Planning Plantings - Fruit Trees

cyclewest(5A)April 25, 2007

Greetings everyone! I've enjoyed the site for a short while, especially the pictures! Another Californian moving from a postage stamp to a larger lot in Utah - Highland, east of Micron. We may have been a little overzealous after our first summer here. We ordered five fruit trees for our 1/3 acre lot. Two peach (Burbank Elberta standard, Intrepid standard) two apple (Fuji semi-dwarf and GrandGala semi-dwarf) and a sweet cherry (Blackgold semi-dwarf). To complicate things, the 25 everbearing strawberries also arrived in the same package (not to mention the Valencia orange, but that's potted so I have more time to think about it).

Here's my approach for the impending plantings:

Our backyard is just about wall to wall lawn, which has done relatively well. The back of our home faces south east. South side is divided from neighbors with a 4-5 foot tall row of laurel that had a bad winter. I'm planning on putting the sweet cherry next to an existing sweet cherry (black tartarian - semi dwarf) that we are nursing back to health after some type of leaf curl last year and very little growth. Along that same line will follow the two peaches, each about 8 feet from the laurel line and twenty feet from each other. We wondered if the spacing is a little too generous, but I read 20 foot diameter around all standard trees. As I started digging the first hole, which I should have started long before the trees actually arrived, I started thinking about how hard the soil seems. I removed about 4-6 inches with the sod, then started to till the earth below to loosen it about another 10 inches or so. I'm working on a five foot diameter hole to make sure the roots have somewhere to grow. I'm wondering about keeping it slightly above ground for two reasons: 1. I read somewhere that a Georgia (peaches) study determined that trees did better on soil built up next to a furrow. 2. If I loosen the soil too deep, or perhaps it was amending the soil too much, there's the potential that all moisture would drain into my newly dug hole, which may leave the roots standing in water and the premature demise of the tree.

Right after we moved into the house, Summer 2005, we probably pulled out three or four fruit trees that the prior owner had put in. All were pulled out with essentially no roots and a rotting root ball when we pulled them out. There is the one sweet cherry left, along with a line on the east wall (way too close, about four fee, to a vinyl fence) of apples: Gala semi-dwarf, crabapple -standard?, and golden delicious semi-dwarf. None of them have grown much at all, of course no production (with the exception of a single crabapple). I'm not sure how long ago they were planted, but we've been here two years and seen minimal growth. That's why I want to make sure I get these planted right. We're talking 20+ years of production based on this one planting (fingers crossed!)!

Am I on track? Any additional pointers?



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It used to be common to recommend amending the soil when you planted a tree, but I think that has changed, and they now recommend that you plant trees in the native soil and mulch above the soil. One of the reasons is the one you mentioned--when you amend the soil too much in the heavy clay that is so common here, it becomes like a bathtub that fills with water. Another problem is that the tree roots get stuck and don't easily move out of the amended soil into the heavier soil around the tree.

One thing I'd advise is to water very deeply and infrequently. When you first plant the tree, you may need to water every week, but gradually taper off until you're watering once a month, but watering very deeply. I found a watering guide once that told how many gallons per month per inch of diameter. I'll try to find it and post it here. Basically, you want to get the tree roots to go deep into the ground and not have to compete too much with the grass. Also, if the soil is wet almost all the time, that can exacerbate the tendency of trees to become chlorotic.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 10:58PM
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One other thing I forgot to mention in my earlier post (before I post the links). Don't plant fruit trees too close to the fence. You'll end up making a big mess in your neighbors' lawns (maybe they won't hate you if you let them pick any fruit they can reach).

Now for the links:
Planting Trees for the Future from Garden Utah!
Guide for Selecting Planting and Caring for Trees from Colorado State U.
Guide to Tree Care in Dry Climates from Denver Water
Tree Water Management Fact Sheet from USDA

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 11:34PM
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stevation(z5a Utah)


Nice to see you join the discussion. BP knows a lot of stuff, and I like all the links he posts.

Just a few more thoughts from me:

Cherries are particular about where they get their pollen, and some won't pollinate themselves. But it looks like Black Gold will, so that's good. If you're interested, I found a handy chart about this online.

I have two Lapins cherries, a Granny Smith apple, a Jonathan apple, and Merricrest nectarine growing at my place. All were planted at regular ground level, except that the nectarine is slightly higher, with about 4-5" of topsoil slightly mounded above the lawn grade in the shrub border where I planted it. All the trees are doing well -- some are planted in an area with a gravel mulch, and the nectarine has a good compost mulch over it usually. I did not amend the soil when I dug their holes, but I did add some granular fertilizer, including Super Phosphate and pouring root stimulator fertilizer all over the root ball before I backfilled. This was six years ago, except for the cherries, which are newer. My soil is probably similar to yours -- I live just southeast of you in Cedar Hills.

Despite saying that my trees were fine planted at natural grade, I don't think it would hurt to mound the soil up slightly where you plant, as long as you make it a broad area that mounds gently (probably not higher than 6-12"). You wouldn't want a steep berm that water would just run off of too easily. Besides my fruit trees, I also have in the same area four flowering cherries (Kwanzan variety), and one of them is clearly not doing well. The other three haven't been as vigorous as I'd like, but they're reasonably healthy. I'm wishing I had planted the sick flowering cherry a little higher than the natural grade and given it a broad mound to grow in. I've read since that they are sensitive to heavy, poor-draining soils, and I have neighbor who planted his in a berm and it's really outpacing all of mine in growth and health.

Your description of the existing trees' poor health makes me wonder if you also have heavy, poor-draining soil. I also think the previous owner probably overwatered them. You did say the backyard is nearly wall-to-wall grass, though, didn't you? That could be the problem right there. You really shouldn't water trees the same as grass -- it's too much for them. Water them like BP said, and figure out how to keep the sprinkler water off of the area around them.

One more IMPORTANT point. If these trees are planted in the lawn, you need to dig out the grass in a circle about four feet around the trunk of the new trees and mulch the circle with bark, compost, or something. Turf produces toxins that help it monopolize an area by killing or harming other plants. Some trees are more sensitive to it than others, but it's always good to give young trees protection from the grass. I have a friend that complained about his sycamore not growing well, and I helped him clear a circle around it like this. That year, it grew something like ten feet! He was extremely happy with the result.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 4:05PM
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Here's one more link.

If you want to see one of the other pubs listed at the bottom, simply change "223" in the link to the number of the pub you like.

Here is a link that might be useful: Colo State pub on chlorosis

    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 2:13AM
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Thanks for the tips bpgreen and stevation! Ive got three trees in and two to go. Tilling the dirt in the 5 foot hole was quite a chore, but it really broke up the soil nicely. Unfortunately, Wednesday night I had the bright idea of doing a drainage test in the first hole. It was about 12-14 inches deep and five feet in diameter. It looked like the water level dropped about an inch after the first hour, which, depending on the directions of a couple of web sites, was either poor draining or okay. Unfortunately, the next evening (not quite 24 hours on Thursday) there was still quite a bit of water in it. Hopefully it was because of the width of my hole, even though most of the sites said the width didnÂt matter, they probably didnÂt expect 5 feet! At this point I realized that I needed to let it dry out before planting the cherry, so that hole will wait for Saturday. I didn't quite plant them as high as I was originally thinking, just a couple inches above the ground level on the peaches, but hopefully, tilling the soil throughout the five foot hole will help a little there. It looks like the key to watering these trees and avoiding problems will be using the soaker hose and keeping the water slow, deep, and eventually only once a month to let it dry out between waterings.

I used three time-release fertilizer pills (placed an inch from the roots) from the nursery (Stark Brothers, did I mention these trees are all bare-root?) that are supposed to fertilize for two years along with their Tre-prep fertilizer (22-24-12 tablespoon diluted in a gallon of water). Note: the cap to a 64oz bottle of juice is nearly exactly a tablespoon. That application drained much better than the bottom of the first hole, of course, it had all the finely broken-up soil. Now the two peaches are set. The GrandGala I put at the northwest corner of the yard, smack dab in the middle of our garden. Not much in the garden yet, except for some experimental mini-greenhouses with 64oz juice containers with the bottoms cut off, but thatÂs another story. We had someone deliver a truckload of "topsoil" when we established that garden area, so itÂs a little elevated. But we are planning (a little way out now, maybe a couple of years) to do raised beds in the northeast corner, so we figured a tree in the current garden would be good long-term, yet small enough in the next couple of years to plant the garden around it. At that point in the night, I wasnÂt about to start up the tiller, so I just dug my five foot hole and planted the GrandGala apple. The lack of sod and softer soil made for a much quicker planting.

IÂm just picking up on the mulch concept, so thatÂs on my list for Saturday. Last year, I tried putting the topsoil on top of the grass growing around the other trees thinking it would block out the weeds. I guess I should have put newspaper underneath as the barrier because the grass really shot up through it instead! I need to just clear around it and get that mulch cover in place. By the way, does anyone have a degree of difficulty for rearranging existing sprinklers? They are mostly the rotating stream type for the lawn and the flowerbeds next to the house are sprays. Originally, I was just thinking of turning off or capping the sprinklers that went over the garden and weaving a soaker hose through the rows. That way, I could water on a different schedule than the lawn, and avoid getting water on the leaves of the vegetables. Now, IÂm thinking of moving at least two sprinklers in five feet to put them in front of the two peach and two cherry trees. Then I could mulch that whole area instead of having my five foot tree rings surrounded by grass (quicker to mow too!). WeÂre also planning on expanding one flowerbed to include a strawberry patch (instead of an L shape, it will be closer to a triangle shape), so I need to figure out a better way to get the water there too. During a break some time this weekend, I guess IÂll try to figure out where each of the sprinkler heads are, where they cover, and what wouldnÂt be covered if I move things around. A little difficult to do before the city turns the irrigation water on, but now there are no excuses! ItÂs sort of ironic that one of the attractions to the home was that the landscape was "done" so we wouldnÂt have to worry about it!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 12:39PM
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songbirdmommy(UT 5)

Welcome to Utah cyclewest!

I LOVE this thread!

I have been teaching all my neighbors about gardening, being the resident Master Gardener...
A few weeks ago, one neighbor mentioned she would like to order some fruit trees.... I am NOT a big fan of mail order trees....
I want to see what I am buying and make sure that it has good branches.
But just about everyone in the neighborhood wanted fruit trees, so I spent many hours last week talking to neihbors, going over their yard, needs, wants and helping them figure out what would work best in their yars.
I told each person which trees would be good companions with others and bloom at the same time and pollinate eac other.
Also which would grow in our climate/microclimate.
So... last week we ordered, as a big group, about 50 fruit trees, maybe more. They arrived yesterday.
I educated them on proper planting and care.
I was amazed that 99% of them thought you stick the tree in a deep "skiny" hole!

It took alot of time(which I don't mind, truth be told, I love helping and sharing my passion!), but it would have been easier to just tell them to go online and look for this thread and follow the links!

Stevetion, I like bpgreen's post too.. I enjoy all of your postings also...
BTW, how's the new lil gardener?
Please post pics of your garden, it is an ispiration... and a few of your lil guy too!

Well, gotta run.... need to plant my Granny Smith and Fuji!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 1:25PM
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"most of the sites said the width didnt matter, they probably didnt expect 5 feet! "

Actually (unfortunately for you), they were right. Width doesn't matter, even if it's 5 feet. If you think about it, you'll see why. It's similar to a recent thread on either the soil or lawn forum, where somebody asked about measuring how much water is applied. Some people had a very difficult time understanding why the shape/width of the can used didn't affect the measurement. The reason is that it's the depth that matters. Same thing in your case. The main drainage is going on draining down. If the soil is extremely dry, some may seep outward a little bit, but nearly all the drainage is down. So the width of the hole doesn't matter. It's all in how long it takes it to go down.

Does that make sense?

    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 5:16PM
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Yes, that makes sense. My soil is definately slow draining. Even more critical to use the soaker hose and keep it slow and dry between. Last summer, when there were a couple of patches of yellow in the backyard, at first I increased the water supply, only to see a constant water level in an irrigation box inside the lawn. When I applied a soil amendment on top of the lawn, it greened right up. Not sure if that will carry over. I guess that's one of the purposes of applying the mulch around the trees, a "mulch tea" drip with irrigation, and eventually amending the soil.

Is it a good sign that I saw long, thin, reddish worms in my holes? Not too many, but at least they were in the soil, doing their magic.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 5:42PM
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Seeing worms is a good sign. Seeing more worms is a better sign. Keep adding the organic matter. As they have more to eat, their numbers will increase. In addition to the castings they add, their burrows help with drainage, aeration and so forth.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 6:33PM
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How deep do worms go? Deep enough to help the roots of trees? Is it true or false that if i accidentally cut them in half with my shovel while digging, they will grow into 2 worms?

One more question I hope BP will answer, since it sounds like he knows his stuff ;)... I planted 2 crepe myrtle shrub trees PROPERLY in February. Toward the end of March, they kind of leafed out a little bit and weakly. They've done NOTHING since then, no new leaves or branches and the ones that are there are sparse and not growing. I'm giving them regular water, but not too much because I've dug in and the soil isn't soggy. I don't want to give them any fertilizer (other than the starter I planted them with) as they are in their first year of growth. Help! I'm observing other crepe myrtles around town which are fully leafed out, lush, and growing. Im worried mine is going to die! Any help would be GREATLY appreciated as these trees cost me 40 bucks each!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2007 at 4:00AM
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I found this with lots of good info about worms. According to it, some worms can regenerate part of their body, but no known worm will form two worms if cut in half.

I don't know anything about myrtle shrubs. In general, though, I wouldn't expect it to do as well as established trees. It may take a while for it to start taking off.

How often are you watering and how much are you watering when you do water? Too much water is more often the culprit than too little. I notice that you're in zone 8, though, so you may need more water than I do. What kind of soil do you have? Where are you? The links I posted have good info about caring for trees in Colorado and Utah, but it may be different for you, and you may want to check with your local extension service.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2007 at 11:07AM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

I grew a crape myrtle tree in California and we had a hedge of them in a condo complex I lived in for a while. I remember thinking how remarkably dead they looked when dormant -- the branches would even be crispy. But then, miraculously, they'd come back to life from such deep dormancy.

I don't know if yours are really damaged or if maybe they just are staying dormant longer than the established ones because it's their first year. My first year in my house here in Utah Valley, I planted a bunch of trees in September. The following spring, my sycamore and Chinese/lacebark elm did not leaf out until June. I was worried that they'd died that winter, but fortunately they just had a mild shock from the transplant and came back OK.

Tweedbunny, you're in St. George, right? How cold was it when you planted these in February? When you planted them, were you very careful with the rootballs so they didn't break or get other damage? Did you have any crazy low temps since then that would be untypical for zone 8?

Anyway, even if any of the above questions lead to concerns about the plants, the only thing to do right now is wait and see if they come back, albeit a little late this time. If they do come back, they should be just fine next year -- it's probably just a little transplant shock.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2007 at 3:22PM
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Yeah, it was quite a bit colder than normal for us in February here in St George. And maybe they are a little transplant shocked since I planted them alone and they were quite heavy. I don't believe I'm watering them too much, I dug down in the soil a few feet from the tree and it was damp but not soggy. Everything I read about crepe myrtles says they like deep rich soil, which, if you know St George, means the crepe gets neither :)
But I know they can grow and grow good here, because they flourish everywhere in business landscaping with little care and yucky soil. Some people even call them invasive.
Maybe Im just cursed with a black thumb when it comes to growing 'easy' things. I can grow a fuschia, plumeria, and orange tree in St George, but I kill cactuses (really I do) and crepe myrtles :D
Guess I'll just keep doin' what Im doin' and hope they perk up as the weather gets warmer.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2007 at 6:24PM
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Quick update on the new trees. All have started bud swelling and all but one have leaves from those buds. I'll have to provide more pictures later this week on some of the aggressive growers, but here are some pictures from last Friday...

Thanks again for everyone's advice!

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 12:25AM
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stevation(z5a Utah)


Did your crape myrtles show any signs of life yet?

    Bookmark   May 19, 2007 at 12:06AM
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