Time for fruit trees

01:43, Jul 17 2014
Plum tree

This time of the year fruit trees are readily available from garden centres and it is the best time to plant them, as they have the rest of winter and all of spring to establish before they hit their first summer.

It is important to select the types of fruit that you and your family most enjoy and then to pick the cultivator that is most suitable and productive for your locality. A number of fruiting trees require a suitable pollinator to obtain good crops, which means you need to buy two different cultivators to ensure that you have a good fruit set.

Nowadays we can find plums, for instance, that have a double graft, meaning that two varieties of plums will be produced on the same root stock. The varieties chosen for the grafting will often be the pollinators, so only one tree is needed but two types of plums will be harvested.

One has to monitor the two aspects to ensure both are growing equally well without one superseding the other.

In the likes of apples and some other grafted fruit you may have the choice of the type of root stock such as MM106 etc. The root stock type will help determine the ultimate size of the tree and thus the amount of fruit it can bear. These are MM106, 4-5 metres MM793, 3.5-4 metres and EM9 2.5-3m The later is also referred to dwarfing root stock. This can be a great advantage for people with smaller sections.

Some types maybe labelled "Self Fertile" which means you have no need for another tree as a pollinator. Others may have their name on the label along with recommended pollinators. These are important aspects to consider when you are buying any fruiting tree.


Self fertile will produce good crops but better again if there is a second suitable cultivator or the same species planted nearby. Another tip, because of the lack of feral bees in parts of New Zealand, if you plant your fruit tree down wind (the prevailing wind) of your pollinator, you will likely have a better fruit set due to pollen bee breeze carried.

Having little open ground, I now grow most new fruit trees as container plants.

There is many advantages to this, you can grow many more trees in containers than you could ever grow in open ground. The containers restrict the root system making for smaller trees, no matter what root stock they are on. Smaller trees are easier to manage, spray, and been in a container, less loss of nutrients from leaching away.

Crops are smaller but minimal wastage, as you tend to eat all the fruit produced.

They are easier to protect from birds as the fruit ripens.

For those that are interested in this method, here is how I do it. Firstly choose the largest plastic rubbish tin you can find. (About 76 litres). Avoid black plastic ones, as they can cook the roots if in strong direct sunlight.

Drill about 40-50mm wide holes in the sides of the bin about 100mm up from the bottom for drainage. This leaves an area at the base, for surplus water in the summer.

You can partially dig into the soil and if you want the roots to enter into the soil, place about four holes 40-50mm wide in the bottom as well as four at the cardinal points on the sides. (If you move you can easily wrench the tree and container from the ground) I have used this part buried method in the past, for my citrus trees and passion fruit vines to avoid root rots in winter.

Don't waste your money on potting mixes as they lack the long term goodness that a tree needs. Instead use a manure-based compost. There are organic mulches and composts available from most garden centres, that are made of bark fines, composted with animal manures. Add to this a few handfuls of clean top soil, mixed or layered through. I also add in worm-casts and worms from my worm farm. The worms help keep the heavier composts open and also supply a continuous source of nutrients. You add in sheep manure pellets and Rok Solid.

Plant up your tree so that the soil level is about 100mm below the rim of the container. This allows for easy watering and feeding.

I mulch the top of the mix in spring with old chook manure and apply Fruit and Flower Power (Magnesium and potassium) once a month during the fruiting period.

Other foods can be applied as needed.

If the roots are not allowed into the surrounding soil, you will need to lift the tree out of the container every 2-3 years and root prune by cutting off the bottom one third of the roots with a saw.

New compost and a bit of soil is placed in this area vacated and the tree put back in the container. This is best done in winter when the tree is dormant.

Problems? Phone me on 0800 466 464 or email wallyjr@gardenews.co.nz

The Southland Times