Friday, March 6, 2015

Planting Fruit Trees

Fruit trees are one of the easiest ways to grow our own food. Few foods can rival fruit that is fresh-picked from a tree.With very little maintenance, fruit trees will grow and thrive, producing more and more food each year. 

We moved to a larger property about a year ago. Bees buzzing around fruit blossoms have become a herald of Spring for me, so it was bittersweet leaving behind the apple, plum, and apricot trees at our old home. They were just finally starting to produce a good amount of fruit, and we missed being able to pick fruit in our own yard last year. So it's time to plant some new fruit trees!

The Right Time for Planting Trees

Here in the desert Southwest, Spring, Winter, and Fall are the best times to plant fruit trees. The intense summer heat and lack of rain can be too much for newly-planted trees, so it is best to give them some time to get established before summer arrives. We planted four apple trees last autumn, and today my children helped me plant two more apple trees plus two peach trees. 

Inspired by his sister's chicken egg business, my 5-year-old son has been planning to have an apple business.  He has been saving money for trees little by little, but given that it will take several years for any substantial apple harvest, my husband and I decided to go ahead and get some trees in the ground for him last Fall.  With the help of a recent birthday gift from grandma, my son now has one more apple tree for his business. He is very proud of his three apple trees, and asks many people if they would like to be his apple customers.

Tips for Planting Fruit Trees

Whenever I have gardening questions, I always rely somewhat on my mother to point me in the right direction.  She has a truly stunning backyard and much experience with gardening here. I also found many helpful pointers in my Extreme Gardening: How to Grow Organic in the Hostile Deserts and Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 2 books. Here are some tips we implemented in planting our new fruit trees:

  • I used my Sunset Western Garden book to select varieties of apple and peach trees that are suited for our climate zone.
  • Because apple and peach trees need a certain amount of winter chill in order to produce a good amount of fruit, our trees are planted in the coolest part of our yard.
  • The planting holes were dug to about the same depth as the roots of the trees, but several times larger around.
  • The soil that was used to backfill the planting holes was not amended; this way, the trees will adapt right away to our sandy soil. 
  • Each tree was planted slightly below the level of the surrounding ground, so that water will pool around the trees.
  • I created a half-circle rain-harvesting berm around each tree to capture rain water. These are oriented so that the water flowing over the slightly-sloped ground during our July-August rainy season will naturally collect around the fruit trees.   
  • There is a ~3-inch layer of composted manure around the base of each tree, to increase water retention and provide nutrients throughout the coming months.  I made sure the compost is not in direct contact with the tree trunks.
  • Each tree was planted with the graft (where the rootstock and fruit tree are joined) facing East, to protect it from the wind. 
  • Because we have high winds in the Spring, I placed some heavy rocks at the base of the trees to prevent them lifting up from the ground when the high winds hit.
  • Regular water will be provided to the trees because it does not rain here very often at this time of the year. Over time, I will move the watering source away from the trees to encourage the roots to spread out further and further.


Companion Planting with Fruit Trees

One of my favorite things about the Extreme Gardening book is that is provides companion planting suggestions for each type of plant.  For instance, it lists the following as good companion plants that can be planted "thickly around the tree(s)" that we planted:
  • Apple companion plants:
    • Artemisia
    • Chives
    • Garlic Chives
    • Marigolds
    • Nasturtiums
    • Onions
  • Peach companion plants:
    • Basil
    • Chives
    • Garlic Chives
    • Nasturtiums
    • Onions
    • Strawberries
    • Tansy
Because our fruit trees are planted outside of our fenced yard, I will only be planting companion plants that rabbits don't prefer to eat.  So we will plant marigolds and green onions around the apple trees, and we will plant basil and green onions around the peach trees.

Looking Ahead

We are planning to plant many more fruit trees on our property over the coming years. Pears, plums, and apricots for sure, and maybe some pecans, pistachios, and almonds. I love the idea of having a food forest, and am very interested to see how the rainwater harvesting techniques pan out.


What homesteading tasks are you working on this Spring?

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