Retail – The Ultimate Guide to Growing Deciduous Fruit Trees: Apples, Pears, and Stonefruit

PlantNet's Guide to Fruit Trees

Follow our guide to growing the best fruit trees in the neighbourhood! Get professional tips and tricks on all things fruit trees.

Fruit trees grow and fruit best in sunny positions, and where possible you should try and plant them in these positions. Part shade during the early morning and late afternoon is acceptable, provided the fruit trees receive sunlight during the rest of the day. It is not a good idea to plant fruit trees next to full grown shrubs or trees as these will rob soil moisture and nutrients from your fruit tree. If planting a row of trees, try and plant in a North/South aspect.

The site you choose to plant your trees should not have any known soil issues such as nematodes or major soil diseases and should be well drained. In some of the warmer areas of Australia, fruit trees can be planted on the southern side of the house to ensure it is receiving the coolest evening temperatures to meet winter chilling requirements and to minimise exposure to extra hot temperatures during summer that can burn leaves and fruit.

All of the Backyard Beauties™ range are suitable for planting in pots which may give you the option to move the plant around to optimise the conditions as outlined above. If planting in the ground, all of the Backyard Beauties range can be planted 1.5m – 2.0m apart if planting multiple trees.

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How to plant deciduous fruit trees

Deciduous fruit trees (those that lose their leaves in winter) are sometimes planted in winter as bare root trees when they are dormant. Retail nurseries can plant bare root fruit trees into pots or cover the roots with soil or sawdust to keep the roots moist. Some nurseries maintain bare root fruit tree areas for their storage prior to sale. It is generally a rectangular bed filled with sawdust or loose soil that prevents the trees roots from drying out. See video presented by Bonnie Hibbs from Gardeners Notebook HERE

Planting fruit trees in the ground

Soil should be prepared at least 6 weeks before planting. If you are adding animal manures in soil preparation, they are composted and not pure as fresh manure may burn the young trees feeder roots. The pH should be between 6.0 and 7.0 for best results.

All PlantNet’s trees are root pruned when digging, so it is not necessary to prune the roots again when planting.

 

  • When planting a bare root tree in the backyard, we suggest you dig a hole twice the size of the root system and soften the bottom of the hole so that it has loose dirt in it and backfill the hole with well-drained soil. Do not disturb the potting mix and root system when planting potted trees.
  • It is important to plant the tree to a depth no greater than where it was planted before it was dug by the nursery. This is usually shown by a dirt line on the tree trunk. Planting the tree too deep will promote collar rot fungal disease and eventually tree death.
  • Planting fruit trees after winter is fine, as many nurseries stock fruit trees all year round and sell them in pots. If purchasing a potted fruit tree after winter, it is important not to disturb or tease the roots too much when planting to ensure it will establish quickly. Similarly, rules apply concerning site selection, planting hole size, planting depth, and preparation and/or choice of organic soil when planting potted fruit trees. Plant the tree so that the potting mix around the tree base from the nursery pot and is just covered by your soil.
  • Remember to stake your dwarf plums, apricots, peaches, nectarines and almonds to support the tree as they are prolific bearers. The two-stake option is best; remember to protect the tree with a piece of soft material or rubber where you tie it. Tomato stakes (1.8m high) are a good option to support your tree.
  • Finish off after planting by mulching the soil surface with cane mulch, barley straw or hay. Do not use grass clippings unless extremely well composted.

    Planting in a pot

    • Pot sizes greater than 55cm in diameter are preferable as they will extend the tree’s life.
    • Ensure pots have drainage holes, or make your own.
    • Add 25mm of gravel to the bottom of the pot to stop the potting mix from draining out over time.
    • A premium potting mix for flowers and fruit trees is ideal, with an added slow-release fertiliser. We recommend you add 30% of a good quality loam or Coir Peat to this potting mix to improve the water and nutrient holding capacity (ensure the potting mix and loam or Coir Peat are mixed together well before adding the mix to your pot).
    • Mulch the top of the pots with cane mulch or similar mulch. Do not use pine bark as this will lower the pH which should be maintained between 6.0 and 7.0.
    • Add a good quality soil wetter or water crystals to assist with moisture retention.

    If you have had the opportunity to prepare your garden’s soil over time by adding organic matter and compost before planting, this will help establish your new fruit tree. Not everyone has the luxury of planning six months ahead, so don’t worry if you haven’t had time; just use the best quality soil you can source.

    Once the fruit tree is planted in the ground or pot, firmly pack the soil down with your fist, do not stamp the soil with your feet, as this will compact the soil too much in and around the roots. Water in straight away to allow the soil to settle, removing any excess air from around the roots. It is a good idea to mulch trees well after planting. After planting, continue to water the trees well until they establish themselves. This generally takes 3-4 months.

    We recommend you water your new plant twice a week (if in a pot, it may require a little more). The best and easiest way to establish your trees is to hand water using a watering can monitor how much water is being used and directly target the root zone where it is needed! Establishing the plant may require a little more water through summer as the temperatures will be warmer and evaporate higher.

    Caution: Do not add fertiliser to the hole or soil when planting. A small closed handful of blood and bone fertiliser mixed into the bottom of the hole is acceptable. Start fertilising trees in early Spring.

    young fruit tree with stake

     

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    Fertilising deciduous fruit trees

     

    One common error when planting out new trees is adding fertiliser straight away. It is highly recommended that you do not fertilise your new trees or put fertiliser in the hole around the root zone as it can burn the roots. This goes for some organic fertilisers also. The exception is a small, closed handful of blood and bone mixed into the loose soil in the bottom of the hole. Providing pre- plant preparation has been done to improve the soil pre- planting in winter trees will not require fertilising until the they begin to grow after winter. For potted trees purchased in Spring, Summer and Autumn wait two weeks before fertilising after planting. The pH should be maintained between 6.0 & 7.0.

    Note: All fertiliser products will have a nutrient analysis on the back of the bag which shows percentages of nutrients. It is important to read this information before purchasing fertiliser of any type.

    Apply fertilisers evenly across the top of the pot or root zone. For trees planted in the ground do not apply fertilisers within 25cm of the tree base.

    For a great guide for fertilising deciduous fruit trees in pots from trial work completed by PlantNet over a 3 year period. CLICK HERE

    “Suggestions” for deciduous fruit trees grown in the ground is to use the rates for potted fruit trees and double rates in year 1. Increase by 4 times from year 2.

    All fertilisers should be watered in well after application.

    3

    Pruning deciduous fruit trees

    A key feature of many of the PlantNet products in the Backyard Beauties range is the minimal pruning required at any stage of their life because they are genuine dwarf varieties. You may however wish to prune your trees to help shape them from a young age. It also keeps the top of the tree in check with the bottom of the tree so it is well balanced.

    The majority of the PlantNet dwarf fruit tree range under the Backyard Beauties banner will do most of their growing in the first couple of years and will grow to their full height by then. After this time the tree will move into a fruiting cycle and the tree will not grow much more in height but will start to produce large quantities of fruit bearing laterals (branches). It is recommended that you prune them straight away after planting (if it has not already been done by PlantNet nurseries or the retail nurseries).

    A good guide for pruning is – more is better!! Don’t be afraid to prune your new fruit tree by approximately ONE THIRD after planting or when it is young if you want lower branching. This may seem harsh but it will be beneficial for the fruit tree down the track. If the tree has lower branching the first cut can be made a little higher. Young trees up to 2 years old can be pruned/trained lightly 4-5 times a year to maintain tree shape. We recommend mature trees are pruned during their dormant period in winter and if trees are vigorous they should be lightly pruned to remove strong unwanted growth during summer.

    Note: Make sure you do not allow any shoots to grow from below the ground or graft, and ensure they are removed cleanly to the tree trunk. See the winter pruning video collection below. 

    How to Summer prune young apple trees(December 2019)

    Presented by PlantNet.

    How to Summer prune young stonefruit trees(December 2019).

    Presented by PlantNet.

    Winter pruning young stonefruit trees Year 1.

    Presented by PlantNet.

    Winter pruning mature/fruiting stone fruit trees- Part 1

    Presented by PlantNet.

    Winter pruning mature/fruiting stone fruit trees- Part 2

    Presented by PlantNet.

    Remove all suckers when young

     

    Espalier training system Ideal for apples and pears. Suggested tree spacing-  2.5 meters between trees.

     

    Palmette training system This is a better training system for stone fruit varieties than espalier as when you tie stone fruit limbs flat some varieties will produce a lot of upright vigorous growth from the main structural limbs with not a lot of fruiting laterals being produced. With the Palmette system only tie or train the limbs to 45 degrees. Concentrate on selecting the bottom two at planting and always keep the central leader limb growing straight. you will be able to select more structural limbs as the tree grows. When selecting main structural limbs they should be 50cm apart. This system will overcome the espalier issue (apples and pears do not suffer as much from tying limbs flat). Suggested tree spacing- 2.5- 3 meters between trees.

    Vase pruning system It is much harder to control the tree with this system. If the tree is left unpruned as it gets older, the light penetration needed for flowering, fruit set and fruiting wood production is diminished. Suggested tree spacing 3.0 meters.

    Central leader Great for tight spaces. Suggetsed tree spacing- 1.5 meters-2.0 meters.

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    Watering deciduous fruit trees

    Autumn watering – Water demand reduces at this time of year as trees prepare to go into dormancy and the soil begins to cool. It is important to keep them slightly moist to achieve good flower bud development.

    Winter watering

    Don’t stop watering completely in winter as it is too hard to fill up the soil profile later when fruit begin to develop. A small amount of water once a week should be enough. In warmer areas such as Queensland, watering should begin to increase in preparation for flowering which begins in late June to early July. In cooler climates a small amount once a week should be enough.

    Spring

    Watering should begin to increase to at least twice a week for trees in the ground and every second day for potted trees as fruit begins to develop. Don’t let the soil or potting mix dry out as fruit size will suffer.

    Summer

    Small amounts of water and often is the secret through summer, aim for 2 to 3 times per week in hot/dry periods.