Bare-root fruit trees: A short course.

Our Nursery at Mountain Feed & Farm Supply is always stocked with the best edible and ornamental plants, veggie starts, trees and shrubs. This time of year we have hundreds of bare-root plants and fruit trees in stock. Bare-root nursery stock are trees and plants that are field grown for one to three years, undercut and dug in fall and spring, handled with no soil left around roots, and stored with moist roots and dormant tops until they are planted. Bare-root stock offer several advantages: Bare-root plants are usually one-half to two-thirds of the cost of plants in containers and longer root lengths are possible on bare-root plants because the weight of the root ball without soil is minimal. Bare-root stock planting can be unfamiliar to the home gardener and the unknown can sway some away from giving it a go. What most people don’t know is that planting a bare-root fruit tree is one of the easiest ways to add a permanent, food producing plant into your garden. In the next few weeks we will be offering two workshops giving you all the detailed information you will need to get started with bare-root but in the meantime, here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions we get about bare root tree selection, planting and care.

How do I choose a bare-root tree?
dwarf varieties of bare root fruit treesOne of the first things I ask a customer when they come in to buy a bare-root tree or plant is “What kind of fruit do you enjoy eating?”. In ideal conditions you will get a bumper crop of fruit from your tree and you will want to get the most out of all that delicious fruit. Once you determine what type of fruit you want to grow you will need to consider the conditions yard and the weather in your area. Do you have especially wet soil during the Winter and Spring months? How many hours of sunlight does your planting space get per day? Also, most fruit trees are not self-pollinating. You may need to buy more than one tree to get fruit setting. Finally, the root stock you choose will depend on your growing conditions and individual needs. Perhaps you are limited on space and would do well with a Dwarf variety meant to be grown in pots or smaller areas.  It is always best to consult your nursery on your individual situation so they guide you in your choice.Bare root tree nursery

When is the best time to plant my bare-root tree?
The best time to plant a bare-root fruit tree is January-March while the plant is still in its dormant stage. Most good nurseries only have bare-root stock available during this time and that is a good indicator that it is time to plant! Stone fruits such as apricots, peaches, plums and cherries are going to start waking up first so they are best put in the ground earlier. Bare-root trees need to be planted before they start “waking up”. You want your tree to start developing its new permanent roots in it’s permanent home. Fruit trees like pears and apples start waking up later so you can wait a bit longer to plant those varieties.

How do I plant my bare-root tree?
Planting a bare-root tree is simple. Once you have selected the site where you will plant your tree you will need to dig a hole 2 feet wide by 2 feet deep or as deep as your trees root systems height. Keep any organic matter that you dig up separate from the dirt you are digging out of your hole. Place the dirt to the side to be used filling in the hole later keeping your sub-soil separate from your top soil. Then place your tree in the hole and move back wards filling in the hole with the sub-soil first then topsoil, tamping it down to remove any air pockets and water it well. Lastly, adding a layer of compost and mulch will give you tree a good start and keep weeds at bay. Mulch around the base of the tree giving the trunk some space to breath. Mulching directly up against the trunk of your tree can cause more harm than good. Your tree should not require another watering until its leaves start to appear in the Spring. Another part of the planting process that is often skipped is pruning. Once your tree is in the ground you will need to prune the branches considerably. The size of your trees canopy should mirror the root system. A new bare-root tree has a small root system so your should prune the trunk and branches by about half to ensure its stability in the ground.

How do I maintain my bare-root tree as it matures?
Planting Fruit Trees
A young fruit tree needs at least a gallon of water per week once its foliage starts to appear in the Spring. Regular watering is important for the first two seasons of growth. Pruning in the Winter is essential in helping keep you tree healthy during its dormant season.  Also during the dormant season, a regimen of Dormant Oil Spray applications is a good way to help your tree stay disease free through the winter. Consider regular mulching to keep weeds and pests away from your tree’s young trunk and apply compost or beneficial microbials to build the soil your tree is living in.

Each species of fruit tree can have it’s own special needs. As always, consult your nursery when planting a new bare-root tree to get the most out of your new planting. There is a lot of information out there on maintenance, planting and choosing a tree. Consider taking a class or reading a book on fruit trees to get detailed information on keeping your tree healthy.

About Chris Menge

Chris Menge is co-owner and operator of Tierra Madre Farm specializing in rare and heirloom fruit trees and vegetable seeds. Chris has extensive experience growing fruit trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains and propagates a large selection of fruit trees on his 5-acre farm.
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