Podcast

Plant Fruit in the Fall

Triangle Gardener podcast logoFruit can be easily grown in our area if you make the right choices.  Charles Murphy explains the basics for successfully adding fruit to any home garden —even a very small one.  Fall is the best time to plant fruit trees in our area, so start making your plans.

 

Garden Destinations logoThanks to our sponsor Garden Destinations Magazine for making this episode possible

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As a service to our followers, we offer a complete transcript of this show

JENKINS

Welcome to the Triangle Gardener show. We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina.  We’re gearing up for the fall planting season and I’ve got pie on my mind.  So I’m on a mission to see just how home grown, home-made food can be.

MURPHY

And gardening is partly is about being patient and waiting for things to do what they’re supposed to do, when they’re supposed to do it.

JENKINS

Thanks to Garden Destinations who sponsored this story.  Garden Destinations is a new digital magazine for travelers who want to include the world’s finest public gardens and garden destinations in their travel plans.  You can find them at their website, GardenDestinations.com

Now, on with today’s story…

JENKINS

It’s a little too warm to be planting today, but I have thoughts of the future and cooler weather to come.  So I’m talking with my friend Charles Murphy who is the orchard manager at the Briggs Avenue Community Garden.  Charles, you know my yard.  It’s a tiny, tiny suburban yard and I want to plant fruit trees this year. What should I think about? Tell me about the basics. How do I do this Charles?

MURPHY

Ok Lise, let’s back up just a minute and talk about fruit trees in general and not just in your yard but in this area.  Because we’re talking about an area where everything doesn’t do as well as it might in other places. But there’s three things I like to start with. I call them the 3Ss.  One is site, one is sun, and the third one is soil.  So site.  You said you have a small yard.  A mature apple tree, for example, could go as high as 20-25 feet and with a spread of maybe 15-18 feet across.  Obviously that’s not going to work in a kitchen garden.  You need more space and it needs more space.  So you want to think about when you’re looking at a site not only how much space do I have now, but how is this going to develop over the years.  Because the next S that’s very important is sunlight. Fruit trees really do like direct sunlight and they like a lot of it. They don’t do well in shade.  They don’t do well in 2-3 hours of direct sunlight, they want 6-8 hours of direct sunlight, or more.

If we were looking at your yard for example, let’s take a look.  Are there some trees around the boarder? Or something like that that were there when the lot was graded.  What are they going to be like in 10 years?  Because the fruit tree is there for the long haul.  If you put it out now in your yard and it’s getting loads, and loads of sun but in 2-3 years it’s down to 2-3 hours and in a few years it’s down to partial shade it really isn’t going to work out very well.  So siting is #1 rule.  Sun is how much is it getting now and how much do you think its going to get in the future? Because this is a long-term project.  And then soil. There are two things you should think about doing before you take on any planting project. One is to have a soil test analysis done.  Where you actually dig around the planting area and you make a soil sample and we take it over to the soil lab at NC State University and they analyze it and they give you back a report.  The report will give you information like soil nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium (N,P,K) and things like that which are important for plant growth and fruit growth.  And will also suggest amendments which should be made to the soil.  So before you go out and get that tree, even if you think the site is right, find out if you’re going to need to do anything to amend the soil to the point that it will be more amenable for the tree to grow.

JENKINS

Charles, you’re not going to deter me. I want to grow fruit.  But maybe an apple tree isn’t the best choice for me.  What are some options here in the Piedmont that I can grow successfully here?

MURPHY

Some things that will do very well here are blueberries, for example. People don’t think of blueberries when they are thinking fruit tree —it’s a fruit shrub or fruiting bush.  Blueberries are a very big crop in NC.  Blueberries will do well here with relatively minimal care. They are subject to some diseases but their subjectivity is less than it might be for some other fruit varieties. One thing about blueberries is they require an acidic soil.  So they want a soil pH of 6 or lower. This is where we go back to the soil test, that we talked about before.  That will give you the information you need.

You’re growing blueberries, you’re going to have birds.  Birds like blueberries too.  It may be necessary to do some sort of cover after bloom while the berries are beginning to ripen.  When they get ripe.  Something you can easily move around but you don’t have to struggle with it when you want to pick, but something that will discourage birds.

Another thing that does well here is figs. Figs are great, they like it here.  There are two varieties of figs that do especially well.  One is called Brown Turkey and the other is Celeste.  Celeste I’m told is supposed to be a little more cold hardy.  But the Brown Turkey is a good cold resistant tree as long as we don’t have long periods of really sub-freezing temperatures.  It does pretty well in our winters. Figs have a very low maintenance profile.  You get the fig in  the right place.   Now they like sun, they like well-drained soil.  They’re like everything else. They don’t really like wet feet.  They like space, because they’re going to get pretty large.  If you get it in and get it through its first year or so and its happy where it is, you basically don’t have to do anything except harvest them every year.  Occasionally prune back the tree.  Because it is going to get large.  If you have it in a place in your yard where the tree has now become an inconvenience because its leaning out over the driveway or it’s breaking down the fence or something like that. Then you will have to prune it. So before you put it there think about what’s it going to be like in five years or so.

JENKINS

You’ve given me some really great options for choices that I need to think through.  How do I go about finding a tree and what should I look for when I’m choosing my tree or shrub?

MURPHY

You’ll notice every spring, April into May, you start going around town and shopping centers and big box stores places like that. You see trees. Fruit trees, peach trees, apple trees, cherry trees, pecan trees, all sorts of things. They’re out on the pavement out front of the store and they’ve got leaves on them and it’s spring time and everybody thinks “Wow, great.”  Don’t get into that.  There’s a couple reasons for not getting into that.  Number one, these are all bare root trees they’re not in pots —grown in containers. They’ve been grown to a point where they can be taken out of the container, or out of the soil, probably.  And then they’re shipped bare root. The roots have to be kept moist and they have to be kept from drying out and getting too hot.  So in transport and storage and waiting  —sitting out here in front of the store, this may not be a very good idea.  These roots are likely to suffer from not enough water, too high temperature and too long out of the ground.  Roots don’t like to be up in the air. Roots go under ground, that’s their environment. I don’t want to be pessimistic here, but I suspect the success rate for bare-root trees put out in April and May is really pretty low in this area.  So think about it,  you’ve got some time to plan. Because the best time to start planting these, actually putting them in the ground, will be around October or maybe even up to November, up to Thanksgiving for that matter.  A one-year old tree if you can get it is probably a good bet. The tree is young enough that it isn’t going to have to support a lot of above ground growth yet.  But its old enough to have developed a good root system and good structure.  So a one or two-year old tree is something like 3 and 6 feet tall.

JENKINS

Tell me what I need to do to plant a fruit tree.  Is it different from planting any other type of tree?  What steps should I take to ensure I’m successful?

MURPHY

Soil here is very compact and heavy for the most part.  It’s clay and clay makes an excellent hardpan. The problem is that we don’t want a hardpan.  We want a soil that is lose enough and open enough for roots to move through relativity easily.  Put the tree down where you think you want it. Look at the pot.  If the pot is 12” across at the top, you want to dig the hole that is three times that wide. You want a big diameter hole. The reason you want a big diameter hole is that the roots are going to run out from the tree.  They’re going to run sideways from the central stem.

Now, how deep?  You don’t want to plant the tree any deeper than it sits in the pot.  What I like to do, is dig your hole, estimate how deep you think it should be, look at the pot and look at the hole.  And then take the tree in the container and put it down in the middle of the hole.  And then do a site line from the top of the pot where the tree’s soil line level is to the edge of your hole.  If it’s uphill to the tree you need to make it a little deeper.  If it’s downhill to the tree you need to come back in and fill in a little bit.  So when you take the tree out of the pot, it’s going to be at the level it should be.

The roots will be visible and you may see some roots that have begun to circle around the root ball because they were growing but ran into the pot wall and so they had to follow the curve of the pot wall. If that’s the case, then you have to open them up.  You’d like the roots to be spread out.  I think it’s not a bad idea to take a sharp knife, like a utility knife or a pruning knife, and if you’ve got thick roots that are beginning to circle around go ahead and cut them.  It isn’t going to harm anything.  Where they cut they’re going to develop new growth.  If the root continues to grow round and round then what its going to do is sort of girdling the tree .  It will grow round and round but it won’t grow out.  Which means that any nutrients it need will have to come right from the site where the tree is, not from the environment the tree is in. So you want to make sure you can spread these roots out.

Once you get it in the ground, support it.  Have somebody hold it.  If you think its going to need a stake later on, put the stake in now while you can see what you’re doing.  And then start to re-fill the hole.  Refilling the hole with the soil you took out.  If you need to amend the soil, amend it before you put it back in.  Refill the hole to about 2/3 the depth you want.  Then go in and compact the soil around the tree.  Don’t press it really hard, but what you’re trying to do is close open spaces so that the roots are all in contact with soil, not with the air.  Roots don’t do well in contact with air. So you compact the soil a little bit.  This is a good time to put some water in.  Soak it until you see that it’s wet.  You don’t have to have water bubbling out of the hole but you want to make sure it’s thoroughly moistened, throughly wet.  Then come along and refill the hole all the way.  When you get to the top do the same thing.  Come in and compact the soil around the tree, give it another watering. Some people like to build up a little berm around the edges of the planting hole area that will act as a dam and hold water.  That’s not a bad idea.  If you’ve got some extra soil or if you want to use some rocks or something you can build a little berm around there to just help hold water.  Again, water the tree until you think it’s moist all the way through.  And then mulch it.  I think mulching is a good idea even in the winter time.  You can use hardwood bark, shredded hardwood bark, pine bark fines —the little tiny thumbnail size pieces of pine bark, not the big chunks.  You can even use shredded newspaper.  It’s not very elegant, but it works.  The idea of mulching is to help hold moisture in the soil to keep the roots, the top part of the roots area, from drying out too rapidly.  It helps maintain an even temperature as well.  It protects from extreme changes above ground by help keeping the upper part of the below ground zone reasonably constant.

JENKINS

Charles do I have to water my tree after I’ve got it planted throughout the winter?  I’m not used to dragging hoses around in the winter, but do I need to water my trees in the winter?

MURPHY

Generally I would say probably not.  The sort of default answer is, it depends.  It depends on are we getting rainfall.  Typically our autumn is a dry time and we may not get much rain. Our winter rainy season begins around mid to late November, some time in there.  Usually.  If we are getting usually good rains, I would say no.  I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s not like summer time.  Again a lot of growth above the ground that it has to support.  There’s no sap movement and water movement up and down in the tree cells.  So I wouldn’t make a big deal out of watering it in the winter.  If we have a prolonged dry spell, say the first 2 or 3 weeks of December we get zero precipitation, no rain, no snow, no nothing it might not be a bad idea.  Don’t over water, give it what you think is a decent soaking.  If you need to replace the mulch, replace the mulch and then I think that probably will do.  It would be nice if there was an accurate way to measure moisture at the root level.  But the roots aren’t going to dry out.  The air is fairly typically pretty cold, there’s not a lot of evaporation going on. Their reasonably stable and I would suggest not over worrying about it and certainly not over watering.  If you want to water, if you really feel the need to okay.  But do it gently and with some restraint.

JENKINS

Once I get all this done how long should I, how long is this going to take before I can bake a pie?

MURPHY

This is going to vary.  Fig trees, for example, are early producers.  Even a young fig tree —a year or two old, may be producing plenty of figs. It’s not not heard of. Some of the larger fruit trees —pears, apples, peaches will be longer in a juvenile period —I won’t call it that.  A period where they’re not mature enough to be producing too much fruit.  Now, you may well get blooms the first year.  They’ll probably be scattered and not a big heavy bloom. If they bloom and get pollenated you may well get a small apple or a small peach or plum or two, or something like that.  But I wouldn’t expect significant production from these trees for the first three years, or so.  Which again, sounds a little discouraging. But remember this tree is going to live 30 years or 40 years.  If you take care of it.  Which means a lot of apple, a lot of peaches if it produces.  And gardening is partly is about being patient and waiting for things to do what their supposed to do, when they’re supposed to do it. So don’t be too hopeful, it’s not like Christmas eve.  Don’t get your hopes up too big about, oh we’re going to get a big apple crop this year because that tree just went in in November. No. Probably not.  We may get an apple, we may get a couple of apples even.  That will be fine, that will be fun.  We can say, hey look what’s going on in our yard this year.  But for full production the tree is going to have to mature and that’s going to take a little while.

JENKINS

So I guess if I’m going to have my pie, I need to do a soil test and start making my plans.

MURPHY

Yes, I think so.  I think that this will be a good time to do it.  It’s not too early.

JENKINS

Charles, thank you.  You’ve given me some great tips and I am going to start making my plans.

MURPHY

Very good, and I appreciate the opportunity to do this.  I love talking about it.  I think it great fun.

JENKINS

You can find links to soil testing information and other resources on our website, TriangleGardener.com. Here at Triangle Gardener we want to know what edible plants work well in your gardens.  So we’ve joined the national PlantSomething campaign and we’re asking you to tell us what edible plants you enjoy growing here by using the hashtag #PlantSomethingEdible in your social media postings. So tag your favorite edible plants on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and anywhere else in your digital world with #PlantSomethingEdible.

You can find our show on iTunes.  If you like what we’re doing give us a review.  I’m Lise Jenkins. This is the Triangle Gardener show. We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. Thanks for listening.