Selecting Fruit and Nut Trees
How to Plant Them
Purchasing a tree is a matter which you should
not take lightly. It is a serious commitment. I recommend
counseling. You and your tree can enjoy a long and happy life
together if you enter the relationship with realistic expectations.
You must realize that this will be a caring partnership that
will only grow and prosper if nutritive needs are provided.
If you make a compatible choice, nothing but bountifulness
will adorn your future. Make the wrong choice, and nothing
but a chainsaw divorce can cure your misery.
Just as in marriage, there are good fruit and
nut tree matches, and then there are bad ones. The match is
not made in heaven but at the nursery door. Let me offer some
For maximum production, fruit trees need at
least 8 hours of full sunlight daily. If you moved to the
country for beautiful live oak scenery and shade, don't expect
fruit and nut trees to do well. Extremely shaded landscapes
are not ideal sites for fruit planting.
Soil and drainage are also important considerations.
Most fruit and nut species cannot tolerate excessive periods
of "wet feet." For instance, pecan trees planted
in soil with poor soil drainage show reduced growth, pale
green leaves, zinc rosette, iron chlorosis, leaf abscission
and drought stress in some extreme instances. These symptoms
are the result of the plant’s inability to absorb nutrients
and water from the soil. For nutrients and water to enter
the plant, oxygen must be adjacent to the pecan root. If oxygen
is not available in the soil, the plant will be unable to
absorb essential nutrients necessary for growth. In some instances,
the plant will not be able to absorb water even when it’s
standing in water.
To evaluate how well soil drains, dig a hole
32 inches deep and 8 inches in diameter. Fill this hole with
7 gallons of water. The hole should drain in less than 48
hours. If the hole is empty in 1 hour, your site has excellent
internal drainage. There is very good internal drainage if
the hole is empty in 8 hours. There is good internal drainage
if the hole is empty in 24 hours. If the hole is empty in
48 hours, you have adequate internal drainage. After 48 hours,
if the 32-inch hole still contains any water, it will be extremely
difficult to produce regular crops of high quality pecans
in this soil. This test must be performed when the soil is
wet, not in the middle of summer when the cracks in the soil
are 6 inches wide!
Fruit crops do best where there is excellent
soil drainage. But peaches and plums need very good soil drainage;
apples, pears and grapes need good soil drainage; pecans,
figs and persimmons can survive with adequate soil drainage.
There are certain types of fruit that are poorly
adapted to the soils and/or climate around the Bexar County
area and therefore are not recommended.
Blueberries, raspberries and Muscadine grapes
prefer the acid, sandy soils of East Texas. They do poorly
in our heavy, alkaline clay soils.
Cherries and cherry plums usually do not receive
sufficient winter chilling for proper bloom and shoot development.
Oranges, grapefruit and avocados are not reliably
cold hardy in this area.
Some crops are referred to as low?maintenance
types. These include blackberries, figs, Japanese persimmons
and pears. Grapes and apples are intermediate, depending on
the variety and location. Productively speaking, the most
cantankerous and hardest?to?care?for crops include peaches,
plums, apricots and pecans.
Apples are a traditional northern crop with
relatively high chilling requirements. Thus, special care
should be taken to choose varieties adapted to our warm climate.
Apricot production is very irregular due to
the apricots’ early blooming habit, making them extremely
susceptible to late spring freezes. This problem is so acute
that you should expect a crop only once every 3 or 4 years.
The trees themselves are large, vigorous, attractive and quite
cold hardy. The fruit is highly susceptible to brown rot (a
fungus disease) and should be protected with fungicidal sprays.
The trees are self-fruitful and do not require a pollinator.
Satsuma, Kumquat, Meyer lemon and Changsha
tangerine are the species and varieties of fruit most recommended
for this area, but they can be difficult to obtain. Even though
they are among the most cold hardy of the citrus group, it
is wise to plant them on the southern exposures of structures
to protect them from cold north and northwest winter winds.
Covering with blankets and supplying additional heat through
the use of light bulbs, etc. may also be required on extremely
Japanese persimmons grow extremely well in
this area of Texas. They also have a major advantage in that
they are relatively insect? and disease? free (in direct contrast
to many other types of tree fruits!). The trees are also are
a lovely ornamental in the landscape with bright orange fruit
as a focal point in the fall. However, fruit drop can be a
problem with Japanese persimmons, due in part to pollination
considerations and environmental stress.
Separate male, female and/or perfect (both
male and female) flowers can be produced on the same Japanese
Persimmon tree during the current season's growth. Tane?nashi,
Hachiya and Tamopan produce flowers that develop into excellent
parthenocarpic (non?fertilized) fruit without pollination
and without seeds. These varieties can, however, be pollinated
by common persimmon or the Fuyu variety to produce fruit with
Fruit drop is common on parthenocarpic fruit
without seeds. (Seeds produce chemical hormones that improve
fruit retention.) Any environmental stress such as drought,
waterlogged soils, extreme heat, etc. can worsen this fruit
drop problem. Thus, a thick layer of mulch over the root zone
and regular, deep watering is recommended.
Peaches have been a major commercial tree fruit
in Texas since 1890. They grow extremely well in soils throughout
the state. However, they require frequent spraying and excellent
drainage to maintain good tree health and appearance.
Plums also grow extremely well in many areas
of Texas. The trees are relatively short?lived but require
less maintenance than peaches.
Pears are one of the most outstanding fruit
trees for home landscapes in Texas. Unfortunately, the fireblight
bacterial disease significantly limits commercial production.
There are, however, several varieties that grow quite well
in the South Texas area.
The pecan is the State Tree of Texas and grows
in abundance as a native tree along every river in the state.
No fruit is more widely grown or is as well adapted to Texas
than the pecan. However, before planting pecans, remember
they in commercial production, they are sprayed 4 to 5 times
to insure a quality crop. If homeowners want to have high
quality pecans, they will need to be prepared to spray several
times as well. It may be cheaper to buy pecans if you are
planting the tree merely for nut production.
Also, remember that pecans are monoecious, meaning
they produce separate male and female flowers on the same
tree. Some varieties develop the male flowers, called catkins,
first and are termed protandrous. Other varieties produce
the female nutlets first and are referred to as protogynous.
Each type will cross?pollinate with the other. If you are
planting two pecan trees, plant one of each pollination type
if there are no native trees within a mile or two. The varieties
Caddo and Desirable are protandrous (pollen first) types and
Choctaw, and Sioux are protogynous (nutlet first) type.
The best variety for a homeowner to plant is
Sioux. It produces a beautiful tree with a small, but high
PLANTING FRUIT AND NUT TREES
Probably the first big mistake made by most
homeowners trying to grow fruit and nut trees is in planting.
Their mistake: placing a 10-dollar tree in a 50-cent hole.
Fruit trees should be planted in the areas that provide the
very best drainage possible. Where poor drainage is unavoidable,
trees should be planted on elevated rows or ridges. These
ridges should be at least 10 to 12 inches high to insure adequate
drainage of excess moisture.
The best fruit trees that a homeowner can buy
are trees that are 2 years old and 2 to 4 feet tall. The best
pecan trees are 3 to 4 years old and 6 to 8 feet tall. Not
only do they have the best chance of surviving transplanting,
they also become established sooner.
The largest tree is not necessarily the best.
Smaller, trees without branches often are preferred because
they (1) cost less, (2) are inherently more vigorous, (3)
start growth sooner, (4) are easier to plant and (5) most
importantly, they can be properly trained to look shapely
and bear heavy crops. However, very small trees were runts
in the nursery and should be avoided.
Probably the most difficult thing for the gardener
to grasp is the fact that half of the top growth should be
removed from bare?root or balled?and?burlapped trees before
planting. Many nurseries provide this service to customers.
When a tree is dug at the nursery about half of its root system
is lost. An equal amount of top growth must be removed to
bring top and bottom back into balance (the root?shoot ratio),
and for the main branches to begin their growth in the right
places. If this balance is not maintained, the tree will grow
feebly, if at all, and branches may die back anyway. New fruit
trees should be cut back to 18 to 24 inches with all side
limbs removed regardless of tree size. Pecan trees should
be cut back to 42 inches.
When planting, dig the hole only as big as
the root system. Set the tree at the same depth that it grew
in the nursery. Never set it so deep that the union of the
scion (top, desirable part and variety of the tree) and root
section is below ground level when the hole is filled. If
a tree cannot be planted immediately, they may be healed (roots
covered with loose soil) in a well-drained area making sure
that the roots never become dry.
It is a good idea to soak the tree's root system
in a bucket of water for one hour prior to planting. This
insures good moisture uptake. After the tree has been placed
in the hole, begin filling the hole with pulverized soil,
shaking the tree gently to filter the soil among the roots.
It is best to refill the hole with the same soil that was
removed when the hole was dug. Tamp firmly and thoroughly
with your foot or a well?padded stick. Adding water when the
hole is about 3/4 full will help pack the soil around the
roots and increase chances for survival. After the water has
completely soaked in, finish filling the hole leaving the
soil loose on top.
No fertilizer is added at the time of planting.
However, a light application of nitrogen may be necessary
in June following planting. It is very essential that the
tree be well watered and that all vegetation under the tree
be controlled immediately. A heavy layer of mulch does an
excellent job of weed control.
Now is the proper time to plant both pecan
and fruit trees. Here are some hints that will help insure
Survival rate is usually better with smaller
sized trees (nursery trees that are about 4 to 5 feet tall).
Never allow the trees’ roots to dry out prior to planting.
Heal the trees in and keep the roots moist.
Dig holes that are only as big as the root
Prune badly damaged and dead roots from the
trees before planting. Start pruning the young trees and training
them immediately. Do not allow forked branches with weak crotches
Water young trees during periods of dry weather.
This is especially important during the first and second years
after planting. However, take care not to over-water, especially
in heavy, poorly?drained soils.
Control weeds around young trees.
Apply mulches to conserve moisture and hold