It takes effort for fruitful bounty

November 8, 2007
BY ROY COOK - VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
EDITED BY CHARLA BORCHERS LEON
A well-established and maintained fruit and nut planting not only can be highly productive, but also can enhance a home’s landscape and beauty.

But take note: It is not possible for trees to be planted and good quality fruit to be harvested with little or no effort.

Untold amounts of money have been lost due to neglect or purchase of unadapted fruit and nut trees.

SITE AND SOIL CONSIDERATIONS

It is best to locate a new planting as close to your home as possible, but in sunny locations. Sunlight and well-drained soil are keys to fruit and nut production.

Consider the mature size of the tree when designing the planting. Dwarf fruit trees lend themselves admirably to ornamental plantings as well as orchards. They bear earlier than standard sized trees, occupy less space and can be more easily pruned, picked and sprayed by the average homeowner.

The importance of selecting the best possible site for fruit planting cannot be overemphasized. Deep, well-drained soil of good fertility should be selected. A fertile, sandy loam or sandy clay loam is the best. Nutrient-poor soils can easily be improved by proper fertilization and cultural practices, but improving soil with poor internal drainage is difficult and expensive.

DRAINAGE

To save a lot of time, headache and money, determine your soil’s internal drainage rate by digging a hole 8 inches in diameter and 2 1/2 feet deep during a wet season. Fill it with water. If the hole drains in 24 hours, the soil has excellent drainage and is suitable for fruit (and nut) crops.

Peaches and plums should only be planted on sites with excellent drainage. If the hole drains in 36 hours, the internal drainage is adequate for more tolerant crops, such as figs, nuts, strawberries, some apple varieties and blackberries. If the hole has not drained in 48 hours, the site is unsuitable for fruit and nut production.

In this case, fruit and nut trees could be planted on raised beds or fruits planted in containers.

SPACING

Match plant sizes to the available space. For instance, select figs, citrus, strawberries, blackberries and similar crops for small sites. They bear fruit early and produce well in most areas.

Small plants can be grown in containers and then moved to accommodate changes. Pecans, peaches and other trees need more space and require three to eight years to produce their first crop.

WEED CONTROL, FERTILIZER, WATER

The most ideal situation is to plant the trees the day you buy them.

Once the trees are planted, the keys to making them grow will be weed control, fertilizer and water.

Newly planted trees are very poor competitors for water and nutrients, so to insure good growth, all grass and weeds should be eliminated in a 3- to 6-foot circle around the trees. This can be done by hoeing, mulching or the use of glyphosate herbicide, keeping it off the tree trunk by wrapping it with foil.

The fertilizer element most needed is nitrogen, but do not use any fertilizer until the second year or until the plant grows at least 1 foot. Then keep it 1 foot away from the trunk. Soak deeply when planting and, typically, water weekly unless it rains, checking for moisture by digging with your fingers.

INSECT AND DISEASE CONTROL

The production of good quality produce may require insect and disease control, so if you are not committed to making a few applications, you would probably be better off not to plant fruit or nut trees.

The number of sprays required can be drastically reduced by following integrated pest management practices.

One of these is sanitation. Keep weeds and grass removed. Mulch. This not only helps in weed control but also helps retain moisture and makes the landscape look better. Remove old fruit and nuts from on and under the tree. This will reduce the disease innoculum, reducing the chance of a future pest problem.

SELECTING TREES

After evaluating your planting site, and having a soil test completed, consult experienced growers, the Victoria County Master Gardeners, or the County Extension Agent, all who have the information describing the recommended varieties for the local area.

Purchase trees from a reliable source. Bargain plants are not always a bargain. They may not be healthy or may not be a variety adapted to our area.

Ideally, purchase 4- to 6-foot trees with good root systems that are free of apparent disease problems. A smaller tree with a good root system is more desirable than a larger tree with a poor root system.

For excellent root development and best results, plant fruit and nut trees in January or early February when most are sold as “bare root.”

Container trees are available for planting anytime, but bare root trees are still the most reliable.

PLANTING TECHNIQUE

If you purchase bare root trees, soak the roots no more than 1 hour to ensure they are not under any moisture stress. Dig the planting hole just large enough for the tree’s root system to be spread in a natural lateral position. Avoid digging the hole deeper than the root system as freshly dug, loose soil beneath the roots usually settles causing trees to sink and grow poorly. Only plant the tree as deep as it was growing in the nursery.

OTHER TIPS

Some fruit such as blackberries, citrus, figs, persimmons, some plums and strawberries are self-fruitful or self-pollinating.

Others, such as apples, some plums, pears and pecans need two cultivars or one in the neighborhood close by for pollination.

For more information contact Victoria County Extension Office or go to
http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/TCEHomeVegFruitNut.html

I’m hoping these tidbits of information will save you money, headaches and provide you with a bounty of produce for many years.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.