My wife and I are just getting started with our permaculture project on our plot of land, planning and purchasing for our fruit forest. We live abroad and there are no real organic options for tree nurseries here. We are curious to hear others thoughts on the optimal age / maturity of potted fruit trees to be purchased. They are available here at a variety of sizes / price points. My concern is that I don't want to get anything too mature, as it has been growing in a fertilizer-pesticide environment for longer and because of the potential of being root bound. On the other hand, buying the smallest available trees / saplings (often only 6 mos to 1 year old I would estimate) seems like it might be going to the other extreme. The difference in the price for 6 months sapling vs. the 2 year sapling, for example, is such that it economically makes more sense to get the 2 year sapling. The question really though is whether a 2 year or more old sapling (citrus trees, tropical trees, and a variety of other fruit and nut trees) would be ill-advised given the potential to be root bound from the pot. Does anyone have any experience with optimal trunk diameter of potted plants to be transplanted in the ground. I'm sure this also depends on the size of the pot they used, but if anyone knows anything about that as well, the more info the better!
I’ve planted around 250+ fruit trees from tiny to 7’ tall. For my specific experience, I like bigger trees because I can see them.
I have Johnson grass which will outgrow small trees quickly and then I may accidentally hit the small trees with the mower or weed eater. I’ve lost a lot of small trees to this, Johnson grass gets very stalky when it matures and I don’t always get to mowing quick enough and I lose them even with flags
I did plant around 70 last fall that are 2-3’ tall and I put a push in fence post by each to help. We will see how it goes this year.
If you are doing smaller volume it may not be an issue for you.
I prefer bigger and bare root. Bare root being cheaper and obviously not rootbound.
Bigger takes less watering in my climate. Probably because the roots are deeper. Its the difference between watering once a week vs once a month(til established). Water hoses do not reach the trees so it takes some effort .
I planted a dozen bare root fruit trees in the fall of 2016. I went with what I thought was a medium size tree based on what the nursery had to offer. The trees were about 6 feet tall and the trunk was approximately an inch and a half in diameter. So I think the term "bare root" is open to interpretation, as my bare root trees appeared to me to be more of a club foot with little actual root, some only having two strands of root about the thickness of a USB cable that were maybe 16 inches long. I was imagining much more root when I purchased the trees online. I planted the trees, and half of them didn't make it. It's my belief that the stress of having 99% of it's root mass removed and the lack of sufficient water uptake by the remaining roots is what did them in.
I'll try bare root trees again but I will never again plant a tree of that size and will only plant small trees.
"Study books and observe nature; if they do not agree, throw away the books." ~ William A. Albrecht
Pick the tree size (maturity) for what your needs will be in the next three to four years, that way you know what to expect from your trees.
If you pick a whip (1 year) fruit tree, it will be seven years before you start to get fruit and it will be 10-11 years before it starts to really produce.
If you pick a 2-4 year tree, you sill have to waif for the tree to reach the age of production, it will just come a few years sooner that if you planted whips.
From there it is necessary to know that all trees that are transplanted will need two years to establish their root system enough to be able to produce and hold fruits to ripeness.
So even if you planted a 12 year old fruit tree, it will be two years before you should expect to be collecting fruit, but you will get more fruit that third year, while the other trees are still growing into fruiting ability.
I have trees that will bear fruit this year as long as the weather cooperates and I also have trees that still have a few years to go to come into fruit stage.
That is because I plant according to a long term plan, with trees going in every year, some are older so they will set fruit as soon as their roots are well established, others are bare root whips which will take a while to grow into fruit stage.
This is one of those things that you can have trees at all stages of life, if you want to do it that way.
Including starting trees from seed, you could have trees at every stage of life so you would keep getting more fruit every year until all the trees are in fruiting stage.
Or you could have all the trees the same age and just play the waiting game, it all depends on what you want from your trees.
if you live in a temperant climate then bare root is the way to go
if you buying tropical trees then buy from a nursery that has a high turnover of plants and they havent been sitting there for a long time
try to buy them when they get the new stock each year
sometimes if i buy a really small tree and it doesnt grow well here ill put it in a 10 gallon air-pot till it gets big anough to go in the ground but thouse countainer are expensive so i only have a couple and use them for rare trees
Some nurseries will stock bare-root trees, and then when they don't sell, they'll stuff them down into a pot a few weeks later and keep them alive that way. That way they can keep the tree and sell it to a customer long after the tree breaks bare root dormancy. This can be a problem for a couple of reasons.
First, bare root trees have an imbalanced "root to shoot" ratio. That is, they have far too much biomass growing above the soil line to be supported by the limited root mass growing below. It really stresses the tree when there isn't enough space for the tree to push out enough roots to support that larger tree.
Second (and related to point #1), trees in pots have to deal with much greater swings of temperature and moisture than trees in the ground. If the sun is beating on the side of a black plastic pot, it can easily heat that soil up to over 100 degrees. You won't find this happening in nature very often. But a potted tree with a limited root ball (as you'd have with a bare root tree) will suffer this heating/cooling cycle on a daily basis.
Third, you'll have the same thing happening with moisture --- saturated, then dry, then saturated, then dry. There just isn't enough soil there to keep evenly moist.
For this reason, when I buy a potted fruit tree, I'll tip it over and give the pot a couple of firm thumps and then I'll pull it out to check on the root ball. Is there a clear and healthy tap root? Is it root bound? Are there ANY fine feeder roots, or is it just the stump/club of a bareroot tree, stuffed in a bunch of wet sawdust and topped with a bit of potting soil above?
If it was once a bare root tree, did they plant it at proper depth, or was it planted too deep (a common mistake) where the soil level is well above the level of the first root? Is the scion clearly well above the soil level? If not, I steer clear of that tree.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf
Diego Footer on Permaculture Based Homesteads - from the Eat Your Dirt Summit