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new fruit trees are struggling in drought

 
pioneer
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Location: Douglas County, WI zone 4a 105 acres
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This Spring we finally were able to plant large potted trees we bought May 2019. Managed to hold them over that Summer and the Winter.
Planting was a little late this year ... early May in Zone 4-ish was still cold/frozen. Watered them in well and a couple more times, but my son was a little short on the water in the third week.
Two apples are gone - these are VERY large trees, but small root ball - maybe 3 gal.
Anyway, I'm keeping up with watering better, but others - plum and apples have been shocked.
Should I prune a little to help to help them along OR will it stimulate them to produce more leaves ... NOT what is needed in this drought. TYVM
 
gardener
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Location: Western Washington
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I would water but not prune, personally. If you could only manage a little watering I'd prune and give it a very deep watering, but ideally you won't do that. Top growth is precious in zone 4 and I wouldn't cut it back. I've grown in zone 4 Wisconsin. The summers are short and the growing season precious
 
Mary Beth Alexander
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James et all, I'm giving at least 5 gals/week - hand-watering right to the root ball.
 
gardener
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I've always been shocked at how much water just seems to we the surface even when you think you've give the plant lots. The two things I've tried are: 1. a *very* slow drip left on all night or 2. some sort of pipe with holes in the lower sides and bottom planted with the tree so that when you put water in the pipe, it leaks out down towards the bottom of the root ball.
 
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I’m of a different mind.  If you’re supplying water to all that foliage; what you want is deep root growth not more foliage. I sold fruit trees for years and before they went out the door we trimmed the new growth back to an outside bud to promote root growth.  May be old school but it worked. You aren’t going to get fruit this year and you need big root growth to build a strong tree. Deep root growth is what gets you through drought.

I’d trim back and deep water. Watering less often but deeper makes strong trees.  JMHO.
 
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Location: PNW Zone 8
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I agree with Janet Reed - I am now in a mild zone (PNW) but I lived in a harsher continental climate and the seedlings do fine if they get a chance to grow deep roots.
Another interesting thing to notice is that fruit tree seedlings can do better if grown in the shade the first season - I grow some of mine under alders then cut the alders down.
 
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Another idea is that you want to water at the drip line-not at the root ball.  It sounds like these are pretty large trees.  Normally the most active or efficient roots to suck in water are at the outer drip line of the leaves.  You could rot the root ball and still make the tree die of thirst.

John S
PDX OR
 
pollinator
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John Suavecito wrote:Another idea is that you want to water at the drip line-not at the root ball.  It sounds like these are pretty large trees.  Normally the most active or efficient roots to suck in water are at the outer drip line of the leaves.  You could rot the root ball and still make the tree die of thirst.

John S
PDX OR



Very good point!  Or, in the case of these big trees with small root balls - you do want to encourage those roots outwards.  If they have to reach for water, they will grow.  I have a new apple and I try to water around it, not right down the trunk, to develop the root system.
 
Jay Angler
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Anne Pratt wrote:

If they have to reach for water, they will grow.

I did that with a small apple tree by digging a compost pit starting about 2 feet from the planting hole and going further from it. I filled it with stuff to compost, and now add a little every week, so I'm building soil and watering the tree at the same time. I'm mostly adding "wet stuff" like veggie scraps, unless it starts to smell a little which tells me to add some extra "browns".
 
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