Fruits of labour

HARVEST TIME: Now is a good time to  plant dormant fruit trees.
HARVEST TIME: Now is a good time to plant dormant fruit trees.
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When’s the best time to plant fruit trees and bushes? That’s yet another perennial poser for many a gardener who wants to do things just right.

Well, the answer is now, although if the soil isn’t frozen or too wet, bare-rooted fruit bushes and trees can be planted any time during their dormant season – which means right through winter and probably as late as March.

And container-grown plants are even more accommodating because they are ready to be planted out at any time – as long as the ground conditions are favourable – which, again means not too wet and not too cold.

If there’s still a bit of late-summer warmth in the soil, then even better.

But as in all things gardening, preparation is the key, and to have the best chance of success, get the soil into top condition. Dig a deep, wide hole (plenty big enough to hold the roots with a bit of room to spare), breaking up the subsoil and then incorporating plenty of well-rotted manure or compost.

If the tree you’re planting is grown on dwarfing rootstocks (check before you buy to make sure the tree will fit and grow comfortably in the space you’ve got in your garden) you’ll need to support it with a stake, so hammer this in before you actually plant your tree and then you’ll avoid damaging the precious roots.

Any grafted fruit trees should be planted with the grafting joint above soil level; plant it below, and there’s a good chance the rootstock will start to root, which will affect the fruiting capacity of the tree. The graft is plain to see.

When the tree is in its new home, pack down the soil around the roots, filling in any potential air holes, and then tie the tree to its stake.

Over the following weeks, months and even years, you need to keep checking the tightness of the bond – too slack and it will allow the tree to rock; too tight and it will cut into the bark and damage the tree or provide a wound that can encourage infection.

When you’re happy with the tree and its tie, finish off the job by watering well and then applying a thick mulch of compost.

After that it’s a case of keeping an eye on your new charge – make it feel loved and it will, hopefully, reward you with years of wonderful harvests.