Planting a citrus tree
- Good drainage is one of the most important considerations when planting citrus. Rob plants his new mandarin on a hill on their property.
- You need to dig the hole only slightly larger than the pot the plant comes in. Chop away at the sides of the hole to allow earthworms to come in and water to flow out.
- It’s best if the roots of the citrus tree have not been confined by the pot. If you find them coiled round and round, just tease them out gently.
- Add compost to your hole, forming a mound that the new tree sits on top of. It’s important to sit the tree a good 150mm up out of the ground. The soil will compress when you stamp it down and also over time.
- If you have a clay soil you can put it back into the hole along with compost. Clay is nutrient-dense but it needs compost to unlock the nutrients.
- Finish by stamping down the soil around the tree. This gets rid of air pockets and makes the tree steady in the face of wind.
- Prune off any downward-growing branches. Remember to sterilise your secateurs by dipping them in methylated spirits every time you prune a different tree. As a rule of thumb it’s best not to prune citrus during the summer months because this is when the lemon borer is flying. It can smell the lemonwood from miles off and do damage to your tree.
- Citrus are gross feeders so finish off the planting with a good dose of fertiliser. The one we like to use is made up of volcanic rock, seaweed and worm castings.
- Water the plant to settle it in and wash in the fertiliser.
- Finally we cover the roots with a coconut-fibre mat. This keeps the roots cool in summer and the chickens from doing any damage with their foraging habit.
Planting a pear tree
- Prepare the hole just as you did for the citrus tree making it just wide enough for the roots. Add compost to the hole forming a mound. Position the strongest roots towards the prevailing wind to anchor the tree and splay them out over the mound. Once again sit the tree high out of the ground just as you do for citrus. Add compost to the hole to fill it up along with the soil you dug out.
- Apply a fertiliser, but make sure it’s not one that’s high in nitrogen, like chicken manure and sheep pellets. In the case of a deciduous fruit tree we don’t want all the growth to go into the leaves. Instead we want the tree to produce strong roots.
- It’s really important to stake your tree at least for the first year or two. Use sturdy posts and position them on either side of the tree in the direction of the prevailing wind. Use a soft stretchy fabric to tie the tree up, as anything rougher will rub on the tree and could cause infection.
- Fruit trees need to be pruned back by a third or a half once planted. Cut off any branches that are damaged or spindly. There’s a slight swelling at the base of a branch called a ‘collar’ and you need to cut close to this (but not cut it off). Cells inside the collar heal the wound. Leaving a branch stub too long can cause die-back. Then prune a third off the main stem. Cut on a 45 degree angle so the rain can run off. Apply pruning paste to the cuts. (See Sidebar for Rob’s homemade pruning paste recipe).
- Lastly, it’s good to put beneficial plants in around the roots. Rob plants comfrey because it mines the sub-soil, feeds the tree over winter, keeps the roots cool in summer and also attracts beneficial insects. Spring bulbs can also be used.
- Finish with a good watering.
Camera: Max Harsant
Editor: Thomas Asche
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