Planting Potted Fruit & Nut Trees

planting a tree

Potted Trees Make A Great Addition To Your Spring Garden

You can plant bare-root fruit trees in the fall/winter, but if you get a spring/summer brain wave that you'd like to add a fruit tree to your garden or orchard, you can certainly plant a potted tree. In fact, if fruit trees have sensitive roots, or are evergreen, they should be planted from a soil-filled pot or sleeve. Figs, pomegranates, olives, and citrus trees are finicky that way.

In our video Tricia plants a fig tree in a home orchard. Here's how to transplant your new fig tree, or other fruit tree, from a pot or a sleeve.

Fruit tree site selection

  • All fruit trees need 6 to 8 hours of full sun. Bear in mind how large the mature tree will be and make sure it will not be shaded when it's full grown.
  • All fruit trees require well-drained soil, but fig trees are able to handle wet soil better than the others.
  • Ideally the soil depth should be 3 feet. If your soil is compacted by construction machinery, or you have a layer of impervious hardpan not far below the surface, plant on a berm of soil or in a raised bed about 2 feet deep.
  • Think ahead to how you will water the tree, and choose a site near an irrigation source.

Prepare a planting hole for the fruit tree

If you're not sure how well your soil drains, check this article from our local Master Gardeners about testing and correcting drainage. Dig a hole the same depth as the pot or sleeve, and twice the width of the roots.

Protection from gophers

Fig trees are especially attractive to gophers and in our video we used one of our Root Guard Gopher Baskets to stop gophers from reaching the tree roots.

Planting your fruit tree

  • Gently ease the tree from its sleeve or pot and check the roots.
  • Cut off any dead roots, and loosen any that are wrapping around the root ball. If there is a graft union site on the trunk, turn it to face north-east, away from harsh sunlight.
  • Place the tree in the hole and back fill with the original soil, adjusting the trunk to keep it at the right planting height. Most fruit trees should be planted so the trunk soil line is planted at the same soil level as they were pot.
  • Check with your local Master Gardeners or Farm Advisor about any chronic soil issues in your area. In Nevada County the soil is low in phosphorus so we usually add rock phosphate at planting time. Otherwise, do not add fertilizer to the planting hole.
  • Prevent crown rot by sloping the soil away from the trunk of the tree, tapering to a basin beyond the edge of the planting hole.
  • Add a 3 to 4-inch layer of compost and then a 4-inch layer of mulch around the tree, keeping those materials 4 inches away from the tree trunk.

Irrigation for potted trees

If you're planting during the growing season, the basin will be the water source for the tree until wintertime. When winter rains come, depress the outer sides of the basin so rain does not accumulate there and drown the tree. Water the tree with about 5 gallons of water the first time, and tamp down the soil to eliminate air bubbles.

The University of Maine suggests 5 gallons each week during a dry season, and the University of California recommends 5 to 10 gallons of water weekly. Check with your local Master Gardeners for your county's rule of thumb.

Pruning the new fruit tree

Bare-root fruit trees should be pruned at planting time, and you can watch our video for tips on that. Potted trees with leaves should not be pruned until they are dormant in the winter time.

Trunk protection for young trees

A young tree trunk needs protection from sunburn, and the standard sunshield is to paint the trunk with a 50/50 mixture of water and white latex indoor paint. An alternative is to wrap the trunk in a Spiral Tree Guard. Find more details about planting fruit trees in California in this article from UC Davis.
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