Fruit tree that likes shade

Fruit tree that likes shade

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Fruit tree that likes shade. Photo courtesy of APS.

The real difference between this year and last is the weather. It’s cold enough that trees are recovering from the hot, dry summer we had last year. Also, the kids at school won’t be coming into the schoolyard begging you to take a bite of their apple or eating walnuts off of your branches.

Normally, this is the time of year that I try and catch up on garden jobs. Our gorse hedge just got pulled back into the garden, the last of the toadflax is beginning to flower, and the alpines are getting ready for winter. But I’m feeling lazy right now.

Well, except for the fact that I just wrote this little post.

As I said, the real difference this year is that it’s cold and rainy. And, in the Valley, there are few arable plots where crops won’t suffer. In the Hills, the soil is cold and wet and there’s not a lot you can do. But, in the valleys and shallow valleys in the Hills, there is plenty of sun and clay soils. Here, the only thing you can do to protect the fruit is to mulch it, and cover it. If you don’t protect it, the kids will come and pick it off for lunch.

Here, you just take cuttings from your old trees and plant them into your new ones. It’s just one of the advantages of growing in the Hills, where there are so many hardwood trees. It used to be difficult to find a good fruit tree (or nut tree) in the Valley. It wasn’t unusual to have to go in search of one, and pay for a trail ride if you found one that was in a location that didn’t involve spending an hour on the horseback. Now, that’s not really the case anymore. There are a lot of good trees all over the Hills, and you can practically live off of them. A quick Google search will point you to the variety of fruit and nut trees you can choose from.

However, the question remains. Do you start your trees as bare-rooted stock or from cuttings? I know a lot of people who, like me, just start their trees from seedlings that they raise in a greenhouse. Those seedlings are actually cuttings and, therefore, much easier to use. It’s possible to start your trees directly from seed, though. I used to do it all the time. I’m not sure why. I think that, for me, I liked the idea of the seeding process. A seeder, once planted, will provide you with several weeks of growth before you even see it, then you’ll have a beautiful tree that you can actually pick, pinch, and handfeed as it grows into a tiny, tiny sapling. Then, the following season, I’d lift the sapling out of the soil and replant it somewhere in my garden. The process never seemed right to me. I’d transplant a tree that I hadn’t worked on at all, and I didn’t feel as though it was something I wanted to do for the trees I had carefully watched and worked on and cared for for months. A seed tree seemed somehow meaner.

In reality, there is no right or wrong answer to this. However, I’ve been doing it from seed and cutting it into seedlings for a long time, and I’m still fairly convinced that it is better to use cuttings. They are easier to use and, as I’ve grown older and I’ve gotten better at rooting and transplanting trees, I have learned how to get much better results. I’m sure you know how to do it. Here’s how it’s done, though.

For the first season, don’t worry too much about roots. Just plant your tree in the best location you can find, pull the soil around it, water it, and then get out of the way. Put it in full sun. Ideally, you should work on the trees as you get them until they are at least a foot or so tall. (If they’re really young, you can plant them up against a fence or trellis, with the same results, though.) Mulch it. As you get older and you become a little more experienced, you can remove the mulch after the first year. (That’s what I did last year.) Let the trees get established for a couple of years, and then use your pruners to start them in.

On the side of a hill in Montana. Photo courtesy of APS.

If you have had them long enough to start them from seed, you can sow your seeds in trays that have some peat moss and other soil mixed in. Cover the soil with a light sprinkling of peat moss, fill it with soil (including mulch), and then bury the roots of the tree. Put the trays in a sunny window. It won’t take long for the little seeds to germinate, and you can be sure that you have a healthy tree in a week or two.

If you have only gotten your tree from a nursery, it can take a few years before you’ll see it take off, but then, in a few years, you’ll have an amazing, gnarled, and shaded tree. It can be a real spectacle when you have several thousand trees growing in a hillside or arable field. The original parent trees probably grow at least twenty feet or more. The younger the seedlings, the taller they grow, so, just because your trees don’t look like the bonsai in your neighbor’s front yard, you may have ten feet of branches that start out as small twigs and then continue to grow for decades to be held up by you.

The advantages of bare-rooted