Now is the best time to plant fruit trees as they have the rest of winter and all of spring to establish before they hit their first summer.
I love fruit trees and other fruiting plants, having gathered a nice collection of various types, over a period of time.
When choosing what fruiting plants you are going to grow it is important to select the types of fruit that you and your family most enjoy and then to pick the cultivars that are most suitable and productive for your locality.
It is a waste of time buying say an apricot that needs a cold winter followed by a warm spring if these climatic conditions don’t exist in your region. It is better to buy one that bears well without a real winter chilling. A number of fruiting trees require a suitable pollinator to obtain good crops, which means you need to buy two different cultivars to ensure that you have a good fruit set.
For example, now days we can find plums that have a double graft, meaning that two varieties of plums will be produced on the same root stock.
The varieties chosen for the grafting will often be the pollinators, so only one tree is needed but two types of plums will be harvested. For a time some nurseries were producing triple or more varieties onto the same root stock. These were more difficult to produce and often one graft would fail in preference of the other two. Even if the three did take nicely it would mean some complicated pruning to ensure that the three parts preformed equally and in many cases one would ultimately fail. I not sure if these multi-grafted trees are still available and in many ways they can be a waste of time and effort. Even with a twin graft one has to monitor the two aspects to ensure both are growing equally well without one superseding the other.
With apples and some other grafted fruit you may have the choice of the type of root stock such as MM106 etc. The root stock type will help determine the ultimate size of the tree and thus the amount of fruit it can bear. These are MM106, 4-5metres MM793, 3.5-4metres and EM9 2.5-3m The latter is also referred to dwarfing root stock. This can be a great advantage for people with smaller sections.
Some types maybe labelled ‘Self Fertile’ which means you have no need for another tree as a pollinator. Others may have their name on the label along with recommended pollinators. These are important aspects to consider when you are buying any fruiting tree. Self fertile will produce good crops but better again if there is a second suitable cultivar or the same species planted nearby. Another tip, because of the lack of feral bees in parts of New Zealand, if you plant your fruit tree down wind (prevailing wind) of your pollinator, you will likely have a better fruit set due to pollen been breeze carried.
Having a small section myself, I now grow any new fruit trees as container plants.
There is many advantages to this, you can grow many more trees in containers than you could ever grow in open ground. The containers restrict the root system making for smaller trees, no matter what root stock they are on. Smaller trees are easier to manage, spray, and been in a container, less loss of nutrients from leaching away. Crops are smaller but minimal wastage, as you tend to eat all the fruit produced. They are easier to protect from birds as the fruit ripens. If you move house you can take your fruit trees with you without too much of a hassle.
For those that are interested in growing trees in containers, here is how I do it.
Firstly choose the largest plastic rubbish tin you can find. (About 76 litres) Avoid black plastic ones, as they can cook the roots if in strong direct sunlight. If you can find commercial 200 litre plastic drums then they are ideal cut in half.
Drill about 40-50mm wide holes in the sides of the bin about 100 mm up from the bottom for drainage. This leaves an area at the base, for surplus water in the summer. Some of mine I partially dig into the soil and if I want the roots to enter into the soil I will place about 4 holes 40-50mm wide in the bottom as well as 4 at the cardinal points on the sides. (If you move you can easily wrench the tree and container from the ground) I have used this part buried method, for my citrus trees and passion fruit vines to avoid root rots in winter.
Now for a growing medium to fill the containers, don’t waste your money on potting mixes as they lack the long term goodness that a tree needs. Instead use a manure based compost. There are organic mulches and composts available from most garden centres, that are made of bark fines, composted with animal manures. Add to this a few handfuls of clean top soil, mixed or layered through. I also add in worm-casts and worms from my worm farm. The worms help keep the heavier composts open and also supply a continuous source of nutrients. You can if you like add in sheep manure pellets and Rok Solid. Plant up your tree so that the soil level is about 100mm below the rim of the container. This allows for easy watering and feeding. I mulch the top of the mix in spring with old chook manure and apply Fruit and Flower Power (Magnesium and potassium) once a month during the fruiting period. Other foods can be applied as needed. If the roots are not allowed into the surrounding soil, you will need to lift the tree out of the container every 2-3 years and root prune by cutting off the bottom one third of the roots with a saw. New compost and a bit of soil is placed in this area vacated and the tree put back in the container. This is best done in winter when the tree is dormant.
Another interesting thing to try is making a grape vine into a column or weeping vine.
I saw these several years back, where grape vines had been grown in containers and pruned so that they were just a upwards growing pole-like plant (when cut back in winter) These grapes stood about 2 metres out of the containers and had trunks up to 100mm in diameter. The new laterals would appear off the trunk in the spring and with the weight of the grapes made a nice looking weeper covered in grapes.
To achieve this, simply obtain a grape vine that has a reasonably tallish trunk and leader. Secure these to a suitable stake and remove all other laterals while its dormant. The following winter prune hard back to this original form and repeat every winter.