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Selecting Fruit and Nut Trees
and
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 advice.

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 cold nights.

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 seeds.

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 quality nut.


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 successful transplanting:

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 system.

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 to develop.

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 down weeds.

 


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