How to plant nut trees
When to plant?
Fall is the best time to plant nut trees, but I am going to try an early spring planting this year to replace the trees I lost to deer over the winter.
How to plant a typical potted tree?
Typically a potted or balled and burlapped tree is planted by digging a hole that is 2-3 times wider than the root ball. Make sure to remove the burlap or pot. The root ball should sit on a pedestal in the middle of the hole with the top of the root ball sitting about 1/4” inch above the surface. This will stop the tree from getting root rot. Use the existing soil to backfill the hole, if you have good soil, if not mix in 1/3 compost. If you really want to give your tree a good start, also mix in some organic fertilizer with micorrhizae. Micorrhizae fungi help enhance the root structures ability to absorb the nutrients the tree needs. I have had good results with a product called Roots 3-3-3 fertilizer.
How to plant a deep tap root tree?
I have planted many a tree as a professional landscaper and a gardener, but I have never planted trees that were potted like the ones I just planted. These very small trees carried the entire tap root, which went down about 30” inches. These holes had to be much deeper than anything I have ever done by hand. The pots were long a narrow, so the hole did not need to be near as wide, but the hole had to be extremely deep to get the tap root in. According to the nursery, they had already been inoculated with micorrhizae. So, with good soil, I just needed to get the proper hole dug, and backfill with the existing soil. Of course digging the proper hole was easier said than done. These long tap roots are a nightmare to plant. It would have been near impossible with just a shovel. I spent about an hour per tree. These are the tools I needed: (Digging bar and post hole digger)
What about mulching?
For most trees, mulching with a leaf mulch or wood mulch is a good thing, as long as you keep the mulch 2-3” inches away from the trunk. Make sure you have no more than 2-3” inches of depth. Also, watch out for the mulch “volcanoes”. The mulch should be relatively level around the tree, with a small bowl around the trunk. However, nut trees should not be mulched with leaf or wood mulch. I have read that pea gravel makes good mulch for these trees, although I have never tried it. I just use compost to mulch the trees. The positive is that it also gives the trees a good slow feeding. The negative is that I typically have some weeds to deal with.
Protecting the trunk
Fruit and nut tree trunks make nice treats for rodents to nibble on when they are hungry in the winter. If they damage a trunk all the way around, this is called girdling. If a tree trunk is girdled the tree will die. It may take a season or two, but it will die. It is really important to install some protection for the base of the trunk. I originally used white plastic cylinders specifically designed for this application. I lost two trees because of a fungus that developed because the trunk was not getting enough air flow. I am now using a welded wire fencing with ¼ inch holes. I just make a cylinder, zip tie the ends together, and work the fencing into the soil around the trunk so it stays in place and stops rodents from burrowing under. The height that you make the cylinders depends on how deep of a snow you can get and how low the branches on your tree are. My tree trunk protectors are typically around 12” tall and 5 times wider than the trunk to allow for future growth.
Welded wire cylinder around trunk Girdled pear tree
To stake or not to stake?
It really depends. If you have a good straight tree, and you don’t get a lot of wind, you probably would be okay without staking. However, if you have a tree that is growing crooked, and needs some guidance it makes sense to stake until it is trained straight. The time to do this is when the trees are young.
Fencing your fruit and nut trees?
I originally did not fence my trees, but after losing a few trees every year because of deer damage, I had to fence them. By the way I tried soap, and a few other deer deterrents to no avail. In fact, they even ate the soap that was supposed to turn them away. If you install a fence around your property typically a deer can and will jump over it. However, if you make 5’ fences around your trees individually, they will not jump in them, as the area is too confining for them. This is the best way to insure your young trees see adulthood.
After planting care?
For the first couple of weeks you will want to make sure that the trees get regular water to establish the root system, after that an inch a week is typically enough rainfall.