Great question !!!! Lets start with the trees.
All species – soak in water for 1 – 4 hours before planting them. While the trees are soaking you can dig your holes which need to be as wide as the roots are when spread out (18″-30″), and 1″-2″ deeper that the top roots (usually 8″-10″). DO NOT DIG THE HOLE DEEPER, the tree will sink in time and this causes future problems and can kill the tree.
Scroll down to the type of tree you’re planting for specific instructions for species or rootstock.
APPLES on DWARF & SEMI-DWARF ROOTSTOCK – after digging hole to proper width and depth, drive a 6′-7′ tall T-post or sturdy pipe into the center of the hole. The post should be 4 1/2′ – 5′ above the soil level (after it’s filled back in). Place the tree right next to the stake and tie it loosely with a strip of rag or something that won’t cut into the tree, near the top of the stake. The purpose of this stake is to support the tree for its entire life, you NEVER remove it. If the tree grows around the stake it will not hurt it. When first planted the stake keeps the tree from blowing around in the wind which breaks off the emerging roots and stops the tree from growing. A few years down the road when the tree may have several hundred pounds of fruit on it the stake keeps the tree from pulling out of the ground in a wind or rain storm. The rootstocks that make the trees dwarf or semi dwarf are not wide spreading or deep, and can’t anchor a tree with a heavy crop on its branches. The stake is not an option, and check the tie each year to assure it’s not cutting into the bark. Water the tree in when refilling the hole and apply a circle of mulch, 4″ thick by 3′ in diameter when done. Keep the mulch a couple inches from the trunk.
APPLES on LARGE GROWING ROOTSTOCK – everything is identical to dwarf roots with the exception of the stake. For these trees, use a 1″-1 1/2″ by 6′-7′ long piece of hardwood to stake the tree. In a few years the stake will rot off at the ground, at that point the tree needs no additional support as these rootstocks have a wide spreading, deep root structure. Remember to mulch well, and check the tie each year.
PEARS – exactly the same as apples on large rootstock. wood stake, lots of mulch. Pears have the least roots of all fruit trees when young, but after growing a few years, develop a very large root system.
CHERRIES – exactly the same as apples on large rootstock. Wood stake, lots of mulch. Cherry trees will have lots of big green buds on the trunk and branches, use caution to avoid knocking these off. They are the future branches and leaves, and once gone will not grow back.
PLUMS – exactly the same as apples on large rootstock. Wood stake, lots of mulch.
APRICOTS – exactly the same as apples on large rootstock. Wood stake, lots of mulch.
PEACHES & NECTARINES – these are entirely different. Your peach and nectarine trees will be 5′-6′ tall when you get them. Dig the hole as wide as the roots are when spread out, and 1″ -2″ deeper than the top roots. Water the tree well as you fill in the hole. No stake is required for peaches and nectarines. Now with pruning shears or loppers, cut the main trunk off 36″ above ground level. Any branches that remain, cut back to 12″ DO NOT QUESTION THESE INSTRUCTIONS Remember to add a 4″ deep, 3′ circle of mulch. If you follow these instructions exactly, you will usually pick a few peaches or nectarines the following summer.
Aren’t potted trees better than bare root trees ?
Generally they’re not, and here’s why. The potted stock you find at chain stores and garden centers have usually been growing in a 3 or 4 gallon pot for at least a year and maybe longer. Since the roots can’t leave the pot, they grow in circles, and form an entangled mass that will continue to grow that way for even longer after transplanting in your orchard. Sometimes the roots will girdle the trunk years after transplanting the tree, and eventually kill it.
When planting bare root trees the roots are laid out in the direction you want them to go, and if properly watered, they quickly spread through the soil to anchor the tree and find water and nutrients, as they have not been trained to grow in circles.
Potted trees will often bear fruit the year they are planted because the constriction from the pot encourages fruiting of the tree. The fruit will be quite small though, and usually the tree won’t set fruit again for a couple of years. If you choose to plant potted trees, do so when they are completely dormant. Remove the tree from the pot, shake off all of the dirt, and if the roots are growing in circles, cut them apart with a knife or hatchet and spread out the roots when planting. This will not kill the tree, but not doing so might. Also cut the tree back by 1/3 to balance the branches with the roots. Again, this can only be done when the tree is dormant.
I have sandy or clay soil, should I amend it ?
No. The tree has to grow in the soil where you plant it. If you dig out the junk, and replace it with nice rich dirt, the roots stay in that good dirt instead of spreading out to anchor the tree and find nutrients and water. Sand is nutrient poor but you can add fertilizer. Clay is nutrient rich but you can keep the tree well watered and the roots will grow through it fine. Fill the hole back in with what you dug out.
Whats all this talk about mulch ?
Mulch is absolutely necessary to keep the soil moisture in the trees root zone consistent. Without mulch the soil around the tree dries out quickly after watering and stops the tree from starting new growth and maintaining it throughout the season without interruption caused by insufficient soil moisture. If you want your tree to live and grow rapidly it’s not optional.
What can I use for mulch? Anything that’s cheap or free is the best mulch. Wood chips, straw, grass clippings (not treated with weed and feed), leaves, and well aged manure are all good choices. If the tree is planted in an area where looks are important, colored or bark mulch can be used but it’s more expensive. Be sure to keep the mulch a couple inches from the trunk.
How often do I water these trees ?
If properly mulched the trees require water about once a week throughout the summer. A five gallon bucket per tree is sufficient. If you receive an inch of rain in a week you generally can skip the watering.
Will the deer eat my newly planted trees ?
Absolutely yes. Especially if you are planting them in food plots. The deer watch you plant your trees and when you walk away they come over and eat them unless you put a 5′ high 4′ circle of fence around the tree. I believe the best fence is what you can find for free, since it’s only there for a few years anyway, and unless it’s in your front yard, who cares what it looks like. Rodents will also eat the bark off the trunks unless you put a trunk guard on them. Do not use 4″ plastic pipe for trunk guards. When snow gets deep enough to cover the pipe, voles and mice simply burrow through the snow, drop down the pipe, and eat the bark from the trunk. The tree will leaf out in spring and then die. When the pipe is removed, you’ll see the bark is gone. Trunk guards must be tight enough to the trunk to keep rodents from entering. Protecting the trees from animals is necessary for the first few years until they’re big enough to fend off the animals.
Should I fertilize my newly planted trees ?
I generally don’t recommend fertilizing trees the first year, and here’s why. The proper amount of fertilizer will substantially increase tree growth, which is your objective. A little too much fertilizer will kill it (not your objective!). Unless you have extensive experience in gardening and trees in particular, you’re better safe than sorry. Manure that is well composted is the exception to this because unlike synthetic fertilizers (12-12-12, 19-19-19, urea), manure does not have a high enough percentage of these ingredients to burn the roots. It releases it’s nutrients over a long time period and low enough rate to not overdose the tree. If using chicken manure do so sparingly, it’s very high in nitrogen and can cause damage.
Should I prune these trees the first year ?
Any damaged or broken branches and roots should be pruned off at planting, but not much else is required the first year. If planting apples on large growing rootstock(or pears) for wildlife food plots, start removing the lower branches the second year since deer will eat anything lower than 5′ anyway. There is no point in growing branches where they will get eaten. The energy that went into growing low branches could have been focused into growing the tree taller, faster.
How do I prune fruit trees ?
Michigan State University is a great resource to show pruning techniques that are proven to be the best methods known at this time. Everything they’ve learned is available online and on youtube. It’s a great resource whether you prune 1 tree or 100,000, and the information is free. There are also several other state universities with a wealth of online information on pruning. It would take me a month to explain pruning techniques since I type with two fingers.
Where should I locate my orchard ?
Do you have a choice? and if so what are the options? If your site has any change in elevation, locating the orchard higher up the slope will improve your chances of consistent cropping. Although there may be more wind exposure up higher, the air will be warmer because cold air weighs more than warm air and travels to the bottom of the slope. The couple degrees difference in temperature across the elevation change can make the difference between the flower buds or flowers getting killed, and a crop or not. As you drive through the fruit growing regions of Michigan, you’ll notice the orchards are located at the tops of the hills. If your planting site is level, you have no choice, so plant your orchard where you have the most sunlight and ability to easily water and maintain the trees.
Asparagus will grow in any soil that drains well. Sandy to loamy soils are the best, but it grows fine in clay as long as it drains good. It even grows in gravel!
Planting asparagus requires digging a trench 8″ deep and 12″ wide (one shovel deep X 2 shovels wide) and setting the dirt alongside the trench. The crowns are placed 12″ apart in the bottom of the trench (25 plants require a row 25 feet long) and the roots are spread out (360 degree circle) on the bottom and laced into each other if they’re longer than 6″ in each direction. The crowns are then covered with only 4″of dirt and watered well to pack down the soil and get all the air pockets out. That is all you do until the plants are 18″-24″ tall (usually July). At that point, scrape the remaining dirt back into the trench so the soil is level and no trench is visible anymore. If you place the crowns in the trench and cover them with the entire 8″ of soil, they will most likely not come up. If you are planting large quantities of asparagus, a singe bottom plow or middle buster set to 8″ deep makes short work of the job.
There are several reasons for planting asparagus this deep. First, it delays emergence in spring to reduce the chances of the spears getting frozen by late frosts. It makes it possible to rototill over it (2″-3″ deep) in the early spring to remove perennial weeds, and round-up herbicide can also be sprayed over the bed in early spring to kill perennial grass and weeds while the asparagus is still asleep. A layer of mulch such as wood chips, straw, or leaves can also be put over the bed to keep weeds down.
If you can find triple phosphate fertilizer, it helps asparagus get off to a good start if spread in the trench before planting. It’s not easy to find however, and the plants still grow good without it.
A planting of asparagus can last 25 years on a good, well drained, sunny site.
Blackberries are easily grown in average, well drained garden soil with a mostly sunny exposure. The variety we sell produces fruit on the canes it grew the previous summer. The plants should be spaced 3′ apart, and kept well watered and weeded to encourage as much growth per season as possible. In spring the previous seasons canes should be trellised up by running a heavy string or wire along each side of the row to keep the fruit from bending the canes down to the soil and getting dirt in the berries. The berries are also much easier to pick if trellised. The canes are then cut off at 4′ tall to encourage branching, as every branch produces a cluster of berries that summer. After the crop is harvested, the wires are removed to allow access to the plants to prune out the canes that just fruited (they die after fruiting) to make room for new ones which will produce next years berries. A thick layer of mulch around the plants keeps the weeds down and moisture in for the heaviest crops.
BLACK RASPBERRIES (JEWEL)
Exactly the same as blackberries explained above.
BLACK RASPBERRIES (OHIO’S TREASURE)
Exactly the same as red raspberries explained below.
If your dirt grows a good garden, it won’t grow blueberries, and if it grows good blueberries, it won’t grow a garden.
Blueberries are easy to grow in light, acidic soil with a sunny exposure. Average garden soil is too high in PH for blueberries, and has to be acidified with aluminum sulfate either prior to or when planting your berry plants. If you planted blueberries in the past and they grew 1″-2″ per year, and never produced more than a hand-full of fruit, the soil PH was too high. With a PH of 4.5-5.5, and sufficient moisture and sunlight, the plants will grow 2 feet plus per year, and produce lots of berries. Good garden soil PH is 6.5-7.5, and can easily be lowered to the proper range by working 1-2 pounds of aluminum sulfate into the soil around each bush at planting time. A thick layer of mulch composed of pine needles or leaves will continue to acidify the ground around the bushes every time it rains. More aluminum sulfate can be broadcast around the bush in the future to maintain proper soil acidity. Blueberry bushes are shallow rooted and don’t have the ability to get moisture in dry periods, so the mulch is a necessity to keep the plants from dying in drought conditions. A soaker hose around the plants makes keeping your blueberries sufficiently watered easy.
The high bush varieties we sell grow to a height of 5′-6′ tall, and most will produce 10-20 pounds of fruit per bush when mature. They are cold hardy anywhere in the lower peninsula, and can live for 100 years.
These Asian natives are about as tough, drought tolerant, and cold hardy as any berry plant there is, and will grow in any soil that doesn’t stay consistently wet. Goji bushes grow 5′-7′ tall, and produce enormous crops of 1/2″ long, red colored, sweet-tart berries that are renowned for their nutritional qualities. The fruits are used to make juice, pies, eaten fresh, and even dried or frozen for future use. Goji’s require a mostly sunny site and a heavy mulch helps the plants establish quickly.
HASKAPS or HONEYBERRIES
These members of the honeysuckle family are easily grown in the average garden, and don’t require acidic soil like blueberries do. They also seem to grow well in partial shade. The bushes grow 5′-7′ tall and resemble blueberries in form. Haskaps produce 3/4″ oblong fruit in June and July, before the earliest blueberries, and can be eaten fresh, frozen, dried, or for pies and pancakes. If you have tried to grow blueberries before without success, it was probably because the soil was too heavy or high in PH. Haskaps are unaffected by these conditions. Space plants 4′ apart, and keep well watered and heavily mulched to establish a good root system. Like blueberries, haskaps may require watering during periods of drought, and a soaker hose snaked around the plants makes the job easy. Two different varieties planted near each other are required for proper pollination. These are native to polar regions around the world, so it’s impossible to freeze them to death in Michigan.
Raspberries are easy to grow in any well drained, sunny location. These growing instructions also apply to Ohio Treasure black raspberries.
Space plants 18″ apart in rows 36″ apart. Set plants 1″ deeper than they grew in their pots, and water well after planting. Place a thick layer of straw around the plants to keep moisture in and weed growth down, and within a short time new canes will emerge around the mother plants and spread rapidly to fill in the rows. Everbearing raspberries spread aggressively, and must be kept to 12″ wide rows by hoeing or rototilling. These type of raspberries produce fruit on the new canes they grew that summer. Be sure to keep watered in dry conditions, and everbearing varieties will often produce fruit for two months beginning in August until a hard freeze stops growth. With proper care you will pick fruit from them the year of planting.
The easiest way to grow everbearing raspberries is to mow the canes down to 4″ high in early spring before new growth begins, and just pick the late summer-fall crop. If last seasons cane are retained, they will produce fruit in July, but must be pruned out right after bearing. Not an easy job with raspberries, but some people choose the two crop method anyway.
After raspberries have been growing for 3-4 years you will notice a reduction in berry size and quantity. This is an indication that it’s time to start a new berry patch in fresh soil, a ways away from your current raspberries. Raspberries naturally get disease and insects in the plants and dirt, and when production decreases it will never come back with those plants. Mow the plants down, till up the ground, and plant some other crop there for a few years to allow the soil to clean up. Never replant those berries in a new site, as it introduces the diseases and insects into the clean soil. Purchase and plant only certified virus and insect free fresh stock, and fruit quality and production will be what it was previously.
Strawberries are easy to grow in any sunny, well drained soil. If your soil is a heavy, clay type, consider raised beds filled with light black to sandy dirt. Strawberries don’t like heavy ground !
June bearing varieties (Cavendish) – Plant fresh, disease and insect free plants 12″ apart in rows spaced 36″-48″ apart. Plant to a depth where the roots meet the crown, if planted deeper, the mother plant will not set fruit. Keep plants well watered and weed free and they will quickly form a solid row by runners from the mother plant setting new plants about every six inches. Keep rows to no more than 18″ in width by hoeing or rototilling. If rows are allowed to grow wider than 18″, fruit in the middle will not ripen and usually rot, spreading it to all the fruit in the row. Two applications of 12-12-12 fertilizer, one shortly after planting, and another in July will encourage strong growth and choke out weeds.
The June after planting, these varieties will produce an enormous crop of berries over the course of 2-3 weeks. They are then done fruiting for the year, and should be mowed down to 3″ high with a lawn mower, fertilized, weeded, and kept to 18″ wide rows. As the days grow shorter in late summer they develop flower buds that will produce next years berries, and ripen the following June. After the third year of picking June bearing strawberries, you will notice a reduction in fruit size and production. Rototill them under, and plant fresh stock in clean ground (move your berry patch) for next years crop.
Everbearing or day-neutral varieties (Albion) – Forget everything you learned about strawberries in the previous paragraphs. These are planted 6″-8″ apart in light soil. Set plants to where the roots meet the crown, no deeper! The plants will start flowering right away but the flowers have to be picked off until July 1st, and the runners have to be cut off throughout the season. You are only growing one plant here, and if the mother plant is allowed to set runners the berries it grows will be quite small. If the runners are removed, the berries will be quite large.
Day neutral strawberries require a consistent water supply and fertilization throughout the growing season or fruit size will suffer. They will produce fruit from July till frost if cared for properly. They require more attention than June-bearing varieties, but if you want fruit the year of planting they are the only way to go. Those gigantic strawberries you buy in the grocery are this variety but yours will taste better because you can let them ripen more since you don’t have to ship them 2000 miles.
Day neutral varieties grow well in planter boxes and strawberry pots on your deck or patio. A great way to grow them in your garden is in rows of black plastic mulch with a soaker hose run under it to water the plants. This method requires very little weeding too.
Begin by soaking your trees in water for 1-2 hours while you dig holes, which need to be as wide as the roots when spread out by about 8″ deep (a shovels depth). Blue spruce should only be planted on well drained, sunny sites. Norway spruce have more wet soil tolerance than blue spruce, and also prefer a sunny location. White spruce are the most tolerant of wet soil and even do well in shade. White cedar will grow anywhere in any soil or moisture conditions. White pine likes moist soils and grows fastest in sun, but will also do well in part shade. Balsam fir likes moisture retentive soils and is found natively in swamps and lake edges to hill tops, in full sun to shade. After planting you evergreen trees, put a wood stick right next to the trunk and tie the tree to it with a rubber band or piece of twine. This will keep the tree from blowing around and loosening the roots when the new flush of growth occurs. This stick makes a big difference in growth for the trees second year. A thick layer of mulch in a 2′ diameter circle around the tree will dramatically increase an evergreen trees growth rate. Keep the mulch a couple inches away from the trunk.
White cedar and white pine trees are one of the main foods for deer, especially in winter. A circle of fence is required around each tree in there are deer in your planting area.
These are one of the few trees that MUST be planted in heavy shade initially, but after several years of age can tolerate full sun. If you want to plant your pawpaws in a sunny area, provide a structure made of lath or burlap to provide that shade, and it can be removed when the tree is several feet tall. Pawpaws are tolerant of most soil types as long as they are moisture retentive. Plant the trees 1″ deeper that they were growing in their pot, put a stick next to the trunk and tie lightly with a rubber band to keep the tree from blowing around in the wind, and mulch heavily. Keep pawpaws well watered the first couple of years. These are a beautiful ornamental tree in your back yard with their huge leaves, and deer supposedly don’t eat them. Supposedly.