Planting Tips

Planting Advice

The planting technique and method should put as little stress on the trees as possible and give them the best possible chance of rapid establishment. Trees should be fully dormant on receipt, but they still need to be treated with care, and their roots must never be allowed to dry out before planting. Although site preparation and planning for planting may have been meticulous, careless handling of the trees after receipt from the nursery and the planting process itself can compromise the economic future of the orchard.

Accurate marking-out is essential and should only be done on completion of the final cultivation and fertiliser incorporation

On receipt of trees from the nursery protect roots from drying-out. Bare-rooted trees placed in cold store are particularly prone to drying-out

Always handle trees carefully to avoid unnecessary damage to the roots or shoots/feathers

If soil preparation will not be complete for some time, or ground conditions are unsuitable, heel trees in on a sheltered and guarded site, lightly firming loose soil around the roots to minimise disturbance when lifted for planting. Water in if soil is dry

Drive stakes in to required depth before planting

Planting should be done in the winter when the trees are dormant. Early planting allows root growth to establish before the foliage emerges, but can cause problems if prolonged wet weather follows planting, particularly on heavy soils

Trees should be planted on the leeward side of stakes

Never plant in very dry soil conditions as roots will dry on contact with the soil

Be prepared to apply water, using a bowser and hose, if unusually dry conditions follow planting, or if planting is done late

Never plant in very wet conditions. Soil should be friable in the planting holes

If plants have been heeled-in correctly they are better left than being planted in poor soil conditions

Planting holes should be large enough to contain the existing roots on the nursery trees without undue bending or twisting

When excavating holes avoid smearing the sides. Using a fork prevents this

Aim to plant as soon as the holes are dug

Before planting remove any badly damaged roots

When machine planting ensure the correct depth setting is used

The union between the rootstock and scion (cultivar) must be at least 150mcm (6″) above the final soil level to prevent direct scion rooting. M26 should be at ground level

After placing the tree in the planting hole, re-fill with crumbly/friable soil and lightly but firmly compress the soil over the roots all the way around the tree, topping up the soil to the correct depth (proud of the soil surface to allow settling and to prevent puddling around the tree)

Compressing must be light on wet soils and those prone to capping or panning. More pressure may be needed on drier and more open soils

Immediately after planting, secure the tree to the stake

After tying prune out (or back) any badly damaged shoots/feathers

Organic mulches, e.g. straw or well-rotted FYM, applied around each tree will help conserve moisture, speed establishment and reduce weed problems

Where mulches are used, to minimise disease and small vermin problems, leave a small un-mulched circle around the trunk .

Staking, Tying and Tree Guards

Having got this far some attention to detail is needed to ensure that the trees are not subject to damage due to wind-rock or rabbit/hare grazing damage.

When planting by hand or auger stakes must be inserted before planting

Stake size and depth will be determined by the rootstock/cultivar combination and soil type and depth

Stakes need to be treated with a wood preservative to ensure they last right through the establishment period

Ensure stakes are vertical and correctly positioned a foot's width from the base of the trunk

In later years once trees are well anchored, stakes may need to be removed to facilitate shaking

Trees must be tied to their stakes immediately after planting

Ties should be placed below the lowest shoot/feather and within about 2cm [1"] of the top of the stake to prevent rubbing

Ties must allow space of at least 10cm (4″) between the tree and the stake to prevent rubbing damage

Ties secured to the trunk must allow for expansion of the trunk diameter

The tie should be tightly secured to the stake to reduce slipping

Ties need to be checked regularly, ensuring that they are in place and not too tight around the trunk. If ties are allowed to cut into the bark this can result in serious canker problems or death of the tree

If the site is not securely fenced against rabbits and hares, young trees will need to be protected by individual trunk guards immediately after planting

Rabbits and hares can still cause damage to quite large trees of some varieties

Guards need to be high enough to protect against rabbits standing on their hind legs to feed

Guards must allow for trunk expansion and be regularly adjusted or replaced

One potential disadvantage of tree guards is that some of the lower feathers of the nursery tree may need to be removed which will slow development to full cropping

Tree guards are prone to damage by machinery operating close to the tree, with tree shakers being most damaging

Guards must allow for trunk expansion, and be regularly adjusted or replaced

Spiral plastic guards are cheap and easy to apply but are only suitable on very young trees and are best avoided since they tend to keep the trunk wet for longer periods and can increase disease (canker/collar rot) risk

Wire mesh guards are a good choice, but are more labour intensive to fit initially and are easily deformed by tree shakers

Use 25 x 25 mm mesh wire for guards

Wrap around perforated plastic guards are preferred. These expand with the tree as the trunk grows and are less likely to be damaged by tree shakers.

Liz Copas - NACM advisor