Planting the new apple orchard
Early planting may be the key factor in tree establishment and growth in the early years. Choose your date when soil is dry enough to work without damage, but moist enough to ensure soil-root contact. Planting day requires good planning for enough labour, supplies and land preparation to complete the job as quickly as possible. Tree roots should never be allowed to dry out. Protect trees from wind and sun, covering totally with plastic sheets or tarps when moving. Soak the roots in a barrel of clean water for no more than 6 to 12 hours before planting.
Nursery trees can be planted several ways, and there are some advantages and drawbacks to each of these methods:
The tree planter is the preferred method because large numbers of trees can be planted very quickly and uniformly. In some years, the ideal window for planting can be quite short if hot, dry conditions move in early in June.
One drawback to tree planters is the requirement for detailed soil preparation, almost equal to a seedbed preparation for vegetable plantings. It is critical to ensure good contact between the soil and the roots, especially in wet ground. Tree planters also require that the trunk height be adjusted by hand immediately after planting which may cause some root breakage.
A tree auger may be suitable for planting at lower densities, but drilling the large numbers of holes needed for high density plantings make it less efficient. The auger should be able to drill a hole at least 50 cm (20 in.) in diameter (note that many post augers are not large enough).
Tree augers can avoid the need for fine seedbed preparation and can do a satisfactory job when used in light and medium soils. However, in heavier or wet soils, the risk of glazing the sides of the hole can create a problem. Side glazing or "creating flower pots" can seriously restrict future root growth unless the auger is modified to fracture the side of the hole to prevent pot sides.
A double auger is able to make a planting hole and a post hole at the same time for individually staked trees. Again, this is less useful at higher densities.
Planting with a shovel is another option. It can do a very good job with fewer drawbacks, but it is much slower. In wet or heavy soils, ensure that the planting hole does not have glazed sides.
How to plant
Regardless of the method used, avoid digging the planting hole too small or deep. Small holes may require roots to be removed, or may cause roots to turn up (which encourages suckering). Excessively deep holes that require backfilling, tend to settle, lowering the bud union too close to the ground. Avoid backfilling with dislodged vegetation to prevent weed problems.
Before planting, trim off excessively long roots, or broken, damaged, or dead root ends. Place the tree with the side where the bud was inserted away from the prevailing wind and away from the support. Remember to balance root and shoots ratios. The advantage of a well feathered or branched tree may be lost if excessive root loss happens from the digging to replanting stage.
Every effort should be made to precisely control the planting height. Avoid pulling the tree up to the proper height after planting, as roots are very brittle and break easily when the tree is pulled up.
Ideally, the tree should be planted at a depth that will places the bud union 8 - 10 cm (3 - 4 in.) above the ground after settling of the soil occurs
Planting with more of the rootstock shaft above ground will cause more dwarfing (which may be desirable in very close plantings or with vigorous scions). Planting with less shaft exposed may allow scion rooting, and possibly loss of the dwarfing effect of the rootstock. Remember that exposed rootstock shanks may develop burrknots, which attract borers.
Loose soil should be tramped firmly after planting, to ensures good soil-to-root contact and help to eliminate air pockets.
Make sure the tree is drenched immediately to ensure good soil-root contact. A liquid transplant fertilizer, e.g. 20-20-20 or 10-52-10, should be applied immediately after planting in the first watering. Mix this fertilizer according to the label and apply this drench over the root area of the tree. In sandy soil this solution often spreads over a large area and does not penetrate to the roots.
Ensure this soaking is repeated, either by rain or irrigation, in the next week to 10 days. This should totally eliminate air pockets.
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