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How to plant fruit trees successfully - the complete guide

Back to Growing Fruit

Eating your own fruit, grown in your own garden, is one of the greatest joys of gardening.  With a little planning, you can make sure that your trees will provide you with fruit for years to come.  The first step is to make sure that the trees are planted correctly. The actual planting process has a significant impact on the future performance of your trees.

When should you plant your trees?

When you plant your trees will depend on how they were grown. Container, bare root and balled or sacked trees all have different planting needs.

When to Plant Container Grown Trees

The beauty of these types of tree is that they can be planted at any time of the year so spring, summer, autumn or even winter will be OK.

The container also removes the need for immediate planting, so you can wait, for example if the soil is water logged or extremely dry. You can just leave the fruit tree in its container in a sheltered spot until weather or soil conditions are more favourable.

When to Plant Bare Root Trees

Bare root is the term used to describe trees that are removed from the soil at a plant nursery, with very little soil attached to the roots. The best time for planting bare root trees is in autumn or spring.

If you are planting in spring, wait until temperatures have risen a little so that the soil is not frozen or very cold several feet beneath the surface.

When to Plant Balled or Sacked Trees

These are trees that are sold with their roots and a generous amount of soil wrapped in a material known as hessian. The best time to plant these is in late spring or early summer when soil temperatures have increased.

Where should you plant your trees?

The location of your fruit trees depends very much on the type of tree that you have chosen. Below, I've outlined the best sites for the most common types of fruit tree.

Best Site for Planting Apple Trees

Apple tree young Apples

Apple trees adore a sunny, open site with shelter at a small distance from the tree. Any form of shelter, such as a wall, hedge or fence at a distance of twenty to thirty feet away is ideal.

It is always better to buy at least two apple trees. Apple trees need to be pollinated so that they actually produce fruit. Certain types of apple tree cross-pollinate with each other. Your local nursery will advise you as to which type to choose.

Best Site for Planting Pear Trees.

The three essential components for successfully growing pears are warmth, sun and shelter. Give these trees the brightest part of your garden and they will reward you for years to come. You will need to buy at least two pear trees to ensure that pollination occurs.

Best Site for Planting Cherry Trees

It is no longer necessary to have a large garden in which to plant cherry trees. There are several varieties of this fruit tree that are ideal for a small garden.

Cherry trees need a little more attention than apples and pears. Ideally the soil should be prepared a year prior to planting. They thrive on extremely nutrient rich soil so plenty of quality manure is essential.

The best location for a cherry tree is against a wall that receives plenty of sunlight. Plant the tree twenty to thirty inches from the wall. Once you have it in place put a system of wires horizontally along the wall, then cut back your cherry tree by one-third its original size and tie branches onto the wires in a fan shaped pattern.

Planting your fruit trees in 4 easy steps

Step one - prepare the site

Do not remove plant packaging or containers until you have everything ready for the fruit tree to go directly into its new home.

Prepare a planting hole that is two to three times the size of the roots on your fruit tree. Measure from the bottom of the longest root to the old soil mark at the base of the tree. The planting hole needs to be approximately to the depth of that measurement.

When you have dug to that depth, loosen the soil at the base of the hole with a fork. Unless you have poor soil, do not add compost as this will stop the tree roots from branching out as they grow.

It is always a good idea to support newly planted trees with a sturdy stake. It will not only support the plant but it also removes the possibility of damaging the roots if you decide it needs a stake at some stage in the future.

The stake should be at a depth of about three feet below soil level with its tip reaching as far as the lowest branch on your tree. Be wary of tree stakes that have been freshly treated with preservative. Fresh preservative can damage your tree, so always choose older stakes for supporting your plants. Choose a sturdy stake. A few inches in diameter or squared should suffice.

Step two - Prepare the tree

Prior to planting you should stand your new tree in a container of water for at least an hour.

After removing your tree from its covering or container, check for very thin or damaged shoots on the branches and remove them with sharp, clean secateurs. Make the cut just above a bud as that bud will form a new branch. Using secateurs, trim any roots that are longer than approximately fifteen inches.

Step three - plant the tree

Place the tree in the middle of the hole. The old soil mark at the base of the tree should be just visible above the new soil level. Gently spread out the roots until there is an even distribution of roots around the base of the tree.

Hold the tree in the centre of the hole and fill the hole with the soil that was removed earlier (an assistant will be very useful at this point!). When the soil is at the required level gently move the tree up and down in the soil. This helps the soil to settle and also removes air pockets.

Push the soil down firmly using your feet. One very useful tip at this stage is to push even harder nearer to the base of the plant. This creates a slightly hollowed effect and is useful for watering in drier conditions as the water settles in the hollow rather than running away from the tree. It's a very effective method of watering especially if a water ban is in place.

Step four - after planting

Watering Apple Tree in container

Water the tree again immediately after planting. Now place a layer of mulch around the base of the tree. Three to four inches of manure or bark mulch is ideal. Now, water again. Adequate watering is vital at this stage if the trees are to thrive. Mulching not only provides nutrients for the plant and prevents weed growth, but it is also a very effective moisture retainer.

If you're using a stake to support the tree, it is better to use plastic tree ties with buckles as they provide you with the option of loosening the tie as the fruit tree grows. Place one tie a couple of inches from the top of the stake and a second tie about one foot above soil level. If you are not using proper plastic tree ties, always ensure that the ties you do use are in a figure of eight shape. This method of tying prevents the tree from rubbing of the stake and sustaining damage.

What you need to do in the first year

The most crucial part of fruit tree care in the first year is watering. If your new fruit trees do not get enough water during their first year they're unlikely to survive. Water weekly and in dry spells twice weekly if possible. Get the water to where it is most needed i.e. the roots.

Your tree should then begin to grow and with a bit of love in its first year with watering and pruning, you'll soon be enjoying your own fruit.

About the Author

Gareth Stokes is a retired builder and groundskeeper, now writing part time for I share my 40 years of experience in the building and gardening industries and some of my personal projects around my home and garden. You can follow me on twitter and Google+.