Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

How To Plant a Fruit Tree

July 07, 2020 Fred Hoffman Season 1 Episode 26
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
How To Plant a Fruit Tree
Chapters
00:01:02
How To Plant a Fruit Tree
00:25:06
Quick Tip: use tissue paper or newspaper, not rocks, to hold soil in a pot
00:26:10
Eat a Pluot (or your favorite fruit) over the sink.
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
How To Plant a Fruit Tree
Jul 07, 2020 Season 1 Episode 26
Fred Hoffman

It seemed like a simple enough garden question to answer: The writer of the email said: “I have never cared for a young peach tree or any other variety so I don't know what to do since I got it in the ground. Now what?” The writer included a picture of the tree, which you can see attached to this episode.

Our favorite retired college horticulture professor, Debbie Flower, and I ended up having more questions and comments after closely studying the picture. The end result? a show, mostly dedicated to how to plant a fruit tree to insure success. 

Also in this episode: a Quick Tip for keeping new soil in a pot from coming out the drain holes.

And, this week's Feel Good moment: the joy of eating a piece of homegrown fruit. Over the sink. A wonderful, juicy mess!

So, grab a piece of home grown fruit and Give us a listen! It’s all part of Episode 26 of Garden Basics with Farmer Fred. And we will do it all in under 30 minutes.

More episodes and info available at Garden Basics with Farmer Fredhttps://www.buzzsprout.com/1004629.

Garden Basics comes out every Tuesday and Friday. It's available just about anywhere podcasts are handed out. Please subscribe and leave a comment or rating at Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

Got a garden question? There are several ways to get in touch: call and leave a question, or text us the question: 916-292-8964. E-mail: [email protected] or, leave a question at the Facebook, Twitter or Instagram locations below. Be sure to tell us where you are when you leave a question, because all gardening is local.

All About Farmer Fred:
Farmer Fred website: http://farmerfred.com
Daily Garden tips and snark on Twitter
The Farmer Fred Rant! Blog
Facebook:  "Get Growing with Farmer Fred"
Instagram: farmerfredhoffman
Farmer Fred Garden Videos on YouTube
Garden columnist, Lodi News-Sentinel 



Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

It seemed like a simple enough garden question to answer: The writer of the email said: “I have never cared for a young peach tree or any other variety so I don't know what to do since I got it in the ground. Now what?” The writer included a picture of the tree, which you can see attached to this episode.

Our favorite retired college horticulture professor, Debbie Flower, and I ended up having more questions and comments after closely studying the picture. The end result? a show, mostly dedicated to how to plant a fruit tree to insure success. 

Also in this episode: a Quick Tip for keeping new soil in a pot from coming out the drain holes.

And, this week's Feel Good moment: the joy of eating a piece of homegrown fruit. Over the sink. A wonderful, juicy mess!

So, grab a piece of home grown fruit and Give us a listen! It’s all part of Episode 26 of Garden Basics with Farmer Fred. And we will do it all in under 30 minutes.

More episodes and info available at Garden Basics with Farmer Fredhttps://www.buzzsprout.com/1004629.

Garden Basics comes out every Tuesday and Friday. It's available just about anywhere podcasts are handed out. Please subscribe and leave a comment or rating at Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

Got a garden question? There are several ways to get in touch: call and leave a question, or text us the question: 916-292-8964. E-mail: [email protected] or, leave a question at the Facebook, Twitter or Instagram locations below. Be sure to tell us where you are when you leave a question, because all gardening is local.

All About Farmer Fred:
Farmer Fred website: http://farmerfred.com
Daily Garden tips and snark on Twitter
The Farmer Fred Rant! Blog
Facebook:  "Get Growing with Farmer Fred"
Instagram: farmerfredhoffman
Farmer Fred Garden Videos on YouTube
Garden columnist, Lodi News-Sentinel 



Farmer Fred :

Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information, well, you've come to the right spot. You know, it seems like a simple enough garden question to answer. The writer of the email said, I've never cared for a young peach tree or any other variety, so I don't know what to do since I got it in the ground. Now what? And the writer included a picture of the tree which you can see attached to this episode. Well, we decided to tackle that question myself and our favorite retired college horticulture Professor Debbie Flower, and we ended up having more questions and comments after closely studying the picture. The end result, it's a show mostly dedicated to how to plant a fruit tree to ensure success. So go grab a piece of homegrown fruit and give us a listen. It's all part of Episode 26 of Garden Basics with Farmer Fred and we'll do it all in under 30 minutes. Let's go. Let's delve into the mailbag more mail coming into Fred at farmerfred.com dot com here on the garden basics podcast. And we bring in Debbie Flower, retired horticultural professor at many universities and colleges, and she owns a peach tree too. So this is right up her alley. Steve writes in and says, "I have never cared for a young peach tree or any other variety. So I don't know what to do now that I got it in the ground and mulched. I was given good info and how to put it in the ground. And I believe I was successful. But now what? The tree came in a typical pot with all its roots and dirt, I'm watching online videos, and it's left me unsure of what to do and when." Well, Steve was very kind to send along a picture of his new peach tree that he just planted. It's a little difficult to say how tall the tree is currently, but it looks like Well, let's just play what's wrong with this picture, Debbie? What's wrong with Steve's picture of his peach tree? I see several issues there.

Debbie Flower :

Well, the first thing that jumps out at me is that the stake is taller than the peach tree. We only want to stake a tree, even a newly planted one. If it is unable to stand up on its own. If it is unable to stand up on its own, then we want to tie it looks like it's hard to tell looks like it could be tied at two locations. Not sure if that lower one is really

Farmer Fred :

I think that's a big branch down there.

Debbie Flower :

Okay. Oh, yes. So we don't want that the we only want to tie it as low as we can to make it stand up straight. He has it tied nearly at the top of the tree.

Farmer Fred :

That's a very good point you're making there is that when you're staking a tree, you want the tie to be at that point where the tree would actually bend. So you what you do, you run your hand up the trunk of the tree and at that point where you can get the tree to stand up, that's where you would tie the top loop.

Debbie Flower :

Exactly, but he can't tell if it's going to fall over because if you look right down at the bottom, it is still attached to the nursery stakes. nursery stakes are used to get that initial upright growth out of the stem, but it prevents the tree stem, fruit tree or otherwise from moving in the wind and from developing strength. And so you need to take it off cut off that and it's only what if it's an inch from the trunk of the peach tree, that would be far it's a it's very close, I think of it as trees in bondage. When they're tied this close to the stake, it's very useful in the nursery, you can pick up the tree and move it and throw it in a truck and take it out of the truck in the upright part of the tree stays stable, but it is not what we want for the ultimate life of the tree. We want that trunk to strengthen. In order to do that the trunk has to move in the wind just like we have to use our muscles in order for them to strengthen that trunk has to move in the wind to strengthen, so used to take it off of that nursery stake and take it off of the very tall stake and see what happens and it is very likely to fall over, not right at the soil so it falls over the soil you dig it out and take it back to the nursery. That means there's a root problem, but it'll bend curve somewhere that trunk will curve and the top of the trunk of the tree will will bend down toward the earth. And that's when you do what you said which is run your hand up from the bottom and at some point up the trunk I should say and from the bottom of the tree and at some point the top of the tree will will zing back up in the air. That's the point at which you want to attach the trunk of the peach tree to the stake. Preferably you have two stakes, one on either side of the trunk and you want them a distance from the trunk of the tree, maybe a foot. reason for that is you don't want the tree when it is moving in the wind to rub against those stakes and you don't want them any taller than you need them to be. So the height of the stake would be just maybe five inches above that you're the height of your hand on that trunk. Maybe that's maybe it's three inches, just a few inches above so that you have room to tie, you're going to tie the trunk to both stakes at about the same location on the tree trunk to each stake, so it's one line across from one stake to the tree and back and then from the other stake to the tree and back, but it appears when you look at it to be one line across. Does that makes sense?

Farmer Fred :

Yes, it makes perfect sense. And again, he would want if the tree needed to be staking and that goes back to see if the tree can stand up by itself. But if the tree needs staking you would use two and to his credit, Steve did use green tape that's like tree tie tape, It's called. And what we don't know because we can't see into the foliage of how he's tied it to the tree. If it's a figure eight or wrapped, really tightly around the tree, it shouldn't be wrapped tightly on the tree, it should be sort of a loose figure eight configuration,

Debbie Flower :

right. And that's part of the using two stakes because if it's loose, then the tree may fall toward the stake. If you have one loosely pulling it toward the stake on the other side, then that corrects that problem.

Farmer Fred :

to Steve's credit, he's done a lot of things right here we can see that the tree is located in full sun. It looks like he has mulch underneath the tree but the mulch is not touching the trunk of the tree. Right But I want to go back even further to when he planted the tree. It looks to be a five or six foot tree. Now if he bought this fruit tree, what they call bare root, which would be before it leafed out, and they used to sell fruit trees basically plunked into sawdust and you would go and you'd pull it out of the sawdust and they'd wrap it up a newspaper for you to take it home. Now even though it's still called bare root, most fruit trees that are sold are come in pots. So we don't really know if the tree had leafed out before he bought it or if it was still dormant when he did buy it, but the fact of the matter is, when you get a bare root fruit tree home, one of the first things you need to do is basically cut it off at the knee so you get lower branching, this one doesn't look like it was cut off at the knee.

Debbie Flower :

Correct. Some people may Saturday here that you cut a fruit tree off at the knee. But that is to keep the fruit bearing branches low to the ground so that you don't have to stand on a ladder to take care of them. It's a really wonderful way to grow fruit.

Farmer Fred :

Exactly and and you're not inhibiting the production of fruit at all. You'd still have plenty of fruit is just going to develop some lower scaffolding to make it easier for you to pick fruit. What's great about starting with a new tree is it makes it Much easier for keeping that tree at a height that's manageable. So you never have to get on a ladder. And basically, you stick your hand as far in the air as you can. And you don't let the tree get any taller than that.

Debbie Flower :

Right? The height of the tree is is where your hand and the pruning shears when you raise your hand above your head, the highest it goes. That's how tall you want the plant to be.

Farmer Fred :

If he's only planted the tree, could he cut it back in half now? Or should he wait until the dormant season? And can you even cut it back one year into its growth?

Debbie Flower :

pruning to fruit trees can happen during the growing season? Yes, but right now we're in the maybe thick of summer. It's hot,

Farmer Fred :

it's hot.

Debbie Flower :

It's very sunny. We wear sunscreen and hats and things to protect our skin. If we cut that young tree back now, branches would be exposed to the strong sun that have never seen the strong sun before and they will sunburn, and you could lose the tree from that. So I would recommend waiting until it goes dormant.

Farmer Fred :

Now that that is a hard thing to do, if you've ever done it, you've probably done demonstrations of cutting back bare root fruit trees in front of a crowd and it always gets gasps of horror. Whenever you take your pruners and cut a six foot stick back to a two and a half or three foot stick. Yes. And it's in Steve's case, he's going to be cutting off a lot of growth that had leaves and he's going to feel really bad doing it. But he should.

Debbie Flower :

He should. And what those leaves are doing for that tree right now is feeding the roots. It's not has no flowers or fruit on it that I can see. And so the the food that's made in those leaves and that's where plants make their food goes to a couple of places. One is the tips of those branches for new growth. And the other is the roots and a newly planted plant needs food to make roots all Plants need food to make roots. But it's especially important when the plant is new to the garden, because it only has the roots that were in whatever container you bought it in. And that's a very small amount and it's also a very narrow sized root system and can make the plant unstable if the roots just stay in that little tiny area. So he wants the leaves to grow the leaves to make food send them to the roots, the root system to take off and then during dormancy this year. Now here's the geek in me.

Farmer Fred :

All right, go ahead. We can geek out.

Debbie Flower :

as plants go dormant deciduous plants and a peach tree is deciduous individuals meaning they lose all of their leaves at one time in the year. And that will be in the fall. The plant will re absorb all the good stuff it can out of those leaves and store it in the trunks and the roots. And so he's not losing, he'll lose Some some stored food but a lot of that stored food will come be absorbed back into the plant and go down into the roots before he takes that stem off. So it's important to wait until all the leaves have fallen off, so that all that good food the plant has made, has had a chance to get down into the roots and strengthen the plant down there.

Farmer Fred :

So full dormancy would be when all the leaves have fallen from the tree. But before the soil temperature is warm to the point where it starts breaking out new buds in here in the Central Valley of California that could be in February, other parts of the country might be a little later.

Debbie Flower :

Right? And he doesn't want to do before then because it will stimulate growth in strange places and which might as well as cause sunburn

Farmer Fred :

and maybe frost damage to to the new growth.

Debbie Flower :

Yes, so full dormancy, all the leaves are gone. But before it warms up enough for the buds to break and new growth to begin.

Farmer Fred :

Now remember to we're talking about a tree that is only one year old or less. for people who have Put in fruit trees that might be three years, five years old. You don't want to and you didn't cut it back by half. It's not a good idea to be cutting a tree that that that is that old, down to the knees. So what you'd want to do is start a process where you're cutting it back from the top to get it to a height where you can manage it.

Debbie Flower :

Yes, yes. And you never take more than one third of the canopy one third to one half of the canopy out of the tree in any one year. You're going to take a big branch out and then wait another year and take another big branch out until you've brought it down to the level you you want it to be.

Farmer Fred :

Well this is a good opportunity to explain the difference between thinning and heading. So okay, are you talking about making a thinning cut or a heading cut?

Debbie Flower :

Okay, so thinning is removing the branch from its point of origin, the place where it has grown out from a bigger branch taking it All the way back and there's special, good, good ways to do that and bad ways to do that. But regardless of whether you do it well or not, it's called thinning and it results in the natural shape, the plant will regrow into its natural shape. Heading cuts are used on things like hedges, their random cuts their middle of the branch, or when we prune something into a geometric shape, a square or a circle, and those cuts come mid middle of the branch and they result in unnatural regrowth of that branch. A lot of buds below where you took the cut open all at once, and you get a very bushy, dense external growth on the plant. It tends to if you have ahead, go out and look at it. Pull the outside edge apart and you'll probably see lots of branches in there but no more leaves. You tend to get a very dense outer side out. Outer shape to the plant lots of leaves on the outside, and no sun goes through to the inside. So when we're talking about bringing an old tree back to, it's a shorter shape, and I did this with an apricot in my yard, you want to do thinning cuts, you want to find the origin of that branch and cut it back to where it's attached to another branch and then remove that. And that will allow other branches that are in my case below that branch and probably in your tree, they'd be below that branch as well to grow and be strong. And then wait a year and take another one back to its origin.

Farmer Fred :

Well this is an eye opener for me because I always thought that cutting one third of the tree back meant cutting one third of the height back and you're talking about cutting out one third of the branches.

Debbie Flower :

I choose the branches that are above where I want them to be and cut them back you can either to their origin or their you can cut them back to a place where there is another branch that is one third to one half or more the diameter of the branch to which it is attached. This is hard to do verbally.

Farmer Fred :

Do you want me to put on some tap dance music for you?

Debbie Flower :

Really. So, when we're cutting the peach tree, the young peach tree back to the knee height, we're definitely doing a heading cut. Right?

Farmer Fred :

But you're talking about the old trees, right? Yeah, the older trees when you talk about taking out one third of the growth every year till you get it to the height that you want. Wouldn't that mostly be heading cuts?

Debbie Flower :

I don't do it that way. Okay. All right, all right at the top of the plant, find the branch that's that's the tallest. I do this with even shorter plants and run my hand down till I find where it's attached, or where it has a branch of its own. That is, one third to or greater in diameter, then The branch that I'm removing, and I take it at that point.

Farmer Fred :

All right, so that would be a thinning cut.

Debbie Flower :

Yeah, that is considered a thinning cut because the branch that is remaining, even though it's attached to the branch I'm removing is big enough to take over as the leader. It has the hormonal strength to remain the leader.

Farmer Fred :

You're a good tap dancer. All right. All right. So but that was a scenic bypass about older trees and how you can bring them back to a height where you don't have to get on a ladder to be picking fruit or netting the tree. Now, right, getting back to the picture of Steve's tree here, we talked about that nursery stake and you know, I blame the nursery industry for not attaching little labels to those nursery stakes that say something along the lines of, "please remove me when you take me home."

Debbie Flower :

That would be very nice. Yes, that

Farmer Fred :

Yeah, wouldn't be but they don't and they should.

Debbie Flower :

No they don't. Mm hmm.

Farmer Fred :

Let's talk about Steve's watering system. He's got a garden hose sitting next to the tree with a With a sprayer on it,

Debbie Flower :

right, a fan is going to be sufficient over the long term at least not in, in the Central Valley, California climate, some kind of a more permanent irrigation system would be very nice to have

Farmer Fred :

exactly. I mean, whenever I've planted fruit trees, the thing I did in conjunction with planting a fruit tree is extending the drip irrigation system so it surrounds the tree.

Debbie Flower :

Right. But drip irrigation systems are not common in much of the country that is common in the southwest us or common in the Central Valley of California. Places where I've been the suburbs of New York City where I have been only the very rich people have a in the ground installed irrigation system. And so they watch very carefully. This My dad always did, the amount of precipitation that is received and they look hope for an interesting And if you don't get it, then that's where an irrigation system on top of the ground is turned on. With a fruit tree, it could be a soaker hose of some sort that is spiraled around the plant that just sits there and and when need be the supply hoses attached, or it could be some sort of a spray system. But a hand system typically does not apply the water evenly enough around the tree. Because we're human and we make mistakes.

Farmer Fred :

Unless it's how you relax in the evening holding a can of beer standing with your hose in your hand. mindlessly watering the tree. If it doesn't rain. If you live in a climate that depends on summer rain, and it doesn't rain then you have to get the hose out at the very least. Right? See anything else in that picture?

Debbie Flower :

I worry that it is planted a little bit too low. He said he gave good instructions on how to plant the tree and I hope that Correct. So if we were starting way back with the plant in a pot, I would at least want to get we don't know if it was bare root bare plants are available just at the end of the dormant season for us in California to December and January, but in cooler places it would be later into the spring. If it has been just potted up, it may be in pure peat moss that should be removed. If it's if it's potted, and it's been in living in a container for a while, it may have circling roots and maybe rootbound roots may be circling inside the pot or puddling at the bottom of the container or both. And so root trimming at the time of planting, root cutting is a positive thing to do for a newly planted woody plant.

Farmer Fred :

And the hole that you dig for the tree it should be you probably wider than it is deep.

Debbie Flower :

Yes, because it will settle the soil will settle either the soil if it's Still in container soil that container soil will settle and any soil that you took out of the hole and then put back into the hole, any field soil will also settle. And so you need to plant the plant it's called planting proud, that's a, maybe that's a technical term, it means you're going to plant the whole plant a little bit higher than ground level, it's only an inch or two, but a little bit higher than ground level because over time as that soil settles, then the the stem of that plant will also settle and all the water will run to it and soil may run to it as well and so may garden mulch and those things all running to the trunk can can cause the plant to decline and die.

Farmer Fred :

Very good point and the bud union on a grafted fruit tree and most fruit trees are on different rootstocks these days and that includes peach trees for the most part. And when you pull it out of the container after you bring it home, from the Nursery the part that's wet and then you'll see the part that's dry, and the part that's wet is probably an inch or so below the bud union there's a little bump on the stem where it was attached. And so you want to keep that bump or at least, maybe even part of the wet area, maybe an inch above the soil line when you replant and the way to do that is to put a shovel across the hole and make sure that that shovel handle lines up with that mark on the tree. So you're keeping that bud union above the soil level, you don't want to bury the bud union.

Debbie Flower :

Correct. You don't want to bury the bud union and you don't want it to get buried down the line when the whole root system settles because the soil that it is living in has settled. So you want to plan some some settling into the height that you planted.

Farmer Fred :

This is something else that nurseries not all nurseries but some nurseries have a tendency to do is to make ancillary sales, if you will, when they sell a peach tree and one of those ancillary sales may be this nice bag of potting soil, or compost or whatever. And that could cause the tree to sink because a lot of soil amendments breakdown. And that tree could sink in that. Generally speaking, if you're planting a tree, you only want to use native soil when you refill that hole,

Debbie Flower :

right. It used to be and you can still find it in articles. The recommendation used to be to amend the soil, but that's wrong and amend needs add to so that means adding whatever the bagged material is that that somebody sold you into the field soil that you took out of the ground. But we don't want to do that. We want to use the field soil. I also think it was, you said it was maybe an ancillary sales From a nursery where you bought the plant. it could also be if you if you hire someone to put the plant in for you, they get to charge you a little extra money if they use another product. And so it's a source of profit, but it's not the best thing for the plant.

Farmer Fred :

We were talking with (washington state university horticulture professor) Linda Chalker-Scott the other day about this very subject and she recommended if you if you must add compost, put it on top of the soil and let it slowly work its way into the root zone of the plant on its own. So just topping the soil with that compost that you bought for the hole would be better than digging that compost into the hole.

Debbie Flower :

And we see that in Stevens picture that whatever this is, compost or mulch of some sort, is on the surface. And that's a good thing,

Farmer Fred :

right? Yeah. But I want to thank Steve for letting us into his backyard staring at his picture of the peach tree and ripping it apart. Right Well, he Send it in. So that's what you get Steve

Debbie Flower :

That was a very nice thing to do. And I hope he's gonna get and I think he will get lots of wonderful peaches from this plant in the future.

Farmer Fred :

Well, plants are very forgiving. And you know, he's off to a good start because he, he's looking for good information.

Debbie Flower :

Yes.

Farmer Fred :

And we just spent over 20 minutes, giving him good information. We're gonna send him a bill.

Debbie Flower :

Good luck with that.

Farmer Fred :

Yeah. All right. Oh, man, this is so much fun. I can't do that with my neighbors because most of my neighbors carry guns.

Debbie Flower :

Oh, no. Be careful.

Farmer Fred :

Yes, I am. All right. Well, once again, we have planted a peach tree correctly and with all the help of Debbie Flower, retired horticulture professor, Debbie, thanks for planting us correctly.

Debbie Flower :

My pleasure. Oh, it's fun to be out in the garden even if it's just vicariously.

Farmer Fred :

Did you ever notice that when you went to fill a pot with nice new soil and you watered it, the soil would come streaming out of the drain holes on the bottom? that might tempt you to put rocks in the bottom to stop that drainage. That's not a good idea. We've talked about that before because when the water hits those rocks, it actually stops flowing and can cause a backup into the soil. Linda Chalker-Scott, author of the informed gardener and the informed gardener blooms again, has a better idea. use just the straight new potting mix in that pot that has the drain holes, but before you put the soil in, do this:

Linda Chalker-Scott :

but what I've found is if you just take just a little piece of newspaper or tissue paper, something that's gonna break down pretty quickly and just temporarily cover that hole. It'll hold the soil in and then by the time the paper breaks down, you know the soil is not going to be moving through there anymore. Dr. Scott teaches horticulture at Washington State University.

Farmer Fred :

on this show one thing we like to emphasize you know, with all the trouble in the world: don't worry, be happy. And having a garden is a great way to stimulate your happiness sensors even though it might be very brief. One natural stimulant to get you into your happy zone: eat a piece of homegrown fruit. It could be as small as a blueberry, it can be as large as a watermelon. My all time favorite fruit variety is the flavor supreme pluot. It's a plum apricot cross with sweet, juicy deep red flesh, a beautiful greenish Maroon mottled skin too. And in this part of California, it ripens in late June and early July, and that's heralding the arrival of many other tasty fruits in the months to come. Peaches, melons, nectarines, pears, plums, apples, and you know the fun part of eating a flavor supreme pluot It's best done while leaning over the kitchen sink while looking at the garden outside. And by the way, did I mention it's a very juicy piece of fruit. That's why you want to be near the sink and maybe have a towel nearby as well. So grab your favorite piece of fruit, prepare to send your eyes, nose, and taste buds into happy land. And with everything else going on in this mind boggling year, you know visiting happy land makes for a very short but very pleasant vacation. And best of all, you grew it yourself. Thank you for listening to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. I appreciate your ears. How about a subscription? you can get the podcast wherever podcasts are given away such as Apple, Spotify, Google, I heart, Stitcher, and many more.

How To Plant a Fruit Tree
Quick Tip: use tissue paper or newspaper, not rocks, to hold soil in a pot
Eat a Pluot (or your favorite fruit) over the sink.