Now is a great time to plant a fruit tree. After a warm summer, the soil should be cosy enough for tree roots to establish themselves before the onset of winter. This should ensure they are ready to romp away in spring. I’ve planted one of my favourite apple trees ‘Pixie’ in our orchard at Polesden Lacey which features over 60 local varieties from Surrey and Sussex. It is similar to Cox’s Orange Pippin, but less prone to disease, juicier, crispier and is a good keeper. And it has the most amazing, evocative aroma imaginable! And most importantly, is a seedling developed from Wisley fruit dept (in 1947), where I started my horticultural career 15 years ago.
I’ve dug out a hole twice the width of the rootball and gently loosened the soil below with a fork, but not so much that the tree will sink after planting. Make sure when planting a fruit tree, that the graft / bud join is above the soil. Look for the bulge towards the base of the trunk. I have added plenty of garden compost to the planting hole to give the tree a good start, as our thin chalky soil is, well, basically rubbish! It is best to put the upright post in prior to planting as this avoids driving the stake through the root system (the stake in the photo above is about to be replaced)
(Pixie apples below)
Fruit trees are usually bought in containers or bare root (basically without a container). Bare root trees are cheaper and usually healthier as they haven’t been left languishing in a pot for months and become root-bound. Bare root trees are only available during the dormant season, which is roughly between Oct and late February.
I’ve also added our magic ingredient, mycorrhizal fungus. It is readily available in garden centres in powder form, and is a beneficial fungus that is sprinkled around the root system of plants. It exists by taking sugars from the plants in exchange for providing the tree with extra moisture and nutrients from its fungal strands. The mycorrhizal basically add an extended root system. This fungus is particularly useful in gathering in phosphorus for plants, which is often in short supply in natural soils. Don’t quote me on this, but at Polesden Lacey we use mycorrihizal fungus for all our planting, and tt seems to overcome replant disease with roses and fruit trees.
In March, add a mulch such as well-rotted horse manure around the root area. This will suppress the weeds and help retain moisture. Don’t add it now, as the mulch will simply wash away in the winter rain.