How to plant pip and stone fruit trees

Planting a plum tree
  • July and August are the months to get pip and stone fruit trees in the ground before the sap starts to flow and the buds burst.
  • Rob prefers to plant bare-rooted stock. Generally it establishes better than a tree in a container because it’s been grown in open ground. But the plum tree he wants to plant is ‘Lucy’ – a cross between ‘Fortune’ and ‘Luisa’ – and it only comes in a container.
  • ‘Lucy’ combines the meaty texture and black skin of ‘Fortune’ with the flavour and heart shape of ‘Luisa’. It’s self-fertile, fruits in mid-late summer and grows to 4m tall.
  • If you’re purchasing a fruit tree in a container you want to see if you can pull it out of the container easily. If it seems tight in the bag it probably isn’t this year’s stock which means the roots may be quite tightly curled around themselves ie rootbound, and this can adversely affect growth.
  • Dig a hole the size of the rootball. If you make the hole too large it can end up becoming a collecting place for rain, or the tree will become unstable because of too much room to move.
  • If your soil is gluggy and wet, it’s a good idea to use a post hole borer to dig a bit deeper. Often there’s a clay pan around 50-60 cms under the top soil and if you can get below that you’ll increase drainage capacity which is better for the tree.
  • Rob usually adds a couple of handfuls of gypsum to the hole regardless, because his soil has a high component of clay and gypsum, being a clay breaker, will assist with drainage. But gypsum is also a great source of calcium, essential for good fruit production.
  • Next, add compost to the hole, almost to ground level. Form the compost into a mound over which you splay the roots of the fruit tree. Place the strongest roots into the prevailing wind.
  • Then cover the roots with the soil you dug out of the hole and any remaining compost. As our tree was in a container we can see where it was planted up to, and that’s where we’re aiming to cover up to now. Never cover a graft with soil.
  • You always want to use the top soil and clods you dug out originally as there’s lots of nutrients in the top 10-15 cms of any soil. Stamp down firmly with your boots.
  • You’re aiming for the fruit tree to sit quite proud of the ground so there’s no danger of letting water pool. If water does gather around a fruit tree it will cause the collar to rot and the tree won’t survive.
  • It’s important for the first year to put in sturdy stakes to secure the tree against winds. If it’s not supported, the new feeder roots that the tree puts out could be broken off if it gets buffeted by winds. Place two stakes on either side of the tree, in the direction of the prevailing wind.
  • Then it’s time to give the tree a prune. Ideally you should cut it back by a third to a half. This may seem unnecessary, but it definitely stimulates growth. Remember to dip your secateurs in a container of methylated spirits to sterilise them.
  • Rob cuts the centre leader out because he wants a nice open vase-like shape ultimately for his tree. He cuts the remaining two branches to an equidistant height.
  • Seal the pruning cuts with an organic pruning paste. See here for how to make an organic pruning paste.
  • Tie the tree firmly to the stakes with a soft ribbon so it doesn’t rub on the stem. This kind of tie will rot away after a year, but that’s as long as you want a fruit tree tied up. After that it should be well enough established to make it on its own.
  • Finally we give our ‘Lucy’ a couple of handfuls of a multi-mineral fertiliser like Morganics. This will encourage good strong root growth.

Camera: Jarod Murray
Editor: Thomas Asche
Production equipment and post-production services provided by The Black Forest Breathes