Teague: Now is time to plant bare root fruit, nut trees

December 20, 2013 

If you've always dreamed of having an orchard in your backyard or even one peach tree, now is the time to buy and plant bare root deciduous fruit and nut trees.

Recent innovations in planting techniques and in pruning fruit and nut trees make it possible to have a variety of small-sized trees that fit into smaller spaces.

Bare root trees, bushes, roses and vines should be arriving at local nurseries and garden centers within the next week or so.

Because most bare root plants are younger with smaller root systems than more mature container plants, they are easier and cheaper for growers to ship and easier and cheaper for nurseries to stock. Those savings are passed along to the customer; bare root plants cost about one-third less than container plants.

We're fortunate to have some of the world's best fruit and nut tree hybridizers working here in the San Joaquin Valley.

Dave Wilson Nursery, grower and hybridizer, is located in Hickman near Modesto. Their website, www.davewilson.com, is a great source of information on fruit and nut tree selection, pruning and planting. Check out the website before you go shopping for your bare root trees. It explains "chill hours" or hours below 45 degrees; ours is a "low chill" climate with 400 to 500 chill hours annually. It also gives specific names of trees needed for cross-pollination as well as tree varieties that are most suitable for our climate zone (zones 8 and 9 in the Central Valley; zone 7 in the foothills). This is important information that may or may not be on tree labels.

Summer pruning is preferred over winter pruning to keep backyard trees small for easier harvest and easier maintenance. The Dave Wilson website includes a video presentation on summer pruning (very different than winter dormant pruning) and demonstrations of hedgerow tree planting and 4-in-1 hole planting.

Another good source of information on planting and pruning techniques is the UC Davis publication "Home Orchard: Growing Your Own Deciduous Fruit and Nut Trees," written by Pam Geisel, former Fresno Bee garden columnist. It's available through the UC Davis website, www.ucdavis.edu, ANR catalog publication #3455, $18.75.

When buying your new bare root trees look for well-balanced scaffolding with sturdy branches evenly spaced on all sides of the trunk to support the weight of a heavy crop. The trunk should be strong and straight and it should gently taper down to a root flare. Examine the roots if possible, looking for girdled, broken or diseased roots.


Elinor Teague is a Fresno County master gardener. Send her plant questions at etgrow@comcast.net or features@fresnobee.com ("plants" in the subject line).

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