Do you have a fruit tree or trees in your yard that just don’t seem to know how to make fruit. Are you frustrated with your fruit trees and their lack of adequate fruit production? I know it can be frustrating, but here’s the deal . . .
Fruit trees are programed at birth to be robotic fruit producing machines. It’s all they know how to do. Make leaves, put on new growth each season, make flowers, later in the season make fruit. Rinse and repeat. It’s really the only thing they know how to do.
So why doesn’t it work?
If your fruit trees seem to have dropped their built in program and just can’t get fruit production right, chances are, there are some environmental conditions at play that you can adjust and get your fruit trees back on track.
Does the age of the tree make a difference in fruit production?
It does. Young trees need from two to five years before they really start blooming profusely which is what you need for good fruit production. Apple and apricot trees need at least two years, sour cherry and peach at least three years, pear at least four years and sweet cherry and quince can take up to five years before they really start producing fruit. So age of the tree does mean something.
What about soil conditions?
Soil conditions are extremely important. Probably more important that anything else in the equation because healthy happy trees make more fruit. Poor soil conditions make for a tree that is struggling and stressed. Insect and diseases are more likely to attack a weak tree or a tree that is under a great deal of stress.
Happy trees make lots of fruit.
A tree that is growing along mightily and appears to be perfectly happy with it’s environment is going to fight off insects and diseases better than an unhappy tree. A happy tree means a more vibrant tree, a tree free of insect and disease issues, therefore bountiful fruit production. When you think about it, it’s a pretty simple equation. However, this is where and how it all goes wrong.
Be careful about how, when or why you amend the soil when you plant new fruit trees.
What kind of soil do you have? What, if any amending does it need? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Sometimes we gardeners do harm when we are really trying to do the right thing. If you have pretty good soil in your yard just plant your tree and back fill around it with the soil you have. If your soil is dark brown and not sticky like mud your fruit trees should be perfectly happy in it.
How to amend soil that is sand and gravel.
Sand and gravel that doesn’t appear to have much at all in the way of nutritional value might not be as bad as you think. I learned this back when I was building my Original Backyard Nursery. My yard was pure sand and gravel, very little topsoil, mostly gravel. I dug out some areas in the yard to build cold frames and a greenhouse pit etc and had large piles of soil that I excavated. I had four large piles of soil piled up in my backyard from this excavation effort and most of the soil in those piles was nothing but lots and lots of gravel. One pile for sure seemed troubling to me because I dug down about 24″ for my sunken greenhouse so that pile of soil contained almost zero soil! Or so it seemed. It was nothing but gravel.
None the less, I had to do something with those piles of soil and hauling them away was not an option so I created the gardens that you see near the bottom of the page. Look closely at the plants in the mounds.
Most of that soil was gravel, a little sand, but mostly gravel, little or no organic matter. When I planted the trees and shrubs that you see on those mounds I simply dug holes and dropped in the plants. No peat moss, no compost, no fertilizer. Nothing! I just dug a hole and dropped in the plants. They not only did amazingly well, they thrived. I mean they thrived! I learned something.
If you have sand and gravel in your yard this is what I recommend in the way of soil amendments. When you back fill the hole mix in some bagged or well rotted cow manure or well rotted compost. It won’t do any harm and it is sure to help. Do you have to? No, I certainly didn’t when I built those planting mounds, but I’m sure the plants would have appreciated it.
Sell your house! Just kidding, just kidding. Clay soil is challenging, so much so that I would be an extremely unhappy person if I had a yard full of really poor clay soil. But . . . I would deal with it, and I would make it work.
Around here I’ve landscaped so many homes, well over 500 homes, I know what areas have good soil, what areas have terrible soil, and that played a big part in my decision to buy the place that I did. When I bought my nursery property three years ago I knew immediately, as soon as I saw the for sale sign in the yard, that that particular area in Perry, Ohio had well drained sandy soil and that’s what really excited me about the property. It took me less than 20 minutes to make that buying decision. I was sold! And today I’m very happy with that decision.
Fruit trees (really all plants) do not like clay soil because it suffocates the roots. The roots cannot breath. Plant roots must have the ability to transfer oxygen through the soil to the root systems. If that can’t happen the plants suffer or flat out die. So when you set out to amend your clay soil for the planting of fruit trees, you really have to think this through before you start. You have to be aware of . . .
The Bathtub Effect!
Also known as how to kill a plant in no time flat!
If you dig a hole in clay soil, stick in a tree, bare root or balled, it doesn’t make a difference, then back fill around that tree with things like peat moss, compost, really good topsoil, you are thinking that you have done a wonderful thing for your new tree. The materials that you used to back fill the hole are nice and loose and porous. The plant will be able to breath nicely! Job well done! Not so fast!
What you have really done is you have created a way for water to get into the hole that you dug, but there’s no way for the water to get out. Your tree is going to drown. Literally drown, because once the hole fills up with water the tree can’t breath. I see this all the time!
How to plant in clay soil.
When planting in clay soil what you really need to do is only dig part of a hole and only put part of the tree ball in the ground. I say no more than half of the ball should be in the ground, but I really like only 25% of the tree ball in the ground better. Then cover the part of the ball that is exposed above ground with an ample amount really nice soil that is really high in organic matter. But, but, but, but . . .
Make sure you get it right!
This is exactly how you do it. Dig your shallow hole. Drop the ball into the hole. At least half of the ball should be above grade. Before you do anything else, back fill around the ball with the same soil that you removed from the hole. That’s right, back fill around the tree ball with the clay soil, but only enough to fill in around the ball. Dispose of the clay soil that you don’t need. You see, that will keep the hole from filling up with water. We are actually sealing around the ball of the tree with the clay soil to keep excess water out.
Bring on the good stuff!
Now your tree should be partially planted, at least 50% of the ball still exposed to the air. Now start filling around the exposed part of the ball with good, rich topsoil. But you really need to make this “raised area” much wider that the ball itself because with the ball being raised out of the ground like it is it’s going to dry out more easily, and you need a place for the tree to grow new roots. So if you tree ball is 12″ in diameter I am suggesting that you create a raised bed that is 36″ in diameter.
Sure this is a lot of work and a lot more effort, but you are doing a good thing for your fruit tree. Consider it a long term investment.
This is what I know about people and their plants.
When somebody has a plant that is not doing well, not making enough fruit, or making really poor fruit, they go looking for the solution and conclude that their plant must be suffering from xyz disease or is being secretly eaten alive by xyz bug, when in fact, the only thing wrong with the tree is that it is not happy with where it’s planted or how it was planted.
Three things to look for.
There are three things that typically make plants unhappy. One, being planted too deep. Even in really good soil the top of the plant root ball should be about one inch above grade then covered with about an inch of soil then two to three inches of mulch. That allows the roots of the plant to breath which is really important.
Two. Planted in really poor soil and the top of the root ball being covered with poor soil. The plant simply cannot breath. The tree or the plant is literally suffocating.
Three. Too wet. This happens for a lot of different reasons. The tree is planted in clay soil, the hole is too deep, too wide and filled with porous material. The water can get in but cannot get out. Putting gravel in the bottom of the hole does absolutely no good! All that does is makes more room for stagnant water to stand and no way for the water to get out.
Maybe the area in which the tree is planted tends to hold water. You cannot plant a tree in a wet area and expect it to “dry up the area”. All that will happen is the tree will die.
Lastly, but more common than you think. Somebody over watering the plant thinking they are doing a good thing. People tend to think that newly planted plants need lots and lots of water and just keep turning the hose on the plant. Before you water, stick you hand down into the soil and feel the soil. It should be cool and moist, not wet and soggy. You can buy a moisture meeter for just a few dollars.
Know what I think?
I think that’s why most fruit trees don’t make the fruit that people expect them to. Quite simply, they are not happy! There is an issue with where or how they were planted.
What else could cause a lack of fruit production?
Pollination. Fruit trees make flowers, then those flowers have to be pollinated before that bloom can turn into fruit. Some fruit trees are self pollinators, most are not. For instance with apple trees, you have to plant at least two, if not more, different,varieties in fairly close proximity to each other so they can cross pollinate. This is true for just about all fruit trees. It’s a bit of a dating ritual, they need to get out and meet new people. Then they’ll make fruit. Since trees are stationary and can’t get around to meet new people, they order in! They depend on bees and other insects to pick up pollen from one tree and deliver it to other trees.
Take care of the bees!
Be careful to not over care for your fruit trees spraying all kinds of insecticides and such. If you spray when the trees are in bloom you are certain to kill off many of your pollinators in the process.
Is Mike McGroarty an organic farmer?
No. I’d be lying if I said I was because organic farmers never use pesticides. Me? I’m not an organic farmer, but I do use as many organic practices in my yard and my nursery as I possibly can. But I do use chemicals for weed control in my nursery. As far as other pesticides, I really try to not use them. But by law I am required to keep my nursery stock disease and pest free so occasionally I may need to do some spraying. But I only do so when I am faced with a problem. Over the years I’ve learned that the longer you take to grow a plant the more issues it can develop, that’s why I love growing and selling small plants! I turn them over really quickly! They seldom develop pest issues.
Questions? Comments? Something mean to say?
For the last couple of articles that I’ve published I’ve had a couple of people go into attack mode, saying mean things to me. Whatever, it comes the gig. Most of you are really, really kind to me and I love you for that! Cheers!