Should You Plant Fruit and Nut Trees?
I received this letter in early December:
"For more than 50 years I have in some way been involved
in landscaping and gardening. In all of my research and past
experience, I have found that in this part of the country the
best time to plant shrubs, shade trees and fruit trees is after
the first killing frost or freeze. Since the ground does not
freeze deep enough in this part of the country to hurt the root
system, planting at this time of the year gives the newly planted
shrub or tree a chance to establish a root system before the
spring flow of sap or food to the upper part of the plant begins."
"In the past I have had great success following this
scheme of planting. Trees or shrubs set out in February or later
do not have time to produce roots. Without the roots the plant
has to perform double duty when spring growth begins, i.e.,
it has to use energy to produce roots and sprout leaves as well.
If planted early, the trees have a chance to get over the shock
of being transplanted and to establish some root system."
"I now find that many nurseries claim that the best time
to plant nut trees such as pecans is in February. No particular
reason is given for this recommendation. What I would like to
know from you is just when is the best and proper time to plant
pecan trees or any other tree in this area?" The letter
was signed Frank L. Kitto.
Mr. Kitto doesn't need my answer; he has already answered
his question. If he has found that "in this part of the
country the best time to plant shrubs, shade trees and fruit
trees is after the first killing frost or freeze" then
the same would be true for pecan trees and any other tree or
shrub. Tradition is the main reason most nurserymen recommend
a later planting date.
Traditionally, growers have not shipped bare?root trees to nurseries
until early January. Many times adverse weather conditions discourage
tree planting until February. However, I received this telephone
call from a premier nurseryman and my local mentor, Eddie Fanick
of Fanick Garden Center, located in San Antonio at 1025 Holmgreen:
As he snatched the phone from his son John, with whom I was
trying to have a civil conversation, he bellowed, "Parsons!
You ought to be telling people that now is the best time to
plant trees. I got some good ones??some beauties??in out here."
I quickly responded in an attempt to spark his temper. "Listen,
I didn't take you to raise! Just because you are overstocked
with trees doesn't mean I am going to write an article to help
keep you out of debtor's prison!" The verbal tirade which
followed concerning my insinuation that Mr. Fanick was trying
to "unload" trees by recommending a less?than?desirable
horticultural practice cannot be printed??but I enjoyed it.
After his blood stopped boiling he unloaded this bit of wisdom:
"If people would plant fruit and nut trees earlier so that
roots can be grown before the trees sprout in the spring, a
much greater percentage of trees would survive. But people wait
until the last minute, do not cut the top of the tree back to
compensate for the roots removed during the digging process,
allow the roots to dry out on the way home and then wonder why
the plant dies!" Where have I heard similar sentiments
before? Seems as if Mr. Kitto said the same thing. Who am I
to argue with the over 100 years of combined experience these
two gentlemen represent?
Early spring IS the best time to plant fruit and nut trees
in this area and NOW is "early spring." When spring
begins to break rapidly, a difference of two weeks in the planting
date often results in the obvious better growth of earlier?planted
trees. An important factor that explains this better growth
is that new roots develop when the soil temperature is above
45 degrees F. Pecans begin to develop roots when the soil temperature
is above 55 degrees F. Thus earlier?established trees have a
period of some root development in their growing location before
the leaves appear. This gets the tree off to a vigorous start.
Now that you know when to plant, you will need to consider
if you should plant. Just because this is the right time to
plant doesn't necessarily mean that you can or should rush out
and purchase the fruit or nut tree of your dreams. Evaluate
carefully your situation or you may be creating a disaster rather
than a joy.
Fruit and nut trees are beautiful plants for any landscape,
but you must have the space or suitable conditions for fruit
or nut production. When cold winter winds blow, leaves fall
and the dormant season grips the area, gardeners conjure up
notions about producing juicy peaches, luscious plums, tantalizing
apricots, crispy apples and delicious pecans in abundance. We
know that we can do it because the catalog says we can! We know
that the produce will be high quality because we see the picture
that accompanies the catalog description! But that picture was
not taken in your backyard. Texans can produce mouth?watering
fruit and nuts but only under certain conditions and by using
The first and most important consideration is space. Stand
on the proposed planting location, look around and think 10
years ahead. The mature spread (width) of a pecan tree is at
least 40 feet and can even be twice that. Roots extend even
farther than the branches. Adequate space between trees is just
as important as adequate space between trees and existing structures.
Recommended planting space between peach and plum trees is 18
feet; between Japanese persimmons, standard pears and standard
apples it is 25 feet; dwarf apples, 6 to 12 feet; between pecans,
50 feet; between grapes and figs, 12 to 14 feet and between
blackberries, it is 3 feet with rows 12 feet apart.
Proper selection and placement of fruit plants can provide
delicious produce and stunning beauty in the home landscape.
However, random plantings can be distracting and even unattractive.
Most fruits should be planted in the backyard as an attractive
development around the patio. Concentrate all other plants in
bold angular or curving beds around the edges of the yard. This
allows open turf areas (with strategically located shade and
background trees) that are bounded by easy?care shrub beds.
Don't just dot fruit trees at random throughout the yard because
it breaks up otherwise spacious open areas. Fruit trees work
better in groups of at least three of a kind (i.e., three peaches,
three pears, etc.) and located in beds of groundcover or annual
flowers along the outside edges of the property.
Many other "fruitscaping" possibilities exist. For
example, many backyards are completely bare and are surrounded
by a wooden privacy fence with a small patio at one corner of
the home near the fence. First, the patio probably needs to
be enlarged with brick, exposed aggregate, decking, etc. Then,
to delineate the patio area and to lead the eye to the accent
corner, a short section of matching wooden fencing can be tied
into the existing fence in a perpendicular arrangement (thus
creating an L?shaped enclosure) that is about 8 to 10 feet beyond
the newly expanded patio. Place three semi?dwarf fruit trees
of a given type in an L?shaped pattern inside the fence. Fill
the area between the fence and patio with a combination of dwarf
shrubs, groundcovers (such as strawberries) and/or annual flowers.
When planting border beds, strive for a graduation of plant
heights ? taller in back (i.e., near the fence) to shorter in
front. For example, locate dwarf fruit trees near the fence,
blackberries in the middle bed. In south central Texas where
strawberries are grown as annuals, use low?growing vegetables
or brilliantly colored annuals to fill in during summer months
until berry plants are planted in September.
Other possibilities include the use of well-adapted grape
varieties to soften exposed sections of fencing and/or on arbors
to shade hot patio areas. Dwarf fruit trees or cold?hardy citrus
plants can be grown in tasteful, unobtrusive containers which
act as gentle screens delineating a patio area or softening
the deck lines.
To further increase the fruit production area consider espalier
(es?PAL?yea). This system, in which all of a plant's branches
are trained in a flat, vertical plane, can be used to grow fruit?producing
trees (such as pear, plum or apple) or ornamental trees (such
as evergreen pear) against a hot south or west wall. The advantages
are many. The otherwise harsh, angular lines of the home are
softened, fruit is produced without encroaching upon the outdoor
living area, air?conditioning bills are reduced by shading sun?baked
walls and heating bills are reduced by allowing maximum solar
warming during winter months since fruit trees are deciduous
(i.e., drop leaves in the fall). While it's true that the creation
of an espalier is time consuming, the results are most gratifying.
Figs are a favorite because they are so easy to grow, and
fresh figs are a taste treat. Their coarse leaf texture makes
an area seem smaller however, so they're best used along the
outer periphery of the yard rather than near the patio.
Finally, don't forget jujubes and Japanese persimmons as they
can provide interesting focal points, fall color and usable
fruit, all with minimum care.
Intelligent integration of fruit into the landscape delights
the eye and palate. If you are interested in planting fruit
and nuts, BE SURE to use the varieties recommended at: