By Guest Author Stella Otto.
More and more gardeners are deciding to add edible elements to their landscapes and fruits are a popular and delicious choice. A good place to start is with fast growing berries – strawberries, grapes and raspberries are quick and easy. With an eye to the future, add a peach or a couple of dwarf apple trees as well.
After your last frost date, it’s time to actually pick out and plant your berry bushes or fruit trees. How can you make sure you are getting strong, healthy plants when you are standing there reviewing your local garden center’s selection?
Here are some important things to check:
Tree trunks should be straight; preferably with no branches below knee height. You should remove any low branches at planting time.
Look for trunk diameters between 1/2″ to 3/4″ inches on apple, apricot, cherry, pear, and plum trees. Peaches tend to have diameters from 3/4″ to 1 and 1/2″.
The graft union – where the rootstock and variety scion are joined – of dwarf trees should be well developed and healed. It will look like a bulb shaped thickening in the trunk a few inches above the soil level.
Check the roots. Fruit bushes and trees at garden centers are often potted rather than bare root. Look for a good supply of plump, actively growing roots. Remove the plant from the pot for a peek if possible.
Check that potted plants are not root bound . Roots wrapping repeatedly around themselves in the pot or growing out of the bottom can be an indication that these are actually poor growing plants held over from a prior season. They will not grow as well as healthy, vigorous one-year-old stock.
Bigger is not always better. A larger plant often means there is a large branch area to support with a limited root system, leaving insufficient energy for adjusting to transplanting. Research has shown that smaller trees and bushes overtake larger transplants within a few years. This has been attributed to less transplant shock.
Dormant trees and bushes, in most cases, survive transplant shock best. Be sure to plant them as soon as possible to allow roots time to get established and growing before they need to support an ever expanding supply of leaves.
While you want to purchase the healthiest fruit trees, berry bushes and vines, avoiding diseased plants is equally important. A few things to look out for are:
Branches with dark, sunken areas.
Old dead leaves remaining at the tips of branches.
Oozing discolored bark.
Borer damage will appear as holes or tunneling around the bud union – this can be a prevalent problem on stone fruit and some apple rootstocks.
Any of these could indicate disease. You do not want to bring this home and get your home orchard off to bad start or introduce disease spores to your healthy garden.
Regardless of where you purchase your plants, buy from a reputable source. High quality, good service and selection, and a respected reputation usually go hand-in-hand with a business’ longevity and success. Specialty nurseries are most likely to offer disease-free plants that are true to name. Word of mouth may help you find favored sources among experienced gardeners.
There’s nothing like fresh picked berries on you summer bowl of cereal, a juicy peach warm from the sun, or a crunchy apple in late summer or early fall. And remember, this is a great way to get the whole family to eat more fruits. If they help in watering, thinning, and other tasks to come, they won’t be able to resist eating the “fruit” of their labor.
Stella Otto is the author of award-winning garden books, The Backyard Berry Book: A hands-on guide to growing berries, brambles, and vine fruit in the home garden and The Backyard Orchardist: A complete guide to growing fruit trees in the home garden. This is the first of a series of Fruit Growing 101 articles. Learn more at www.stellaotto.com.