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newbie fruit tree question

 
christine shepherd
Posts: 8
Location: Portland, OR
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hi everybody!

so i spent a lot of energy and time setting up an area in my yard that gets the most sun with some sheet mulching.  the idea was to plant some fruit trees and companions in a u-shape facing south, and use the microclimate there for hot veggies like tomatoes, etc.  here's photos of that.  photos where you can see the beehive, that hive is at the east end.

however i've only been here since july and gauged the angle of the sun wrong.  looking at the bed's location, i wish it was moved several feet farther back to the north.  if i dig out a couple large spots on the north side of the mulch that hasn't been prepped, would i be ok planting some fruit trees here as long as i add a ton of compost at planting time, saving the sheet mulched area in front of them for the veggies?

also, what's better, planting bare root trees, or the ones at the local nursery in pots with a big root ball?  thinking of asian pears, plums, and figs.

thanks!

 
James Freyr
Posts: 76
Location: Middle Tennessee
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Hi Christine! You'll be fine planting your fruit trees in an alternate spot. I am also new to having an orchard, I planted my trees last fall. I highly recommend reading the book The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips, it is full of quality advice and information on growing fruit trees without chemicals. I planted bare root trees, and the author of the book recommends it too. Healthy stock will quickly grow some new roots. The trees at the nursery with the big root ball will work too, but local nursery trees tend to be "production" varieties, like Red Delicious, which is a mediocre apple at best. If you seek out some nurseries and orchards online, they all ship bare root, and sometimes you can choose which rootstock the cultivar has been grafted to, if dwarfs may suit your orchard area better than a semi-dwarf. Also, there are a ton more varieties to choose from. I planted a Green Gage plum tree, for example. If you are interested in heirloom varieties that some of those nurseries don't have, check out Seed Savers Exchange. They have some cool old varieties, some of which were nearly lost to the sands of time. They will custom graft for you this spring, and ship your tree next year, if you can wait a year.

I do recommend adding compost at planting time, but what can happen is if you add too much and make the hole the tree is being planted in nice and cozy with tons of organic matter, the roots may not be inclined to grow out far and wide past that area. Mr. Phillips talks  about soil preparation and using ramial mulch (ramial mulch is tree branches 2 inches ((sometimes larger, depending who you ask)) in diameter and smaller from deciduous hardwood trees all chipped up). I'm just a beginner like you, and have a lot to yet to learn, but I can say books are going to be one of your best allies in this adventure. Hope this helps!
 
christine shepherd
Posts: 8
Location: Portland, OR
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hi james,

thanks for your response!  i will definitely be picking up that book.  i just checked my favorite online retailer, groworganic.com, and got panicky when i saw they were mostly out of stock, and then i went to seed savers, and so are they.  did i have the planting time entirely wrong?  I thought early spring was a good time for planting?  my local nursery said they have the best stock in spring?  if so, i'm really bummed i waited and should have planted last fall.
 
James Freyr
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You can certainly plant trees in the spring. You really don't want to plant trees when the ground is frozen or during the peak of summer heat. A lot of people (me including) plant trees in the fall just after they've gone dormant for the season. Reason being is though they appear dormant, trees have stored energy and do grow some roots during the winter, and will have a few more roots and a better reach into the soil come spring. I wouldn't rush to plant trees now if you can't locate the varieties you desire to grow. After all, Autumn is a short 6 months away, and it will be here before we know it. What you can do, and is highly recommended my Mr. Phillips in his book and by other orchardists and arborists, is get a soil test done now, and start making any amendments that are needed this spring and summer. Adjusting the pH of a soil and getting calcium or sulfur levels and ratios where they should be, for example, takes time. Getting that ramial mulch to break down to benefit the soil takes time. Doing these things now will be all the better come this fall for tree planting, and will be off to a much better start come spring of next year.
 
Mike Jay
Posts: 445
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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They may be out of stock because it's spring and the big planting season.  I'd prefer a spring planting to a fall one but that may be due to my location.  The trees will make it through their first winter if they get their roots going.  For my area, I like a spring planting followed by our relatively moderate summers so that the trees can spend 6 months putting down roots.  For Oregon your winters and summers are likely mild enough that it doesn't really matter when you plant.  But those are both huge assumptions on my part, having only visited Oregon once.

I'd check some local retailers as well.  There must be plenty of garden centers and nurseries in Portland with the trees you need.  If you can avoid shipping you may avoid shipping damage, avoid transportation fuel usage, support local businesses and get plants that have lived in your area and are a bit more adapted.
 
Steve Sherman
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I'd agree with most of the previous thoughts. Spring is a great time to plant, but fall can work too in some places. Go ahead and plant outside your original area if that is better. Regardless of the spots you pick, be sure to dig generous sized holes for the trees, the old saying is dig a $10 hole for a $5 tree. Be cautious about mixing anything into the planting hole soil. Most sources say now a days that you should use only native soil in the hole and put your amendments on top after you fill it (just be sure not to put mulch, etc too close to the trunk, say 6+" away).  Do take the lay of your land into account, not only the sun but drainage too. If any of your tree spots are prone to flooding, you probably want to plant your tree into a mound to raise it above the surrounding ground level and/or be sure the tree/root stock can handle occasional ground flooding.

I'd also do some research about what root stock varieties you want on your trees. Many people just think about size (dwarf, full, etc), but there is more to root stock selection. Some are known to be better for certain soil types (clay, sand, etc), others have resistance to diseases and/or insects, other are good in cold places, etc. Do a little checking with locals (maybe even your coop extension) about what root stocks they recommend in your area for the different trees you want. And then of course, buy your trees from a place that will tell you the root stock they are using; some do some don't.

And of course, do some research about what varieties of the various fruits you want you should plant, if you haven't yet. Not every apple or pear or whatever can grow everywhere. You need to be sure that your growing season is long enough for the varieties you choose to ripen most years. And for some fruits, you need to be sure your site has enough winter chill hours for the tree to "think" it has gone thru a winter. You might also want to check out how your chosen varieties do in terms of diseases and what diseases are common in your area. For example if fire blight is a common disease in your area you want to choose fire blight resistant varieties. And that the variety can handle your minimum winter temps.

It may seem like a lot to check out and research, but a fruit tree is a long term project. Better to spend some time up front rather than be badly surprised in the future when your tree dies of a common disease or you find the fruit can't ripen where you are, etc, etc. And there are several fruit tree growing forum on the web where you can get tons of info.

BTW - sometimes the big box stores have great fruit tree, good varieties on named root stocks, in good condition. Sometimes they have junk. You really can't make a broad judgement it varies year to year and store to store.




 
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