Fruit and Nut
The degree of waterlogging will determine suitability for fruit or nut trees. The most common question we get asked is which trees are suitable for wet land (usually land that has already been found to be too poor for growing anything else!). Unfortunately the bottom line is, absolutely no fruit or nut-bearing species are tolerant of persistent waterlogging and in most cases they will quickly fail.
However, the good news is that there is some degree of variation between species. The most water tolerant species of nuts are cobnuts and sweet chestnuts, while the best choices for fruit are apples on M111 rootstocks, pears on rowan or whitebeam rootstocks and plums on Brompton. These are capable of handling occasional waterlogging during the winter months, but certainly not all year round.
The best way to assess soil percolation is to dig a hole 60cm deep. If no water collects in the hole then the land is very free-draining (albeit possibly low in organic content) and will support most species of fruit or nut tree providing any possible nutrient deficiencies are addressed. However in most cases, some water will collect in the bottom of the hole.
A hole that holds water permanently indicates a high water table, leading to excessive waterlogging. Unless the site can be improved or the trees grown on high mounds, look elsewhere.
A hole that dries out in summer within a few days of heavy rain, but more slowly in winter indicates some waterlogging but probably will support the more tolerant species.
A hole that dries within a few days of heavy rain even in winter indicates the land is suitable for most types of fruit and nut tree.
Often some remedial action can be taken to lower the water table. Interception drains that head off water draining from higher ground are particularly beneficial. More general drains or ditches across the land will help lower the water table in the immediate vicinity.
Planting the tree
Generally we recommend choosing sites where holes will dry out even in winter time. In such places a hole 45-60 cm wide and 45-60 cm deep should be dug. A round stake should be driven into the bottom of the hole, slightly off center (windward side of the hole is best). Any sods of grass can be thrown in the bottom. The hole can then be partially back-filled with the original material heavily supplemented with organic material. Compost derived from bark, wood shavings , prunings or leaves are best. Animal manure is very high in nitrogen which is not ideal for trees but if well rotted is safe to use in moderation. Manure which contains rotted straw or other bedding is better than pure manure. Fresh manure should never be used.
The tree should be placed against the stake, at a depth which leaves the original soil line on the trunk around 10-12 cm above the ground level. Any awkward, broken or excessively long roots can be pruned back. Fill in the hole and mound up the earth till the soil line in reached. Firm down the soil with a carefully placed boot. Finally, secure the tree to the stake with a proprietary tree tie. Remove any branches that rub against the tie (or shorten the stake till it is below the rubbing branches).
Sites with poor drainage
The poor drainage will already have been determined by digging a trial hole (see above). In such cases, do not dig deep holes. Instead, turn over the sods of an area approx 1 metre square, so that the grass is left facing downwards. Next drive in a stake into the centre of the turned area. To this add sufficient earth and compost so that the entire dug area and the surrounding area is buried by at least 20 cm of material. This will entail covering an area up to 2 m square. Multiple layers of cardboard placed over the undug area prior to adding the new material will help suppress deep-rooted perennial weeds.
If sufficient material is available, the mounds can be made even larger. Leave the top of the mound almost flat, with a slight slope towards the edges. Excavate a small hole next to the stake and plant the tree as described above.
In all cases, take care that the roots of the tree do not become severely dried out while the hole is being prepared. Keep the roots covered until the last minute.
When to plant
Barerooted trees can be planted from the time of leaf fall (or even slightly earlier) until the time of the first leaves and flowers. In a dry fall, late November or early December can be a good time to plant. Conversely, during the later part of the winter and the first part of the spring the ground often is drier, making planting easier. At Fruit and Nut, most planting of barerooted trees takes place after the middle of March and continues well into April (and sometimes into early May). The mid-late winter period (mid December to early March) can also be suitable for planting providing the ground is not frozen or too wet.
There is a popular myth that trees must be planted early. However, if planting 'early' means planting into wet soil (which is easily compacted into an anaerobic gloop) then early planting is not that smart. The main risk from late planting is water stress - a situation whereby the essential processes of the tree are starved of water.
When a tree is in a state of dormancy, biological processes almost cease so very little water is needed to sustain life. Even if the roots are left exposed to the air for several days (which of course is NOT good practice), the tree will probably survive providing the roots aren't irreversibly damaged by frost. However, once the tree begins to flower and/or develop new leaves, its demand for water increases very rapidly, and is proportional to the rate of water loss through evaporation and transpiration. Naturally the risk is worst in hot dry and windy conditions. If planting a tree that has begun to flower or come into leaf, try to plant on days that are cloudy and damp. Soak the roots well before planting and water copiously once the tree is planted. One good watering is usually sufficient.
Cobnuts are a bit of a special case in that they flower between January and March. However, cobnuts are very tolerant of late planting and can survive planting out as late as the beginning of May providing the precautions above are observed.
Cherries and plums are quite vulnerable to water-stress and should be planted by the beginning of April.
What to do with your trees when they arrive
The trees are perfectly safe left in the package for up to a week, providing they are not exposed to excessive cold or heat. A cool frost-free location is best. If ground conditions are still not favourable, the trees can be heeled in somewhere sheltered, planted into large plant pot (in a clump if necessary), or even left in the partially opened package. If the latter, wet the roots then wrap again in wet newspaper.
Before planting, tidy up any damaged roots or branches by pruning back to the main stem/root or to a good outward-facing bud.
Make a sketch or map of which varieties are planted where, because plant labels are not immune to Irish weather conditions and sooner or later will disappear.
Keep the trees weed-free for at least a couple of years. Deep mulching with bark and/or half-rotted leaves is strongly recommended. Weeds can be controlled with multiple layers of old cardboard, which eventually rots down and adds carbon ( a valuable nutrient) to the soil. Do not pile material against the trunk of the tree as this can encourage disease.