my bare root fruit trees before planting for years now with no issues ~ and my fruit trees have performed beautifully for me and given me more fruit than I know what to do with. Abundance baby!
Now certainly, if you receive your new trees and the roots are very wet and you plan to plant them out within an hour or two of receiving them, you can skip the soak. This is for those times when you know there’s no way on earth you’ll be planting out the same day you receive them – or – if the roots could use a bit of hydration. Personally, I’d still make the time to soak even if it’s only for a couple of hours.
In my opinion, soaking is a good idea even when bare root fruit trees are purchased locally from a nursery, farm or big box store. A lot of times they’re dealing with bulk orders of fruit trees and just do not have the time for individualized care for each fruit tree. On top of that, lots of people may be sifting through the trees exposing the roots to the elements more than they should be, etc.
Step 3: Inspect your fruit trees
The majority of the time, the bare root fruit trees you’ll receive from a reputable mail-order nursery will be top quality and worthy of a place within your beloved orchard or garden. But, life is life and as we all know things happen. Order enough fruit trees on-line and there will be a time or two (or three) that you will receive a fruit tree that fails to meet up to your standards. It will happen. For this reason, inspecting your fruit trees shortly after they arrive makes perfect sense.
Okay, for those of you who are new to fruit tree growing and lack the skills necessary to complete a well thought out inspection, take a deep breath, sip some cool water and chill a moment. I’ll walk you through some of the basics and provide you with a few tips. For you fruit tree aficionados out there who’ve been around the block a few times selecting and planting bare root fruit trees, this list may serve as a simple refresher.
So, while your fruit trees are rehydrating or receiving a spa treatment :), it’s time to inspect your new arrivals.
Inspect the trunk and limbs
Be sure to check your trees from top to bottom noting any obvious scaring, large fresh wounds, splits, any oozing, dark-colored bark (could indicate disease), etc. Also, carefully inspect the roots and graft union (the point where the rootstock and scion are connected). If something looks suspicious or you’re just not sure about what you’re looking at, take a photo and call the nursery. Reputable nurseries will be more than happy to assist, even if it’s over the phone.
Roots ~ the roots (even the hair-like roots) should be moist and healthy look. As I mentioned before, nurseries often times trim down roots for shipping. This is okay and will not harm the tree. What’s bad is if you find the roots are dry and brittle. If this is the case, call the nursery and request a replacement.
Graft union ~ the graft union should be firmly intact (though the plastic wrapping around this area may be loose, slightly coming undone or completely missing ~ this is okay). The graft union should also be free from major scaring and injury.
Crooked or curvy trees ~ no need to panic. A crooked or curvy trunk is nothing to worry about if you plan to lop your tree off at about knee height after planting. This is an ideal approach for growing “ladderless” (a.k.a. shorter) fruit trees. Now, if you plan to grow your fruit trees to full size and the trunk is far from straight-ish and you’re concerned about the aesthetics of your fruit trees, you could certainly request a replacement.
A note about caliper size (caliper refers to the girth of the trunk). There are a few schools of thought on this. Some say 1/2″ caliper is excellent and will produce fruit sooner, others prefer whips (small sized trunk with no branches) because they like the flexibility in training the tree exactly how they want it from the get-go. It’s a personal choice and either one will work.
What do you do if you find something unacceptable with the bare root fruit tree? This is when a fruit tree warranty comes in handy. When purchasing online, always order from a reputable nursery who offers a replacement warranty. I purchase the bulk of my fruit trees from Bay Laurel Nursery who has such a warranty and has backed it on a number of occasions for us ~ with no issues.
Now, if you’re buying your fruit trees locally, you will be able to sift through the fruit trees until you find one that works best for you.
Step 4: Beyond the 24 Hour Soak Period
With the inspection of your fruit trees and 24 hour soak period complete and any replacements noted, it’s time to do one of two things…
1. Plant your tree
2. Heel-in your fruit trees until you’re ready to plant
Heeling in your bare root fruit trees buys you a little extra time if you’re unable to plant them right away. To heel-in your fruit trees, simply bury the tree roots in a nice pile of moist non-manure compost or loose soil (compost added to the soil works well). Some folks keep their trees in an upright position or lean them up against a fence while they are heeled-in. Typically, hubby and I just lay our new fruit trees down and prop-up their tops by placing the trunk (just below the branches) on a small mound of compost/soil. This allows the branches to remain off the ground (less chance of damage) and prevents the trees from being completely horizontal.
A few things to also remember when heeling in your bare root fruit trees, is to make sure that the graft union is not buried in the compost/soil and to keep the compost/soil moist at all times. This will help keep the roots nice and moist.
When heeling in bare root fruit trees, choose a shady spot or loosely cover your trees with a light tarp in such a way that air is allowed to circulate underneath during the day-time and can be sealed up at night if a light frost is expected. A heavy frost or freeze will require some additional protection.
How long can the trees remain heeled in? Personally, I try to shoot for no longer than 1 maybe 2 weeks tops, but I do have to admit that I’m only human and have left trees in longer. Thank goodness the trees fared well despite my neglect. For those of you who need to heel-in your bare root fruit trees, just keep a close eye on the weather. Here in the desert, our weather can be quite temperamental during the months of January and February. It’s not unusual for us to have a “false spring” where things begin to warm up and prematurely wake up our garden and orchard only to knock it back again with a heavy frost or freeze. The last thing you want your new bare root fruit trees to do is start coming out of dormancy and begin to flower or leaf-out while it’s heeled in. They’re now awake and must be handled much more carefully. Nor do you want your trees exposed to freezing temps while their roots are only covered by a few inches of compost/soil. It’s best to have them in the ground before this happens.
Step 5: Now You’re Ready To Plant
The next post in my Fruit Tree series will give you the complete low-down on how my hubby and I plant our bare root fruit trees… our foundation for growing high brix/nutrient dense fruit and super healthy fruit trees!
A special note about Containerized Fruit Trees
Though I prefer to plant bare root fruit trees (see why), some fruit trees are only sold in containers. Fruit trees like figs, pomegranates, citrus, avocados, tropical fruit, etc. Typically, figs and pomegranates can be shipped at the same time your bare root fruit tree order ships (depends on the nursery), while other tropical fruit trees, like citrus and avocados, are available later in spring (around the month of April).
Taking care of your newly purchased containerized fruit tree before it is planted is simple and is the ideal time to begin prepping the tree for high brix/nutrient dense fruit down the road. Here are a few tips:
- Upon arrival home, immediately prepare a sea kelp extract powder tea (such as Maxicrop or Down To Earth’s KelPlex) and give your baby tree a nice soak with it. I usually add about 1 teaspoon per gallon of water. Do this 1x per week until you are ready to plant. The sea kelp helps your tree recover from stress, and enables the tree to fare better through cold and hot weather.
- To kick-start the soil microbes, the foundation of biological gardening (a.k.a. growing high brix/nutrient dense food), be sure to add Effective Microbes (like EM-1) in with your initial sea kelp extract soil drench. 1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) per gallon of water. After the initial drench, you can also do a weekly foliar spray of EM-1 using the same dilution rate.
- Be sure to place your tree in a protected area at night (indoors would be best if a frost or freeze is expected). During the day, your tree should be placed outdoors to soak up the warm sunshine.
- Keep the soil moist until you’re ready to plant.
With a little more knowledge under your belt, you’re off to a great start!
Happy summer gardening!