Harvesting fresh fruit from your home orchard can be a delicious way to add beauty and taste to your landscape and diet. The best time to plant fruit trees in Georgia is in the fall, according to a University of Georgia expert. “Growing fresh fruit can be rewarding and fun but can also provide its share of frustration,” said Bob Westerfield, a horticulturist with the UGA Cooperative Extension.
To start on the right path, choose an appropriate site. “Fruit trees will grow and produce in a broad range of soil types, but the best yields and longest-lived trees occur on loamy, well-drained soil,” he said. Avoid sites where water collects after a heavy rain and areas with poorly drained clay. Trees planted in full sun will yield the most fruit. A minimum of six hours of sunlight is needed for fruit trees to produce, but 8 to 10 hours is better.
Next, choose a young tree, one about one year old. “Experience has shown that younger trees bear almost as soon, are easier to keep alive and develop into more healthy vigorous trees than do oversized stock,” Westerfield said. “The older trees cost more to grow and are sold by higher prices, but are usually worth less.”
When digging the hole, bigger is better, Westerfield says. “If planting container fruit trees, the hole should be at least twice the size of the root ball,” he said. “Holes for planting bare root trees should be wide enough to accommodate the longest roots so they can spread out.” Do not add potting soil, fertilizer or any other soil amendments to the planting hole. Backfill the hole with the soil you dug up.
To plant, hold the tree in place so the graft union is just above ground level. Begin filling the hole with soil. Be sure to tamp backfill soil thoroughly to eliminate air pockets. Add a few gallons of water to settle the soil before completely filling the hole. Trees should be pruned immediately after planting. Cut the main shoot back to 30 inches above the ground at planting. “This procedure allows branches to form at desired levels, improves the strength of the tree and provides a balance between the top and the roots,” Westerfield said. “Initial pruning is important. It will set the tone for the future growth of the tree.”
Prune trees in late winter when the weather is mild or in early spring before growth starts. “Training the limbs of young trees is as important as making proper pruning cuts,” he said. “Those scaffold limbs selected to be the main framework should be spread out and held in a horizontal position to widen the angle with the main trunk and encourage early fruit bud formation and resulting early fruit production.” Wait until spring to fertilize.
Looking for fruit trees to plant? The Madison County 4-H is currently having their annual Fruit Tree Sale. Orders must be placed by November 6th and trees can be picked up on Friday, Nov. 20 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Proceeds go to the Madison County 4-H. Fruit trees for sale include: apple, pear, peach, pomegranate, muscadine, pecan, fig, blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry. Visit https://t.uga.edu/6i5 for a full list of varieties and prices.
Carole Knight is Madison County’s Extension Agent for Ag and Natural Resources.