A good way to include more fruit in your summer diet is to plant fruit trees in your backyard. Now is the time to find an abundance of choices of bare-root fruit trees at a local nursery.
Why plant a bare-root tree now? Because you will find the greatest selection, the best prices and it's easy to transport home.
It's easy to think there isn't enough room in a backyard for a bunch of fruit trees, but all that's needed is about 10 sq. feet in full sunlight for a regular dwarf tree.
In that small area, there can be one semi-dwarf tree with one variety, or one tree with four different varieties of your favorite fruit by planting a multiple budding tree.
Budding is a horticultural technique used to join parts from two or more trees so they appear to grow as one. Apples can be budded with apples, cherries with cherries. pears with pears, however peaches can be budded with nectarines, apricots, plums and pluots. One benefit of a multiple budding tree is each budding can mature at a different time, so all the fruit is not ripe at once and you can grow more varieties in the space of one tree.
Budded trees need special care when being pruned as one variety can be more aggressive, grow faster and take over in which case you can lose the other varieties on the tree. It's important that each variety get adequate sunlight and not shade out its neighbor.
With just a little more space than a 10-by-10-foot area, another way to harvest multiple varieties is to plant two, three or four dwarf trees of different varieties in the same hole with the trunks about one-foot apart. Again, pears would go with pears and apples with apples. It doesn’t work to plant an apple and a peach together.
Why would you plant multiple trees in the same hole? Because, like the multiple budding tree, an early, mid and late harvest of your favorite fruit can be enjoyed in a relatively small space and the trees are stronger than the budded branches so they are more likely to thrive. The varities to be planted can be customly chosen. The harvest goes on for weeks instead of days. In the case of peaches, there can be an early peach, middle peach, late peach, nectarine, apricot or pluot in the same hole.
When I was studying to be a master gardener, a speaker came from Dave Wilson Nursery to educate us on fruit trees and described the system of planting more than one tree per hole. I got so excited I went out and purchased 11 bare root trees and then planted them all in a week, many of them two to one hole. I couldn’t fit all the trees in my yard so I added some to my mom’s and daughter’s yards. Now in my mom’s yard, I have a peach with a nectarine and two different apples together. They are doing so well I wish I had planted four to a hole.
There have been many videos, articles and papers written on choosing and planting bare-root trees. They all agree the hole should be dug twice as wide as the roots and the sides of the hole should be scored. These articles also said if the soil is heavy clay (like in Benicia) or compacted, the soil should be deeply loosened. They all agree the tree should be planted in the ground at the same level it grew before it was dug for sale. Also, the area of about three feet around the trunk should be kept free of weeds or grass and mulched (not allowing it to touch the trunk) to keep soil temperatures even and conserve moisture. Most say to add fertilizer after the tree starts to grow and not at the time of planting. One of the best papers I have seen on the subject is from UC Davis and the best videos are from the Dave Wilson Nursery. They even have taste-testing information.
There is one other important part of planting bare-root trees. They need to be pruned after they are planted. This is where I ran into trouble with my 11 trees. I pruned them all off at about knee-high as per instructions, and the ones which came from the nursery with low branches growing below the knee-high cut did fine. The ones which had no low branches did not fare well, and some of them didn’t make it. My advice is to choose trees with low branches whenever possible, plant in January, (not March as I did, the end of the bare-root planting season) and keep your receipts in case the nursery guarantees their plants.
The important thing for me is to try something new, experiment, enjoy the process and eat fresh fruit all summer long.
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