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Posts Tagged ‘plant fruit trees’

Water Small Kitchen Garden Perennials

There wasn’t much “structure” to the root systems of my young fruit trees when I planted them in the fall. They’ll need plenty of water as they come out of dormancy this spring.

I’m poised to plant my small kitchen garden, having finished late-winter pruning and grafting in my fruit trees. I’m poised, but holding. March teased early with some very warm days, but then plunged into barely-tolerable cold.

The soil has thawed, so a more rugged gardener could have planted peas, lettuce, spinach, and other cold weather crops by now. I tend to wait until April for those, and sometimes am simply too busy to plant them until late April. But this year there’s something else that’s very important for me to do in my garden: water young perennials.

Fall Planting Time Bombs

Back in mid-Autumn, I argued in this blog that you should plant fruit trees in the fall (this goes for most perennials, but if they’re not going to feed you, don’t waste your energy planting them). I shared my experiences of trying to find fruit trees at local nurseries, I explained that I ended up buying via mail-order, and I showed how I planted my young trees in mid-November.

Among the advantages I listed for planting perennials in autumn: you don’t have to water, and you can omit fertilizer. Dormant plants aren’t demanding.

Come spring, those young perennials emerge from dormancy and require the creature comforts you denied them in the fall. If you had plenty of rain or snow over the winter, your soil will thaw and be moist; your perennials will be happy. However, if your neighborhood is emerging from a dry winter, your perennials may awaken to desert-like conditions. This is especially bad for the young ones.

What’s more, even if your ground thaws wet, you need to make sure the young plants don’t dry out along with the soil. Unless you’re experiencing substantial seasonal rainfall—or massive snow melt—you should start watering when the ground thaws.

How Much Water?

In early spring, water deeply once or twice a week (again, don’t water if Mother Nature is doing a good job of it). As plants (any plants—not just the perennials you planted in autumn) emerge from dormancy (you see leaf buds plump up), increase your watering to once daily unless the soil is obviously saturated.

When you plant perennials, you should soak them till the soil can’t hold more water. This helps you work out air pockets and get the soil up against young roots. Subsequent watering needn’t saturate the soil. Your goal is to keep everything damp, not to maintain a mud pit around your tree.

When leaves emerge and you see vigorous growth, cut back the water to two or three times a week, and keep it up until fall. Skip watering if there’s a decent rainstorm.

Especially if you planted bare root trees in the fall, they need a lot of moisture in their first year to help them develop strong root systems. But temper daily watering: the point of planting in autumn was to reduce the amount of water you had to provide. Especially in March and April, the soil may stay wet for several days between watering.

Fertilizer?

It’s good to provide fertilizer as your young fall plantings wake up in the spring. Best of all, mulch with compost (but don’t let the compost rest against the plant). If that’s not an option, provide a light feed of 10-10-10 chemical fertilizer.

For my older fruit trees, I’d always driven holes in the ground with a crow bar, and then filled the holes with fertilizer. A friend who runs an orchard told me he prefers to broadcast fertilizers on the surface and let them dissolve into the soil. For young trees, just dust fertilizer on the loose soil around the tree trunk—a small handful at most. With all the watering, it’ll soak in quickly.

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Trauma in a Small Kitchen Garden

There’s plenty of good stuff for a rodent to eat in and around my yard, but apparently sour cherry and pecan tree twigs are the tastiest of all. Still, the rodent left healthy leaf buds any of which could become a new leader for the tree.

My small kitchen garden experienced some trauma this week: someone bit off the tops of some of my new trees! I mentioned those trees in an earlier post about new pear trees. In that post, I explained the importance of protecting young trees from rodents who would be eager to chew on them during a snowy winter.

Well… those rodents were more eager than I expected. I had looked for tree tubes at local gardening stores, and, failing to find any, had come up with a possible alternative I figured to make out of trash. But, no rush, I thought: there wouldn’t be snow for some time and there are plenty of tender shoots and leaves still available to any foraging critters who might wander through.

I made my nearly cost-free tree tubes out of two-liter soda bottles. First, I rinsed the bottles thoroughly; I don’t want residual sugar or artificial flavorings to attract rodents to my trees. Using a utility knife (scissors would work), I cut the tops off above where the bottles start to taper—so the cut bottle tapers a little. I cut off the bottom above where the indentations start. This leaves the bottom of the cut bottle wider than the top; the upper end of each cut bottle can slide easily into the bottom end of a cut bottle.

Stupid Rodents in my Small Kitchen Garden

I get about 9 inches of tube from each bottle. So, I stacked 3 bottles to make an 18-inch tube. As my trees grow, I may add another bottle or two; the tender bark will need protection for several years. I’m not concerned about removing the tube in the future. When the tree branches and the bark is tough enough to withstand rodents, I can simply use a utility knife or scissors to cut the thin plastic away.

Rodents around here don’t think the way I do. While they had been perfectly happy with lawn grasses, weeds, meadow plants, and forest undergrowth until this weekend, apparently they wanted something different during the holiday. Someone cleanly snipped off the tops of the three new trees I’d not yet protected with fences or tree tubes. This is an impressive accomplishment considering that the trees are well apart from each other in different places in my yard… and there are intervening shrubs that didn’t receive similar pruning.

So, my sloth proved my point: young trees are vulnerable and you need to protect them! I’m discouraged, but not crushed. My young trees are several inches shorter, and they no longer have terminal buds. They do, however, have many lateral buds, and chances are they’ll make it through the winter if I protect them. Without a terminal bud, a young tree will send branches up from the main stalk, letting them vie to become the tree’s new leader.

My job, should the trees survive winter and send up these new limbs, will be eventually to prune off all but one so it can become the tree’s trunk. The trees’ future growth will “absorb” the bumps made by these side shoots so the trees appear straight—or nearly straight. This isn’t a great way to grow a tree, but it happens time and again to wild trees, and they don’t complain much about it.

Cheap Small Kitchen Garden Tree Tubes

I prefer soda pop from a 12 ounce can; I don’t drink it quickly enough to empty a two-liter bottle before the stuff at the end goes flat. This is one reason I didn’t make and install tree tubes immediately after planting my trees: I didn’t have any two-liter soda bottles available.

This tree tube concept wouldn’t have occurred to me had I not known about duct tape. I don’t worship duct tape, but there it is: I held the tubes together with a single wrap at each joint. Honestly: this is the first do-it-yourself project I’ve done where duct tape was truly the best solution.

Having bought several two-liter bottles, and picked up some empties from my dad, I was going to test my home-made tree tube idea this week. I started today… just a weekend too late. But I’m happy to say the makeshift tubes are perfect for my needs, and I hope they keep what’s left of my new trees alive through the winter. If you’re adding young fruit trees to your small kitchen garden in the near future, you might save some hassles by creating and installing tree tubes immediately after planting.

I held the tree tube in place with two bamboo sticks. If the marauding rodent that bit off my trees’ tops wants more cherry tree, it won’t have to push hard to topple my creation. I’m holding fast to the old axiom, out of sight, out of mind, and I hope the stupid rodents do as well.

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