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Coast Gardener

Fall is planting time for fruit trees
Coast Gardener Newspaper and Web Column - November 3, 2001

I have received several e-mails lately wondering when is the best time to plant or replace fruit trees. November or anytime during the fall season is a great time to evaluate your existing trees or plant new varieties in your landscape.

It is important, however, to select only those fruit trees that are adapted for the Coast. Chilling hours are very important, since we receive a limited number of them. Chilling hours refers to the number of hours spent below 40 degrees, but above freezing. Fruit trees need chilling hours to successfully produce fruit. The Coast sometimes receives only 350-400 chilling hours per season; therefore, select only those varieties that have the lowest chilling hour requirements to help ensure a lot of tasty fruit next year.

Sometimes people want to plant fruit trees simply because they want to try their hand at it. Fruit trees require a lot of maintenance and patience. The Gulf South is a tough place sometimes to produce high quality fruit. Other times homeowners lose their trees to insects or diseases and wish to replace them.

Unless you have an "orchard," many people have limited space for their fruit trees. Sometimes people will ask, "Can I replant my tree in the same place?" If you do have another suitable open space, it is best not to replant in the same area. Depending on what killed your tree, pests in the soil may have increased over the years and reached levels that caused the tree's death. The soil where you removed your dead or dying tree could be contaminated with insects or diseases that could attack and weaken your new, young tree over time. A weakened, declining tree is even more susceptible to winter injury, insects, diseases and drought.

Sometimes people think if they wait a year or two they can then put another fruit tree in the once contaminated area. In fact, it really depends on what soil disease or insect problem was present in the first place. For example, a common root disease on peaches has been found in the soil 35 years after the tree was removed! Pesticides available to homeowners are of limited value to fruit growers when trying to decontaminate problem areas. Fruit trees, however, do require a rigorous spray schedule each year to combat insects and diseases from ruining your crop. The spray program starts during late winter and continues throughout the season.

Hopefully, you have the room available and are able to plant in a new location. Try to plant the

new tree at least ten feet away from the old site. Tree roots of the previous soil are still in the surrounding soil. The farther away you plant your young tree the better. Remember that fruit trees need full sun and well-drained soil when planting them. Incorporate rich organic matter into the planting hole, and dig a hole that is at least tree times larger than the root ball of the new tree. Never plant a tree any deeper than it was originally grown at the nursery.

I encourage you to consult Extension publications for specific information on the fruit trees of your choice. Proper fruit tree selection, planting, fertilizing and pruning combined with a pest management spray program is essential to a bountiful harvest of your favorite fruit.

These archived gardening columns were written by Chance McDavid, former Harrison County Extension Agent.