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Best age for planting?
Young whips or older potted fruit trees?
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atwallace
3 Posts
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October 22, 2021 - 3:17 pm

I'm new to joining the forum--but have been on it to read many times!  I have a question about the age of the fruit tree best for planting.  I planted a small orchard 10 years ago with one year old bare root whips that grew like gangbusters and I was very pleased with.  I have an opportunity to buy some three year old trees locally, in pots, that are about 4 foot tall, with 3/4 inch calipers.  I planted a few older trees from pots years ago and they didn't seem to do as well.  Though, when I planted those I didn't know about making the hole much larger and spreading the roots out in every  direction, so that may have accounted for the fact that they did not grow as vigorously.  Can any one give me input on if they feel the three foot trees will do as well as year old whips with proper planting?  Thank you!

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Reinettes
Lewis Co., WA
251 Posts
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October 22, 2021 - 6:49 pm

Mssr. atwallace,

If you'll allow me to give input based on my own experience, a grafted tree at 3 year's of age is probably still in a good position for transplanting out to its permanent position, assuming that the planting site has been appropriately prepared with a good, fertile soil with appropriate macro- and micro-nutrients.  At 4 year's of age, the transplantation of the tree will be more traumatic.  If the "starter tree" is in a pot, it will be especially important to clear the roots of soil (--done while dormant--) so that the major tangled roots can be separated from each other and repositioned in the planting hole for a well-balanced root growth in the future.  A transplantation like that is traumatic to the plant, so you'll need to give it a patient 1-2 years to re-establish itself in its new site while its injured roots compensate for the damage and can then institute properly substantiated vigorous new growth.

Newly grafted trees are best transplanted to their new site at 2-3 year's of age.  Depending upon your local conditions, this would also include exclusion of, and protection from, deer (and goats!), and rabbits (who will chew off bark near ground level during the winter).  By no means is this a complete list of perils to your future fruit factory.  There are always challenges but -- by God -- those of us who want to eat fresh, sun-ripened fruit from our properties persist in our efforts!  Every season of observation and learning gets us a little closer to the Garden of Eden.

Reinettes.

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atwallace
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October 23, 2021 - 8:08 am

Thank you Reinettes for that input.  So if a three year old plant is going to take 1-2 years to re-establish itself, then I am probably not ahead of the game by buying a three year old plant, over a 1 or two year old plant, correct.  Because the one or two year old plants don't need that time to re-establish?  Thanks again for helping me think through this!

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Reinettes
Lewis Co., WA
251 Posts
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October 25, 2021 - 3:23 pm

atwallace,

My comments are somewhat generalities and will also vary depending on the vigor of the individual grafted tree and the variety.  When I say "a patient 1-2 years to re-establish", it is because the transplantation of a tree tends to be somewhat traumatic based upon the disturbance of, and likely damage to, the roots.  The younger the grafted plant, the smaller the root system and the more readily it can re-establish when planted to its permanent site.  In transplanting an older tree, the roots are larger, more prone to being damaged, and will require more time to grow and continue the new growth that the tree puts out in the new season.  The top-growth can only be balanced by an adequate root system, and that is also the importance of planting into a fertile soil and irrigating the new tree(s) as appropriate.  

I'm not sure if British fruit tree suppliers still largely work this way, but traditionally a scion would be grafted to a rootstock and then planted and grown out for a year in high quality soil.  At the end of the year when the young tree goes dormant, you'd have a healthy graft (unbranched) that had grown to 3-4 feet tall.  This was often how the tree was sold.  It's called "a whip".  In this state, you have a vigorous 1-year old grafted tree, a healthy start to a trunk, and the manageably-sized root system with minimal damage and ready to continue to grow at an appropriate rate along with the woody growth aboveground when spring arrives.

The older the tree is when it's transplanted, the more damage that will occur to the root system, and the more time the transplant will need to re-establish.

I hope that this clarifies my comments a bit more. Smile  Good luck and best wishes!

Reinettes.

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DanielW
Clark County, WA
476 Posts
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October 26, 2021 - 8:37 am

If they are a good price, I wouldn't turn down good four foot tall trees at 3/4 inch calipers.  

When I buy potted trees, I hose off all of the potting soil with water.  Then I plant right away in local soil.  By bare rooting, you dont wind up with an interface between potting soil and native soil.  Also, no winding roots and no damaged roots because you have released them from their tangles and observed and pruned off bad ones..  This method was / is recommended by WA State arborist Linda Chalker-Scott.  I never had a tree fail to thrive after doing that.  And I have planted some trees up to 8 feet tall that originally had winding roots that I cleaned up.

It also depends on the species of tree.  My bare root chestnuts, some of my apples, and some shade trees were that size or bigger, and all did great.

Just my two cents.  We are all learning Laugh

for illustration,here is a link to a Gravenstein that I bare rooted Oct 2016.  It grew like gangbusters the next year,

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jafar
485 Posts
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October 26, 2021 - 11:42 am

Daniel, I enjoy reading your blog posts.

Has your Gravenstein produced apples, and are they as good as your neighbor's which inspired you?

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John S
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October 26, 2021 - 12:43 pm

Both Daniel and Reinettes make good points.

Here is what I do, which is a bit different.  I dig out a hole and I try to make the soil halfway between the best soil that there could be for that plant, and the soil that I have already. 

At first, when I begun to plant trees,  I planted some trees in the soil that I had.  They drowned during the winter in my heavy clay.  Didn't seem like a good outcome to me. 

My soil is so much better now that I don't think I'd have that problem.  But I still think I'm better off with the halfway system. A tree that survives begins a soil food web with exudates that attract a huge series of positive microbes, which help the soil and the tree.  The soil food web is way better 5 years after planting that tree than before, unless it dies.

John S
PDX OR

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DanielW
Clark County, WA
476 Posts
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October 26, 2021 - 3:00 pm

Jafar, this Gravenstein is every bit as good as the ones that inspired the purchase.  They are delicious.  These are among my earliest apples to ripen, if not the earliest.  If I don't watch them closely, they fall off and rot before I can eat them.  Then I kick myself for not watching closer.  They seem to be biennial so far.  

Thanks also for the nice comment.  

John, you make great points.  I always try to remember that every yard is different.  Houses can be built on lots that were stripped of topsoil, the grade changed, on old agricultural land that might have been compacted, depleted, or chemically treated (those rhyme 😀).  But one shouldn't feel defeated - there are so many things we can to to add organic matter and build healthy and productive new soils.  I try to mulch with a thick layer of tree tree leaves every fall.  That really improved the soil.  Now each fall there are lots of mushrooms, so I know the soil has a fungal population as well.

On planting trees a few years old, it also matters what kind of tree.  Some respond better than others.

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Reinettes
Lewis Co., WA
251 Posts
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October 27, 2021 - 5:16 pm

Dear Forum members,

Thank you all for piping in! Smile  It always helps to have different perspectives and the benefit of many others' years of observations and experiences.  I think that that's often when the Forum is at its best!  We all learn.

DanielW --  "...on old agricultural land that might have been compacted, depleted, or chemically treated (those rhyme 😀)."  You are a poet at heart. Smile.  Sadly, compacted, depleted clay soil is what my wife and I have on our parcel.  The addition of LOTS of organic matter is very definitely an important part of the solution, but also, if the underlying soil is already largely depleted of necessary nutrients [--as ours is, having been logged 3-4 times in the century preceding our purchase], then it's also important to add those nutrients that were missing.  I always recommend natural ingredients including kelp and fish emulsion.  

P.S. -- As I understand it, agricultural lime should be used on clay soils.  Dolomitic lime will make the clay "pastier" and won't "open up" the soil.

Reinettes.

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