October 4, 2013
By: Trevor Hylton
Last winter we established an orchard at the Leon County Extension Office. I planted 14 different species of fruit trees which are adapted to this area. Because of limitation with space we opted to plant our trees 15 feet apart which may be a little close but our intent is to keep the trees small enough that they won’t overlap each other.
For anyone planning to establish an orchard it is vital that good plans are made before planting because fruit trees are long term investments that will involve a lot of time and money. Once your trees are established it is very hard to move them so plan carefully. Anyone planting fruit trees must be cognizant of the site; its suitability in terms of fertility, drainage and how close it is to a reliable source of water for irrigation.
Before you purchase any trees be aware of the needs for pollinator if the trees are self-fertile meaning they do not need a pollinator or if they are self-sterile in which case they must a have a pollinator to successfully produce fruits. In many cases trees that are self-fertile do benefit from having a pollinator close by.
One of the most common mistakes that I have seen is planting the trees too deep. Follow the IFAS guide for tree planting making the hole wider than the root ball and setting the plant so that the top of the root ball is above the surface of the soil, irrigate after planting to get good soil to root contact. To prevent damage to the young plant by wind it may be necessary to stake the plants after planting.
Mulching is one of the most important practices in tree care. The advantages of mulching are numerous, but probably the most important benefit I got from mulching was the reduced risk of trunk damage from string trimmer.
I do my pruning during the cold season, ideally in late winter or early spring, right before active growth starts as this allows wounds to heal quickly. Here in Leon County where dormancy is short, summer pruning may be helpful to train branches. If you missed the opportunity to prune in the summer do not do it in the fall by all means wait for winter. Keep in mind disease activity is higher in summer than in winter so summer pruned trees will be more prone to infection. Pruning heavily during the dormant season may cause trees not produce much fruit the next year. Minor dormant pruning however, does not seriously affect growth.
Getting the tree off to a good start by employing proper planting technique, watering adequately and protecting the plant in extreme cold and high wind are way more important than fertilizing the plant. If you must fertilize have your soil tested, check your local extension office for information on soil testing and follow the fertilizer recommendations as set out in the analysis. If you need additional information about fruit trees contact your extension agent or visit our website at leon.ifas.ufl.edu