URBANA, Ill. – Fruit trees may be planted in early spring as soon as the ground can be worked, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture specialist.
“You can buy plants from local garden centers and nurseries and also from out-of-state nurseries,” said Maurice Ogutu.
“Container-grown plants or ball-and-burlap trees can be planted anytime the ground can be worked, although they tend to be more expensive compared to bare-root plants,” he said.
Bare roots. Bare-root nursery stock purchased from out-of-state nurseries needs to be ordered in winter so the shipment is delivered in April. If the trees cannot be planted immediately, store them in a cool shady place away from the sun and wind, he suggested.
“Pack the roots in sphagnum moss or sawdust to prevent them from drying out.”
Ogutu said in selecting a place to plant a fruit tree, look for a site with well-drained, deep soil, full sun, and away from buildings and tall trees.
The tree size varies with different species and the rootstocks they are grafted onto.
“Dig a hole that is about 1 foot wider than the diameter of the root ball and wide enough to accommodate all the roots when spread out inside the hole,” he said.
“The hole should be deep enough to accommodate all the roots and part of the stem.”
If the tree is grafted on dwarfing on semi-dwarfing rootstocks, the graft union needs to be 2 inches to 3 inches above the soil line.
On the other hand, “If a tree grafted on dwarfing rootstocks is planted too deep and the graft union is below the soil line, the scion variety will form roots and the tree will become a standard tree,” he explained.
Transplanting. He recommends trimming off any broken, damaged, or too-long roots before planting. Place the tree in a hole at the right depth and fill the hole with loose soil.
Hold the tree straight while filling the hole.
Pack the soil in the hole by gently stamping it with your feet up to the ground level. Water the tree with 2 gallons to 5 gallons of water after the hole is filled. Pour the water slowly without run off, then fill the hole with the remaining loose soil without firming.
“Prune the stem to a height of 30 inches to 36 inches above the ground,” he said.
“Stake the trees, particularly the ones grafted on dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstocks. Two weeks after the tree is planted, apply one-third of a pound of mixed fertilizer such as 10-10-10 in a 12-inch circular band from the trunk. Water the tree well after applying the fertilizer.”
Water, water. Apply 5 gallons of water around the base of the tree every week during the growing season when less than 1 inch of rainfall is recorded in your area.
As the tree starts growing, spread the branches with toothpicks or rubber bands.
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