Gardening: Love me tender

By Leigh Bramwell

The Landscaper and I have been arguing for weeks - or more accurately, months - over where I am allowed to plant the five avocado trees I have nurtured from seedhood.

Actually, "nurtured" is a bit of a misnomer, since I threw them out the kitchen window on a day when the compost tin was full and they took root at the edge of the lawn.

It seemed to me they deserved to be potted up and now, at about 40cm tall, they have an expectation of being planted in the orchard.

For reasons best known to himself, but which probably have to do with impediments to the lawn mowing process, The Landscaper will not have it.

He has myriad excuses:

  • They'll grow huge and shade all the other fruit trees.

  • They hate wet feet so planting them on a piece of land surrounded by a stream is a totally bad idea.

  • They'll encourage possums.

  • We haven't got room for them.

As a former editor of the Avocado Growers' Association magazine, I actually know far more about avocados than he does, and far more than I ever wanted to, so I am able to refute all of his arguments.

What he doesn't know is I secretly think avocados are rather boring trees. But the fact is, they make avocados and I like avocados, so I'm prepared to put up with their lack of personality for that reason.

"You can't plant them now because it's not winter," he tried, finally.

Not entirely true, I argued. Winter's a more common time for planting fruit trees, but subtropicals will appreciate planting now so they can establish before they have to face the winter cold. And you can still plant other fruit trees, provided you're prepared to nurture them over summer. (And that's nurture in the true sense of the word).

Just as well because the flowers and tiny fruit on the orchard trees at this time of the year are the greatest inspiration for planting more. Not only that, you're likely to pick up a few good specials at the nurseries.

Virtually all fruit trees like free-draining soil (only feijoas and pears will tolerate a bit of wet) so if you're unsure about yours, dig a hole about twice as big as you'd need to plant a tree, fill it with water and see how long it takes to drain. If you have time to make a flat white and choc chip muffins before the water has drained away, a rethink may be called for. If the water's still in there after about 45 minutes, find another location, create some drainage or make a mound for your tree. If the hole's empty before your coffee cup is, you may need to doctor the soil a bit to create an environment that retains moisture so the roots can absorb nutrients.

Once you've established the drainage capabilities of your soil, you can move to Phase Two of the testing procedure - considerably more pleasant than watching water draining out of a hole in the dirt. Put on your straw hat and sun lotion, grab a book and park yourself where you plan to plant.

Fruit trees need about six hours of sun a day to grow well. If you like sitting in the sun, you may need to test a few locations over several days to find the perfect spot.

Try to source trees from your own region - that way you're more likely to get something suited to the immediate environment. But don't discount the idea of growing something out of state either - our neighbours have the most gorgeous peaches which have no right doing so well in the sub-tropical Far North.

Stake your trees firmly and water them deeply every second day if there's no rain. Stick your trowel into the soil and make sure it's wet for at least the length of the trowel. If you water only the top five centimetres, you'll encourage the plant to grow roots close to the surface and then they'll be vulnerable to getting burned in hot, dry soil.

- Hamilton News

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