Tips for Successful Planting
The investment in a new orchard is large, so it's very important to do
things right, beginning with the planting year. Here are some tips to
- Site preparation: It usually takes 1-2 years to get a field ready
for planting. For orchard replant sites, it might take more, maybe up
to 5 years. This is the time to improve drainage, add organic matter
(cover crops, manure), adjust soil pH with lime if required, apply phosphorus,
and control perennial weeds (which may take 2 to 3 years).
- Nursery stock: It's important to work with your nursery to ensure
good quality trees delivered when you are ready. Trees should be kept
dormant until planted, and roots should not be allowed to dry out. If
planting is delayed, trees should be heeled into the soil, or kept in
cold storage. Avoid keeping trees in storages where apple fruit have
been stored, as the ethylene can severely damage trees.
- Time of planting: This is pretty simple - the earlier the better.
This allows the tree to establish new roots before the warm weather
begins pushing the tree's growth and drawing large reserves of moisture.
For some sites, fall planting can also be successful if site preparation
is good, weather is in your favour, and nursery stock is available.
- Method of planting: Hand or mechanical planting can be successful
as long as roots are given adequate room in the planting hole or trench.
The most important part is to re-adjust the tree height to ensure that
the graft union is a uniform height above the soil line - after soil
- Care after planting: The soil needs to come in intimate contact with
moist soil after planting. This usually requires physical movement of
soil in the root area, as well as generous amounts of water. This first
watering can also include plant starter fertilizer, mixed as directed,
to avoid root burn. Avoid putting dry fertilizer or fresh manure in
direct contact with roots.
- Pruning vs. training: I was taught that the top of the tree needs
to be cut back to balance with the loss of roots due to digging the
nursery tree. However, with advances in nursery production (which produces
better, more compact root systems), and the need for early apple production
(which is delayed with every pruning cut), many newly planted apple
trees should not be pruned. The focus instead is on tying down all usable
feathers, and providing the tree with all the water it needs from Day
1. In short, keep those pruners in your back pocket (exception if there
is one dominant lateral - cut it off!)
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