Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fruit Tree Series #3 Bare root vs Container and High Density Orchards

This will be my last post before Saturday’s Urban Harvest sale, but I will post fruit tree related information throughout the year.

You will find that the trees you buy at the fruit tree sales in town will either be bare root or container grown. There are different ways to handle each of these.

Bare root
Make sure to get your bare root trees put in damp hay and bags before you leave the sale. There is always a group of volunteers happy to do this for you. This is important because you do not want the roots to dry out or to be exposed to too much light. Bare root trees should be planted as soon as possible.
Before you plant the bare root tree, inspect the roots. Prune any damaged roots. Make sure you use clean, sharp pruners.

When planting your tree, make sure the graft is above the soil. The graft is the place the rootstock and the trunk were put together. It is sometimes knobby, or somehow a little different looking. Pictured on the right are the grafts of two varieties grafted on to one rootstock. You can also see a picture of a bare root, grafted tree here.

Now, it’s time to prune the tree. In most cases you will want to prune it to about 2 feet tall. However, if you want to try high density growing, you might want to prune it to around 15”. (more info on High Density below) You should also prune the side shoots to 1/2 to 2/3 of their current length. Lastly, don’t forget to give it some water.

There it is, the cliff notes of bare root trees. Make sure you talk to the volunteers at the sale about specific care requirements for the trees you are buying and do some reading about pruning techniques

Container plants can also be planted now, with the exception of citrus and other tropicals. DO NOT PLANT the tropical trees you are buying now in the ground just yet. You will need to protect your tree from the cold, especially freezing temperatures. You can plant it after all freeze/frost danger has passed (usually sometime in March).

I made the mistake a few years ago of leaving my newly purchased (and expensive) mango tree on the driveway then going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. When we returned, all I had was a dead mango tree.

Avocados by lady_jess, on Pix-O-Sphere
On another note, I wanted to mention the special care a young avocado needs. I don’t have an avocado tree, but I have heard from several sources that the bark of an avocado tree, when it is still green, is susceptible to sun scald. The green bark should be protected, one possibility of protection is a diluted mixture of paint with water.

High Density Home Orchards
Since I did mention High Density growing, here is some more information on it. The idea is that today’s city dwellers do not have the space for large fruit trees, nor do we have the need for 700 oranges of one variety. High density growing allows you to plant many varieties in a small space, such as 4 trees in a 4’x4’ area and heavily relying on pruning. High density growing also encourages espalier, hedgerows, and multiple varieties grafted on one rootball. Angela Chandler is a local expert that teaches classes on this topic. Her next class is January 23rd at Arbor Gate.

This is a really interesting way of growing a huge variety of fruit in a small area. I’m no expert on this, so here are a few links I found
Dave Wilson Nursery
More from Dave Wilson
Santa Clara Master Gardeners
Angela Chandler

More general resources for fruit tree information:
Fruit & Nut Resources from A&M (thanks for this link Kim @ Houston Homebody)
Fruits of Warm Climates by Julia Morton, free online book
Growing Fruits and Nuts in the South by William Adams and Thomas Leroy

Finally, I want to leave you with an inspirational video. Clayton Bell lives in northwest Houston.  On New Year’s day he posted a video of his backyard orchard, quite impressive.

Fruit Tree Series #2 Pre-Sale Talk
Fruit Tree Series #1


  1. Hello. I'm in Houston and don't know where to buy bare root fruit trees. Are there retailers in this town?

    1. I've noticed that not many places are selling bare root this year, rather they have the trees in pots. Wabash and Buchanan's both have a good selection. You may also check out Arbor Gate. I haven't been there this year, but they usually have a good selection.