How to buy a good fruit tree

If you’re going to plant fruit trees this winter (and haven’t ordered any from Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery), then it’s time to be either getting your order in (they close on June 30), or thinking about buying trees from a nursery.

To give you an idea of the average size of a new tree, this is what a bare-rooted tree will usually look like when you buy it (these are plum trees we’ve grown in our on-farm nursery):

A plum tree that's just been dug up out of the nursery
A plum tree that’s just been dug up out of the nursery

There’s a number of things you can do to give your fruit trees the best possible start in life, and choosing a good tree at the nursery is the first step.

Most nurseries are reputable, and most trees you buy are in excellent condition, however there are still things to look for to help you choose the healthiest trees available.

If you buy fruit trees at a market, make sure the roots haven't been allowed to dry out

If you buy fruit trees at a market, make sure the roots haven’t been allowed to dry out
  1. Check the roots – they should look moist, and not dry. Be careful buying bare-rooted trees at markets for example, which may have had their roots exposed for long periods. Even if the roots look wet when you buy them, it’s worth asking how long they’ve been out of the ground, and how they’ve been looked after between markets (because the trees may be going to multiple markets before they’re bought).
  2. Check the age of the tree – trees that have been at the nursery for more than 1 or 2 years are at increased risk of transplant shock when moved. Be cautious with trees in pots, as this is often what happens to left-over trees from previous years.
  3. Are the buds healthy?
  4. How much did the tree grow last year? This is a good indication of health.
  5. Does the bark look healthy and free of disease?
Trees waiting for collection with their roots wrapped to prevent them drying out
Trees waiting for collection with their roots wrapped to prevent them drying out

When you get your trees home, ensure the roots are kept moist and covered until you plant them.

If you don’t have time to plant your trees straight away, you can also use a method called ‘heeling in’ to keep them in good condition.

You’ll find guidance on the next step towards a healthy mature tree, which is how to plant your tree correctly (including a video), in our Plant New Fruit Trees the Right Way online short course.

Fancy a cup of compost tea?

Having our morning cuppa - of tea, not compost!
Having our morning cuppa – of tea, not compost!

We’re always banging on about soil being the foundation of your entire food growing system, and how important it is to be constantly improving it.

So one of the common questions we’re asked, is “how?”

There are lots of techniques available to help you improve soil, like adding aged chicken manure, and compost (and we’re big fans of them). However one of the most useful (though least understood) is brewing your own compost tea.

We brew it on a big scale (as you can see in the photo below), but it’s also easy to make on a home garden scale.

Our 1,000 L compost tea brewer set up for demonstration at a workshop
Our 1,000 L compost tea brewer set up for demonstration at a workshop

So, what is it? It’s probably easiest to start with what it’s NOT, which is compost extract.

Compost extract is made by putting compost in water and swishing it around or leaving it to soak. You can do a similar thing with weeds to make a weed tea or weed extract. They’re both fantastic things to do, but all they do is to put the nutrients and any microbes present into solution.

This method doesn’t increase the number of microbes in the brew, and that’s the point of compost tea.

Hugh showing off his bathtub full of rich worm castings, which will be used to make compost tea
Hugh showing off his bathtub full of rich worm castings, which will be used to make compost tea

To brew compost tea we start with a small amount of something that’s rich in microbes, e.g., good compost, worm castings, or leaf litter from under a mature gum tree are all perfect for this. Then we put the source material in water, agitate it to knock the microbes off, then add microbe food and oxygen for 24-48 hours and voila! The microbes breed like…well, like microbes (that is, REALLY fast when conditions are right).

Components for the compost tea brewer
Components for the compost tea brewer

This turns a small amount of healthy microbes (bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and protozoa) into a huge number in a very short time.

On the farm we always check the brew to make sure we’ve actually got the right kind of microbes, but that’s not necessary in a home-brew situation, as long as you follow the guidelines.

Hugh checking the compost tea to make sure it's full of microbes (and not just brown water!)
Hugh checking the compost tea to make sure it’s full of microbes (and not just brown water!)

Then we just put the tea on the soil under our fruit trees, and let the microbes go to work. 

If you want to know more about this simple and very effective method of quickly building healthy soil, we’ve designed a short course just for you! It’s called The Art of Compost Tea, it includes plans for making a home-sized brewer, and you can download it here.

How to tell the difference between fruit buds and leaf buds

This week’s pruning tip is about the difference between leaf buds and fruit buds – a very useful thing to know before you start making any cuts, to make sure you don’t accidentally remove all the fruit buds with overzealous pruning.

Terminal fruit bud and leaf buds on an apple lateral
Terminal fruit bud and leaf buds on an apple lateral

Generally speaking, fruit buds are plumper and furrier than leaf buds, which tend to be slim, flat and smooth. Peaches and nectarines are probably the easiest to see – the photo below shows some lovely fat and furry peach fruit buds.

Fat peach fruit buds about to burst into flower
Fat peach fruit buds about to burst into flower

Peaches often have a triple bud, with a skinny leaf bud in the middle flanked by two fruit buds either side, as you can clearly see in the photo below.

A triple peach bud - two flower buds separated by a leaf bud
A triple peach bud – two flower buds separated by a leaf bud

The buds look a bit different on every fruit type, so it can be harder on some trees to tell the difference.

In these photos of pears above and below, the red arrows indicate fruit buds, and the blue arrows are pointing to leaf buds.


So before you start your pruning, have a close look at the buds until you feel confident you can identify the fruit buds, make sure you don’t cut them all off, and if you need extra support download our Pruning Mature Fruit Trees short online course.