Easy planting

IMG_9257Planting fruit trees requires much less effort than growing vegetables. And a tree grows faster than we think! Planet carers and home-grown fruit lovers, here are some easy tips for you.

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Time flies

This month, Facebook reminded me of a picture I published on their platform four years ago. It was a set of fruit tree planting kits I put together in the United Kingdom in January 2012.

The trees which were planted using these kits were around 1.50 meter high at the time.

They have been growing for an additional four years, which means they have probably started to produce. It is amazing to see how quickly time passes. We think it will take years and years, and here it is, we already have fruit! Just a kilo or two maybe, but there would be nothing if we hadn’t planted them.

And imagine the glut in four years time? Gardeners will soon be reaping the true fruit of their efforts.

Easy planting?

How much effort did it take to plant and care for those trees? Well, not that much. Buying and collecting the young tree, digging a hole, planting. Then watering once a week during the first summer, pruning to give the tree a good shape if not done by the tree-provider yet, maybe adding some mulch once in late spring and once in autumn for the first three to four years… Broadly, that’s it!

Before going into further details, let’s look at some photos. They picture my planting experience four years ago and provide background information for the next chapter.

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The photo of the sixty planting kits I put on Facebook four years ago. I prepared them for The Urban Orchard Project on 11 January 2012 in Camley Street Natural Park, Central London. The charity, aimed at helping local communities to rediscover the pleasure of eating home-grown fruit through creation and regeneration of urban orchards, provides guidelines for tree planting to neophytes and is the main source of professional advice in this article.

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Sixty trees, from apple to peach cultivars, 1.50 meter high on average.

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I was volunteering for a day at the charity, called The London Orchard Project at the time. They told me how to plant the pear tree below.

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The pear tree, about to be planted in a South-West London garden. We can see the planting kit in the background. Photo 15 January 2012.

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Trunk protection and mulch mat. I watered the tree once a week for two months during the first summer (20 litres, as advised). The tree produced its first two Conference pears in 2013. Photo 15 January 2012.

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Mulch and stake. No more mulching after that. I heard there were nineteen pears in 2014. But they were all lost. Most of them should have been removed, leaving maybe just four or five, as the tree was not strong enough yet. I don’t know about 2015. Photo 15 January 2012.

 

Easy planting tips

On my own, I have only planted one fruit tree in my life so far, and it is the pear tree featured above. I have been thinking about what I would do if I was to plant more. Here are my conclusions:

  • First, anticipate: choose the right size of adult tree. You can have a smaller or bigger tree of the same cultivar. To know more about this, you can read this blog’s article called “Size matters” and the Royal Horticultural Society website page “Rootstocks for fruit” it links to.
  • Take a tree that has already been shaped by professionals through formative pruning, like the pear tree above. Further pruning will be easier.
  • Digging a hole… Watering once a week during the first summer… Follow the advice below.

Online advice from the Urban Orchard Project for planting and taking care of fruit trees in the first years:

  • “Planting fruit trees”, a five-minute video by Merrin.
  • “Mulch”, a two-minute video by Lewis about what is added around the tree to keep moisture, protect and nourish it. “Mulch ado about nothing?” is a blog post in which he provides more details including a very useful drawing.
  • “Watering young trees”. Watering 20 litres once a week during the summer months of the first year is essential to the survival of the tree. Watering during the following three to four summers is recommended. The important thing is to water once a week rather than several times smaller amounts, so that the water reaches the lower roots.
  • “Pruning apple trees” provides generic advice on pruning. Basically cut back new shoots to one-third of their length. Choosing an outward facing bud and cutting half a centimetre above it will help shape the tree so that good ventilation is allowed, for better health and higher yields.

Local cultivar?

To go for a local cultivar common in the area is probably a good idea. I am not a specialist but I would say that it would need less care, as it is genetically equipped to adapt to its environment.

If we take a cultivar that flourishes in the wet weather of the United Kingdom and plant it in a dry and hot part of South-East France, will the 20 litres of watering per week be enough for the tree to go through to the second year? Will the tree survive in the following years without watering and mulching?

The tree featured in the pictures above belongs to the most common of pear cultivars in the UK: Conference. And the paving in the garden keeps the moisture, so it didn’t need to be watered after the first year. No mulch was added either, apart from the initial layer provided in the planting kit. Planting this pear tree in a more sandy soil close to a south-facing stone wall may have required a bit more care. Yet, overall we surely can say that there was a higher probability of success with this tree than for instance with a peach variety?

Having said that, personal taste is such an important element! It is probably better to choose a cultivar you fancy (to me for instance it would be Duchesse pears rather than Conference), should you need to add a few more hours of work per year to make sure you get the most of your tree. Or you may plant two, of different cultivars?

In any case, it won’t take much of your time. This is the beauty of growing your own fruit.

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