How to Plant a Fruit Tree

It’s nitty gritty time! Time to get on the end of a shovel, dig a hole, and plant your fruit tree.

Digging a hole to plant a fruit tree
Digging a hole to plant a fruit tree

We often see fruit trees tied to elaborate staking arrangements, but if you plant them the right way, there’s no need for stakes at all, your tree should be totally self-supporting.

Let’s assume you’ve already chosen the right site for your trees, and have done some earlier soil preparation e.g., planted a green manure crop, dug in some compost or manure, or even deep ripped the site.

If you planted a green manure crop, ideally you will have dug it back into the soil a week or two before you plan to plant your trees. If not, it’s best to just cut and drop the plants on the surface of the ground, rather than dig in the green manure just prior to planting your tree, as the green manure will often decompose quickly in the ground, and can create quite a bit of heat, which is not good for your young tree’s roots. 

Don’t worry if you haven’t done any soil prep at all – it’s best to get the tree in the ground asap, and then work on the soil later.

It’s great if you can dip the tree’s roots in an inoculant of some sort to populate the roots with lots of good microbes (e.g., bacteria and fungi) that will help the tree get its nutrition as it grows.

Hugh stirring a lovely inoculant brew
Hugh stirring a lovely inoculant brew

We often use compost tea, or it’s also possible to buy ready-made inoculants, but unfortunately they usually come in industrial quantities.

Next, dig a hole! If you’ve done any soil prep before, the hole only needs to be big enough to accommodate the roots of your tree (and it’s fine to cut the roots back a bit to fit the hole, or to remove any damaged roots). The hole should be deep enough that when the tree is planted it will be at the level it was in the nursery.

A tree in the hole waiting to plant
A tree in the hole waiting to plant

If drainage is an issue, mound the soil up a bit and plant into this, to make sure that any heavy rainfall will be able to drain away from the roots, especially if you’re planting your tree in heavy clay. 

Add any amendments that you’re using, and mix a bit of soil back in.

Now position the tree in the hole so it’s upright, and hold it while you back-fill a few shovels of soil over the roots. Make sure the soil fills the gaps between the roots, and then carefully but firmly tamp the soil down around the roots. Now finish back-filling the hole.

In most situations you don’t need to water the tree in, unless you’re experiencing very dry soil conditions when you plant.

And finally, prune your tree!

A freshly planted (and pruned) cherry tree
A freshly planted (and pruned) cherry tree

Planting is a pretty simple process, though there are a few extra things to consider if you haven’t done any prior soil prep, you’re planting into heavy clay or very sandy soil, or are planting into a heavily weeded or pastured area without doing any soil prep, so we do go into quite a bit more detail about tree planting in the Planting Young Fruit Trees short course.

New fruit trees are a great investment in your garden and your future food security, and will be the beginning of a journey of exploration as you get to know your new tree, and learn how it performs in the location, your climate, and of course the level of care you give it!

Happy planting!

3 steps to a new tree with bud grafting

Do you know how to graft? Have you tried, but had mixed success? It’s not difficult, but has lots of aspects to it, and is one of those skills (like pruning) that needs practice to cement the theory.

We love it when people who have been to our workshops get back to us to let us know how they went, like this note from Judy, who came to a recent budding workshop.

Just writing to say how thrilled I am to be gazing in wonder and, I must say, anticipation at my very own young nectarines!! These be the first fruits of your terrific budding workshop!”

Judy’s budded nectarine!

If you haven’t heard of it before, budding is the type of grafting we do in summer, and it’s pretty easy. The technique is as simple as taking a single bud from the desired variety, and inserting it under the bark in the graft recipient tree, or rootstock.

It’s interesting that Judy sent us a photo of her nectarine tree, because though budding can be used for all fruit trees, it is the only type of grafting we routinely use for peaches and nectarines, as they tend to be very ‘gummy’ and the more traditional winter grafting techniques don’t usually work, as the big cuts that are required stimulate the trees to respond with a lot of sap, which prevents the graft from ‘taking’.

Grafting is literally thousands of years old. It was known to be used by the Chinese before 2000 BC.  It is one of the basic life skills that underpins our food security because it’s what turns a rootstock or seedling (which may not have good fruit on it) into a known “variety” that will bear reliable, high quality fruit.

Unfortunately it’s almost a lost art, and hardly anyone knows how to do it any more.

We’re on a mission to teach as many people as possible these skills, because if you know how to graft, and you know how to grow your own fruit trees from seed or cutting (which we also cover in our workshops) then you have the skills at your fingertips to create an endless supply of fruit trees for free for yourself, your family and friends, or even as the basis of a small business. 

So, here are the 3 basic steps involved for budding:

  1. Collect a piece of scion wood (grafting wood) from the new variety you want to graft onto your existing tree or rootstock;
  2. Cut a single bud from the piece of scion wood and insert it into a “T” shaped cut in a shoot on the tree you’re grafting onto. Insert the bud into the shoot
  3. Tape it up to seal it while the graft heals.
Our WWOOFer Norma taping up one of her bud grafts

If you’re intending to transform an entire tree to a new variety, then you need to do some preparation work in early spring. Remove most of the limbs from the tree and the tree will respond by growing a forest of new shoots to replace the limbs that have been removed. When it comes to budding time, select the shoots that are in the right place to create replacement limbs and bud them, removing all the other shoots.

Budding success!

We love passing these skills on to a whole new generation of food growers and have developed a short online course that includes theory and videos — you can access it here.

Once you understand the theory, then comes the practice! It’s a good idea to do some budding every year, to maintain and improve your skills. Judy was kind enough to attribute her success to our workshop, but in fact it’s actually her commitment to putting it into action that produced her success:

My good fortune is a result of your good teaching..clear, thorough, hands on..with plenty of practicing..can’t B faulted!! I’m about to do a lot more budding..being February!..Thanks heaps for a terrific course.”

Thanks Judy!

Why do you dream of growing your own?

Ah, the lifestyle dream. Everyone, it seems, wants to move to the country and grow their own food these days.
But why? What’s at the bottom of this passion that drives people to want to make the “tree change”?
For years I’ve been interested in the reasons for this, but have struggled to articulate them. It’s something I’ve also felt for most of my life, so I totally get it, but how do you describe that deep, yearning desire to grow your own food, let alone the incredible satisfaction and pride you feel when it works, and you harvest, cook and eat it?
We often comment when we sit down to a meal about how much of the meal we grew ourselves, or came from neighbours, friends or family.
We’re in the incredibly fortunate position of having lived on a farm for 20 years now (and growing up here as well), so we’ve had plenty of time to get the systems in place and the skills to grow a large part of what we eat.
We mainly eat meat from our farm or other farms in the district and have practised home butchery for years; we grow about 50% of our veggies (including the ones we preserve in summer to eat in winter), or get them from the Gung Hoes, and of course we have all the fruit we could possibly want for eating, preserving and cooking.
Occasionally a meal will also include our own nuts (we grow almonds), honey from a neighbour or eggs from a family member (we don’t currently have chickens but are planning to remedy that soon!).
This little ritual is not only a way of expressing gratitude and appreciation for the earth, but also interesting for making you think about the foods you don’t grow yourself, and whether (a) you could, or (b) they’re replaceable with something else you could grow.
To try to get to the bottom of this collective passion for food growing, we recently asked a bunch of people what they thought of the idea of being self-sufficient, growing organic food, and producing a surplus to sell. Here’s what they said:
  • It’s the best dream I’ve ever had
  • In my dreams
  • Amazing…yes!
  • To be self-sufficient, to take care of nature and to supply for my community with the surplus, that is what permaculture is about – it all appeals to me!
  • I love the idea of this! Good for the whole world! Good for people, the Earth and our fellow Tellurians, fantastic!
  • Love this!!!
  • My total dream: to be able to be as self-sufficient as possible with food, plus to be environmentally friendly
  • Totally love the idea of being self-sufficient, not having to rely on supermarkets. To know where my food comes from and how it was grown as well as being able to get children involved so they understand the importance of fresh healthy food.
  • Food is all important, to nourish and repair
  • Being sustainable, knowing where and how my food is grown, feeling proud of my produce
  • To be able to go out the back door to the garden and pick food that is free from chemicals that tastes amazing that would be just perfect.
  • Sure is my dream! A few reasons: sustainability and environment, a changing climate and food security, and because I love growing things!

Enjoying the abundance of the Gung Hoe market garden outside our back door

The urge to grow your own seems innate—and of course, that absolutely makes sense. The drive to feed yourself and your family is primal—it’s key to staying alive and making sure your genes are passed on to the next generation.
But these comments show that it’s so much more as well. We’re not just driven by primal desires (as important as they are), people are also drawn to growing their own food for ideals of health, teaching children, eating food with no chemicals, looking after the environment and, well, just living simply.
Bring it on, we say.