Planting Fruit Trees and Shrubs

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
Interest in planting fruit trees seems to be on the rise in our area. With this in mind, please consider the following to give your trees the greatest opportunity for success.

Two primary factors limit our ability to successfully grown fruit trees in our area, temperature extremes and soil conditions. Temperature extremes can give us problems in several ways; low temperature kill of the entire plant, freeze damage of the blooms (and thus no fruit), or excess heat, causing plant death, failure to set blooms or to fill out fruit properly.

We are not completely helpless against the weather. Proper cultivar selection is a prime consideration and we will discuss that in next week’s article. We can also provide some insurance against spring-time freeze damage by selecting a good site that provides for proper air drainage. Yes, that is correct, “air drainage”. Cold air pools in low areas so planting on a slope or a high area can be helpful. While some wind break can be helpful, too much can be detrimental as a solid wind barrier can trap cold air.

Good air movement is also an important tool for proper disease management. Fungal issues are almost always the result of excess humidity and some wind can really help out here as it helps to remove surface moisture from the leaves and fruit. Also, the site must have plenty of sun as most fruit bearing trees and shrubs produce best in full sun conditions.

Soil conditions are the real make or break issue for many of us in Payne County. If your soil is heavy clay, oftentimes with sandstone just inches below the soil, your options are limited. In these situations, building raised berms for planting is important to insure proper drainage. In some cases, this may mean importing a more suitable topsoil or heavily modifying the existing site with plenty of compost and organic matter. Once again, without elevating the growing area, soil modification is a lost cause because the water will still be trapped, depriving the roots of oxygen.

If you cannot make accommodations for poor soil, fruit trees should probably not be considered. Blackberries are probably your fruit crop of choice.

Irrigation is also important for long term success. While many of these plants are fairly drought hardy after they are well established, our inconsistent summer rainfall makes fruit production without irrigation questionable at best. Drip irrigation is by-far the preferred method for irrigating fruit trees and shrubs. Not only are the water savings immense, avoiding wet foliage and fruit can help with disease control as already mentioned.

Check back next week for some recommendations on specific varieties for this area as well as other helpful tips.

For more information of this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.
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