Now is the time to plant fruit (and nut) trees. Before a fruit tree is planted, make sure there is adequate space. Most fruit trees require an area 25 feet by 25 feet. The site must have a full day’s sun. And, a single blight resistant pear tree, properly cared for, can eventually produce two bushels of fruit (about one hundred pounds ) so don’t plant too many fruit trees for your needs or your ability to care for them.
Fruit trees (especially bare root ones) are best planted in mid-winter to allow time for root development prior to spring growth. First, clear the site of weeds or grass, and till or spade an area at least 4 feet by 4 feet. Any hard pan (layer) beneath the soil should be broken up. Level the site, and till again. Organic matter may be added to the planting area, but it is unnecessary, and never add fertilizer. To allow for drainage, the site may be built up so that the tree will be sitting on a small berm.
Plant the tree in the middle of the tilled area in a hole as big as the root system, usually about 12 inches wide, and as deep as the root system. Plant the tree and refill the soil to the same depth that the tree grew in at the nursery, being careful the tree does not settle too deep. Mulch the area around the trunk with about three inches of compost, pine straw, or mulch to prevent weeds and to keep the ground warmer during the winter. In April or May, as the grass greens up, spray 3 or 4 feet around the base of the tree with glyphosate herbicide if weeds are a problem (being careful not to spray leafy sprouts on the trunk) or add new mulch to keep the weeds out and the ground cooler during the summer. It is critical that this be done if the tree is to perform well. If you do little else, maintain this weed-free circle around the tree.
Only plant varieties adapted to and recommended for this area. Many types of fruit and nut trees don’t grow well or at all here, especially northern and European selections. Select mid-size trees; they are cheaper and grow better than larger trees. Plus, it is far easier to cut 3- to 4-foot trees back to 18 to 24 inches, than to prune 5- to 6-foot trees. Such strong pruning is necessary to remove apical dominance, put the top in balance with a reduced root system, and force out strong vigorous shoots which are easy to train. The trees should have healthy white roots with no brown streaks. Be sure to prune off broken or shriveled roots. With proper care, it is highly possible for your fruit tree to fruit the second year after planting. For a list of recommended fruit and nut varieties for Smith County, see the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service-Smith County website. For more information on growing specific fruits and nuts in Texas, go to “Fruit and Nut Resources” on the Aggie Horticulture website.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com), and follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More science-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.