Article By: Vincent Lazaneo
Who would buy a leafless, dead-looking skeleton of a tree that was dug out of the ground and shipped hundreds of miles with no soil on its roots? You should if you want to grow a deciduous fruit tree. Bare root fruit trees dug and sold when they are dormant, cost less than container grown trees, are easy to plant, and will soon produce delicious fruit.
Winter is the best time to plant deciduous fruit trees such as persimmon, fig, apple, nectarine, peach, plum and pomegranate. These and other dormant, deciduous fruit trees can be purchased in January and early February at a few local nurseries including Walter Andersen’s Nursery in Poway (see list of bare root fruit trees at http://www.walterandersen.com/locations/poway/). Shopping early provides the best selection, and planting early allows more time for new roots to grow before leaves appear in spring.
To produce vigorous growth in spring and fruit well, deciduous fruit trees require a period of cold (below 45 F) in winter which can vary from 100 hours to more than 1000 hours depending on variety. In our mild winter coastal climate it’s best to plant varieties with a chilling requirement less than 200 hours whenever possible. The chilling requirement of many fruit tree varieties is available at www.davewilson.comand at other sites. Some reliable varieties for the Mira Mesa area are: apple-Anna (200); fig-Black Mission (100); nectarine-Panamint (250); peach-Babcock (250), Midpride (250); persimmon-Fuju (200); pomegranate-Eversweet (150)
Most deciduous fruit trees are grafted on different rootstocks that are resistant to certain soil borne diseases and pests. Some rootstocks are used to reduce a tree’s size. Different dwarfing rootstocks can decrease the size of a mature tree from 20% to as much as 80% compared to the same variety with a seedling rootstock.
You should not buy a fruit tree unless it is labeled with the name of the fruit variety and the name of the rootstock. With this information you can learn from online sources if the variety is adapted to your area, and characteristics of the rootstock including how much it may reduce the tree’s size.
Fruit trees sold at retail nurseries must be labeled with the variety name according to the California agricultural code. Unfortunately the law does not require that a tree be labeled with the name of the rootstock used. A good nursery will provide this information. Beware of buying a tree simply labeled ‘dwarf’ or ‘ultra-dwarf’. These terms do not indicate how large the mature tree will grow.
The roots of a bare root tree are alive and should not be allowed to dry out. Nurseries traditionally store the trees in damp sawdust. When you buy a bare root tree it should be planted as soon as you return home or placed in a bucket of water in a shady location for up to a day. Some nurseries plant bare root trees in containers filled with potting soil. These trees can be stored longer before planting but the root system may be smaller if roots were pruned to fit the container.
For best results, deciduous fruit trees should be planted where they will receive full sun most of the day. Before you plant a tree check how well the soil drains. Dig a test hole a foot deep and fill it with water. Let the water drain away then refill the hole a second time. All the water should drain out of the hole within a few hours or at least overnight. If any water remains in the hole for more than a day, the tree’s roots may drown. Select a different planting site or build a gently sloping mound of soil at least a foot high to provide better drainage.