The Tremlett's Bitter cider apple trees finally arrived today, happily coinciding with the warmest, sunniest day of the year so far. Great planting weather, and perfect soil conditions too.
These trees are yearlings (Maiden Whips), grafted onto M26 semi-dwarfing rootstock, and are lovely specimens with plenty of growth. Liz Copas, in her excellent book 'A Somerset Pomona - The Cider Apples of Somerset', describes Tremlett's as '...difficult to manage, being full of vigour...' which probably explains the size of these trees. Anyway, the planting season is getting late, so in they go, and this is how I did it...
The trees arrived well wrapped in straw, and protected from damage by a strong cane. The straw around the roots was quite moist, but even so the rootball had dried a little and I felt they would benefit from a short time in a bucket of water. Whilst they soaked, I got digging.
The hole needs to be big enough to easily take the roots without bending or distorting them, and deep enough to plant the tree at least as deep as it was before being dug-up at the nursery. Seems obvious I know, but the planting depth is quite critical. Too shallow, and established roots will die off hindering the establishment of the tree. Too deep and there is a danger that the scion will send out rootlets which may bypass the rootstock, not good if you aim to control the size of the tree.
Once the hole is dug, a stake can be driven in with a lump-hammer, and I like to sprinkle a handful of bonemeal around the hole to help with establishing a good root system. Some people add organic matter to the hole, but my understanding is that this tends to promote excessive top-growth, whereas I want the tree to spend it's first year putting down a firm anchor of roots. The bonemeal needs forking into the soil so that it doesn't burn the roots with direct contact.
With the tree held in position using a tree-tie, I can now shovel back the crumbly earth around the roots. After a light firming-in with the boot, it's time to fix a rabbit-proof guard. A must for most rural/village gardens, rabbits are everywhere and will quickly strip the bark off a newly planted tree. I use a hoop of chicken wire, not pretty, but I've had no damage yet in the orchard.
The final task is 'tipping-back' the leader. By pruning the first year growth back to a bud, and pinching out the two buds below it, we aim to encourage the tree to send out lateral branches lower down, and strong central leader growth upwards. That's the theory, and only time will tell if I've got it right with these new trees.
For a video of fruit tree planting by the professionals, have a look here: Fruitwise Planting a Small Pear Tree