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Newbie needs advice/opinions on planting fruit trees

 
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I was last here about a year ago, i had attempted to grow all kinds of fruit trees, berries, grapes etc... initially they all took off well, eventually some either got diseases, attacked by insects etc... i got discouraged and ripped them all out. One thing pretty consistent was none of the roots seemed to prosper and branch out, they all looked like a root ball.

I am interested in taking another shot at it. I want to plant all kinds of fruit in the back yard, and flowering trees and shrubs in my front yard. I was given some advice last year and i wanted some opinions on whether this is the way to go.

I was told to plant in the fall (bare roots), which will require almost no watering (how often?) and will allow the roots months to grow and establish themselves before the leaves bloom which adds stress on to the tree.

Opinions?
 
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generally good advice. fall-planted bareroot trees and shrubs generally only need the initial watering-in…in my area, anyway. not sure if i remember where you are, in a warm-winter, sandy-soiled situation you might need to water more. planting in the fall from seed would be the next level of easier establishment and more resilient plants.
 
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What I have found living in a drought-prone area, is that plants need to be watered the first year or two.

Also maybe it would be beneficial to try building up your soil. especially since your plants had diseases and were attacked by insects.

A good reliable source of wood chips is one of the best ways to do this.

We also have a great soil series to help:

https://permies.com/wiki/redhawk-soil
 
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I was last here about a year ago, i had attempted to grow all kinds of fruit trees, berries, grapes etc... initially they all took off well, eventually some either got diseases, attacked by insects etc... i got discouraged and ripped them all out. One thing pretty consistent was none of the roots seemed to prosper and branch out, they all looked like a root ball.



I'm not a tree expert, so please double-check everything I'm about to suggest. Verify that it's right for your situation/soil type:

1. I'm wondering if perhaps your soil might be too compacted. Are the roots having a hard time branching out? If you think that might be the case, really expand out your planting hole when you tuck in your new plants. Perhaps adding in some looser material so the roots can cut through?

2. Are you watering/fertilizing too much? Perhaps your plants are just so happy with the care you're giving them that they don't need to grow out good roots. Maybe water less often and more deeply so the roots must grow and search out moisture? Perhaps fertilize them further away from the root ball so they must go in search of the nutrients?

3. Were your trees root-bound when you bought them? Could you perhaps tickle the outer roots loose a bit before you plant them next time?

4. Double check that you're growing the right varieties for your area. If you are trying to grow too far outside of the recommended zone, you're making it more challenging than it needs to be, in my opinion.
 
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To better help, I need a bit more information:
How cold does it get in the winter for me it is zone 6/7 (0F)
What type of soil do you have, eg. swampy/sandy/clay/high ph desert soil
How much rain do you get, eg 4inch every month or 20in oct-april and 5inch the rest
What grows in the wild near you?
How much land are you trying to transform, eg 10acre or 1/4acre or 100ft by 20ft

Now to give you some more concrete help:

Plant bare roots in the fall/winter. I plan mines even in December, after snow is on the ground. This will give the roots time to get explore and get established.

Don't enrich the hole that you plant into with compost/ fertilizer, etc. Doing this will not encourage the roots to leave the small "delicious nutrient dense" hole. Instead top dress the area outside the hole with compost/etc

Other than transplant techniques, we also need to focus on the soil in general:
Earthworks: swales, so that you don't have to water as often
Carbon: plow in biochar, compost, and top dress 4inch of wood chip
Soil Life: add activated compost tea, mushroom slurry, forest soil, soil from healthy tree, compost
Mineral: maybe you have to add some sea90, or rockdust or sulphur or lime
Support species: Nitrogen fixing legume, aromatic mint family+carrot family+garlic family, tap root comfrey

For me personally I would over seed alot of Daikin radish with their 3ft tubers that basically plows the land for and aerating the soil once the tubers rot, and releasing minerals and sugar feeding the soil Life and with feeder roots going down 6ft+ they mine and bring up minerals. I would also plant dutch clover too they only get to 9inch with no mowing. Then after two or so year I would add some wood chip, so that the site looks better.

I would also make and spray the fruit trees with aerated compost tea (made with a bit of chitin) this will keep the plant pest down, working with the support species listed above.

I would plant Nikita persimmon, red and black jostaberry, gooseberry, native grapes concord/muscadine, Hardy kiwi, artic kiwi, akebia vine, jujube, elderberry, blackberry and raspberry, blueberry, mulberry, figs, prolific/sunflower pawpaw, bitter orange, seaberry, goumi, yellowhorn nut. For now I would leave out the prunus subfamily and the apple subfamily. That can be the following years planting once you get the hardier stuff to survive



 
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Anne Miller wrote:What I have found living in a drought-prone area, is that plants need to be watered the first year or two.

Location, location, location as the saying goes. I *have* to do some watering if things are going to live and produce if it's a bad drought year, but things I'm doing to help/reduce this are:
1. I try to have at least some parts of a polyculture organized before I plant the tree - in the OP's case, plants that attract and support beneficial insects would be important, something good to chop and drop, and something to fix a little nitrogen.
2. When I water, I do so really deeply - overnight if I think the soil will absorb it, or on and off for several hours at a time for a couple of days so the water gets a chance to soak in. Then I don't water for as long as I think I can get away with - starting with a couple of weeks, and extending it to as much as 6 weeks.
3. I pay attention to the slope. One young tree that had a path up-slope from it, I dug a trench and buried half logs with the flat side up, so that the "upslope" zone was like a mini-hugel. It's been much happier since, mind you, I've also since added some comfrey. A second slightly unhappy tree has been getting regular woody mulch added on top of the ground, and I'm trying to get lupine to germinate there also. It has comfrey and iris around it also, but the walking onions I planted have slowly died out. So adding anything that gets more carbon in the soil, will likely help your trees.

Also maybe it would be beneficial to try building up your soil. Especially since your plants had diseases and were attacked by insects.

I would consider doing this as the first step - plant beans and daikon radish and any other cheap seeds you can find. Don't fret if they're annuals, because any plant that puts roots down which will support and rebuild the soil life, will help support the tree when it gets planted.

Other things I've done:
1. Did a "compost pit". The books will tell you three feet deep, but I live over rocky/clay, so I'm lucky if I can get mine much more than a foot deep, but the idea is to put lots of yummy worm food - veggie scraps, tree leaves - along with bedding materials like fall leaves in layers in the pit and keep adding. Don't plant your tree *in* the pit, but plant it a few feet away so that its roots sense the moisture and nutrients and grow their roots out to reach for it. In a perfect world, I'd do several of these in a ring around where the tree is to go, but did I mention rocks and clay??? When I tried to dig one for a young apple tree I was planting, I ran into a rock that was so large it took Hubby and the tractor to get it out of the hole!

2. Built a compost pile over the spot I plan to plant. This can really help the soil biology but I'm not convinced it does as good a job of getting carbon back into the soil as the compost pit does. The shrubs were I did this, haven't done as well as were I've tried to dig down, remove rocks and put punky wood in.
 
Troy Docimo
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Thank you for the replies and help.

I live in South Carolina, have plenty of sun and yes i have sandy soil. When i tested the soil it turned out to be right in the middle of pretty much everything i was interested in planting. And for awhile everything i planted shot up and went green.

I have heard and read about planting other things to help my plants, i definitely am interested in this but have questions. Alot of what i am planting is essentially in the yard, so i mow around it (killing anything useful?).

I definitely think it is likely i over watered. My brother who has the green thumb in the family (mostly vegetables) told me to water every day, so i basically did.

Essentially my take is plant this fall/winter. plant supportive plants in the surrounding area. Limit my watering. The soil i know is good, i didnt fertilize it too much or add too many nutrients. Not sure if the soil was too compacted or not but i definitely watered alot which maybe hindered the root development.

Any additional info would be appreciated. Thank you all.
 
Jay Angler
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Sandy soil tends to need more water than some alternatives. However, it's easy for plant roots to get through, so the fact that your last attempt at tree growing showed little spread of roots suggests that you need to water further from the stem to make the tree work a little.

If you can make some biochar, it may help in sandy soil to hold microbes and moisture.

Some of David the Good's work has been done on poor sandy soil, so his work might give you ideas:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yS9ekPMpXoQ as one example.

so i mow around it (killing anything useful?

Yes, that's quite possible! My mower is a full 4 inches from the bottom of the wheels to the blade, and I don't mow until the grass is at least 6 inches tall *and* I let all the clippings drop to feed the soil. To accomplish this I had to get larger diameter wheels for the mower and drill new holes for the bolts. And more and more, I'm making sure there's a ring of plants around the tree which I'm gradually expanding until it's at least out to the drip-line.  If you're worried about neighbors, make those plants "look" like a flower garden, although in permaculture, generally messy is healthier, we sometimes have to compromise!
 
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Troy Docimo wrote:Initially they all took off well, eventually some either got diseases, attacked by insects etc... i got discouraged and ripped them all out.



I notice you do not say if the stuff actually died, or whether it was just struggling or perhaps looked near death.  

I'm sensitive to this because I have a relative who says "oh, that's dying" and rips out anything that's showing any serious infestation, leaf drop, or other signs of major distress.  

This drives me plumb nut when they do this.  My rule of thumb is that I don't rip out any tree until midsummer of the calendar year following the year in which it appeared to die.  I've seen so many struggling "dead" trees and shrubs green up again come spring, throw up new shoots from the roots, take off and explode after dropping 100% of their leaves, and so forth.  I think it was the third time I ripped out a "dead" tree and found white shoots still struggling to emerge from the old root ball that I swore off premature ripping-out.  In truth, I never rip anything out, because by the time I've given up, a stern tug on the stem usually separates it (long dead, rotten) from the root ball.

I do understand about discouragement.  But I implore you to add "give my plantings every chance, and then six more months for miracles to happen" to your newbie toolbox.  I think you'll have some pleasant surprises!
 
Troy Docimo
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tyvm!
 
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