Choosing the right tree for the right conditions is crucial to a high-yielding crop. Justin Newcombe gives some pointers.
It's that time of the year when we pack up our garden stuff, mosey on inside and hibernate for the next three months or so. There are a growing number of gardeners however, who do enjoy a bit of winter welly action. Working in the winter isn't as bad as you may think and as long as you keep your feet dry it can be really refreshing to be out among it all, with the rake and barrow, secateurs and saw, compost and mulch, lopping and chopping, rocking and bopping. You and the better half will be like Torville and Dean, whirling your way to gold in the 1984 winter Olympics. All you need is a one piece, pearl blue lycra suit with a fake sparkly belt buckle sitting just below the navel for him and some undies over the stockings with a tea towel poncho for her. You'll be the envy of the street, a couple of gardening spunks.
That's the pep talk, now down to business. It's fruit tree planting time, especially pipfruit and stonefruit which are deciduous and are dormant at the moment. Choosing the right tree is a key factor as to whether you'll have success and that requires some planning.
First things to look at are your environment and soil conditions. Is it windy? Is it shady? Is the soil heavy or sandy? You can often mitigate the soil conditions by selecting the right root stocks. The same top part or scion wood can be grafted on to root systems which favour what would otherwise be adverse soil conditions like heavy clay or wet soils. Choose varieties which are appropriate for your conditions. Growing marginal plants - bananas in Dunedin, apricots in Auckland - isn't impossible but it requires a lot of extra work. Go for high yields and varieties which will grow themselves. What you really want is to keep your trees under control, not be constantly begging them to do something besides die.
The other part to tree selection is choosing trees that fruit at different times. What you don't want is 10 months of the year without any fruit then two months with so much you can't eat it all. By choosing wisely, you'll be able to reverse this scenario.
Once you've decided what trees you want and where you want to plant them it is time to get digging. A hole can be a beautiful thing if you look at it the right way. Because you want your trees to get the very best possible start you want to make sure every little thing is perfect and that includes the kind of hole you dig. Most problems occur on ground with heavy soils. In such conditions avoid a chimney type hole, deep and skinny with clean cut sides. Go for a wider hole with broken up walls. Place some brick or rocks in the bottom of the hole to help with drainage and mix the spoil from your hole with the garden mix you intend to plant your tree in. Plant the tree slightly above the existing ground level and bund (that's a fancy engineering name for a small bank or edging) the soil up around the root ball. The gradient should be shallow so the bund does not erode. If erosion does occur, widen the bund and add more material to it or retain with something like ponga logs. Don't grow grass directly under your tree, but use cardboard and mulch to establish a clear drip line around the trunk. Lastly, stake your tree with something munty. Three really good stakes and agricultural tie will support your tree for its first 18 months after which time it should be able to take care of itself.