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Monday, May 27, 2013

I Planted an Apple Tree. Now What Do I Do?

Q. My husband went out a couple of weeks ago and picked up a Pink Lady apple and I have planted it.  I have it planted how you recommended and I have it mulched the ground  except for the 6" next to the trunk. I have it securely staked it and I am watering by hand everyday. What next?  Food, or what to make it do well?  
Anna apple at UNCE orchard in North Las Vegas in October

A. I would not water daily but probably every two or three days. If you are doing it by hand you should put a moat around it about four feet wide and 4 inches deep. Fill the moat twice when watering.

            If you have drip irrigation going to it you should still handwater the first couple of weeks before you transition to your drip irrigation. This will help to settle the soil around the roots, remove any air pockets and moisten the soil outside the root system. After transitioning to drip, you will not need the moat UNLESS you use the adjustable drip emitters.
Bare root fruit trees planted, staked and protected from rabbits with chicken wire. The trees
are surrounded by a moat or basin for holding water. These are watered with an irrigation bubbler.
They were then mulched with green waste, chipped trees removed from Las Vegas landscapes.
The mulch is kept away from the trunk several inches to prevent collar rot of the tree.

            If you added plenty of compost to the soil when planting it probably will not need anything else applied to the soil this season. If you were skimpy with the compost in the planting hole then add a fertilizer application now or no later than about mid-June. If you are an organic grower, use a compost addition to the irrigation moat or compost tea as a fertilizer source.

            However if organic sources are not that important to you then you try using some liquid fertilizers, such as Miracle Gro or similar product. Dilute this fertilizer into a five gallon bucket and use the five gallon fertilizer solution for one of your waterings in the moat. If you do not have a moat, try some fertilizer stakes pounded in next to the drip emitters.
Fruit tree fertilizer stake with plastic cap for hammering into the wet soil near a drip emitter.

            You will remove the stakes holding the tree roots still (not the fertilizer stakes) at leaf fall this winter. Staking the tree to stabilize the roots during one season of growth is all that is necessary.

            If you have rabbits in the area you will probably need to add rabbit protection in the form of a cage around the tree. This will require chicken wire that is two feet wide with one inch hex openings or smaller. Cut a piece three feet long and circle it around the tree into a cylinder, tying the ends together to keep the cylinder from coming apart.

            Bury the bottom a few inches below the mulch and stake it to the ground. This helps to keep rabbits from going under the cage.

            You can prune lightly any time but removal of larger pieces of the tree structure should be done in the winter. It is too late to remove large wood from the tree. If you do, you run the risk of sunburn damage to the trunk or limbs.

            Some pruning you can do now includes removing small limbs that are broken, weak or are competing with other branches. If there are branches growing directly above another branch, remove the weakest or less desirable of the two.

            If there is one branch growing into another branch, remove or cut back the one which is interfering. If there are branches that are growing straight up or straight down, remove these. These are all cuts you can do now. Removal of branches is usually preferred over just cutting them back.

Birdseye view (from above the tree) of the scaffold limbs radiating from the trunk like spokes in a wheel.
            If growth is excessively long, I usually cut them back as well to about 15 to 18 inches. This will help initiate fruit producing spurs if the tree is a spur producing tree like apple, pear, plum or apricot.

            If you would like to keep the tree smaller than it would normally get, this next winter remove the center, if it has one, from the tree at around waist height or below leaving five or six limbs radiating from the trunk. After pruning this winter, paint the tree with diluted white latex paint (50/50 with water). Paint all the trunk and all major limbs to help prevent sunburn.

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