Selecting & Preparing the Planting Site

In order to grow fruit well – and this applies to any other garden plants and trees – it is essential to carefully consider where you are going to plant your trees and plants and also undertake careful site preparation before planting. Indeed I believe this element is one of four major cornerstones which act as a foundation for either success or failure (the others being the careful selection of the varieties and kinds of fruit to grow, keeping the plants and trees healthy and an early identification of any pest or disease problems).

The first issue to consider carefully is where you are going to plant. It is essential that the site is not permanently waterlogged nor wet for large parts of the year as this will either cause roots to rot or simply prevent good growth, has a relatively sunny aspect although some shade can be tolerated and is not in a frost pocket. A frost pocket often occurs where frost cannot “roll” away e.g. at the bottom of a hollow or hill or next to a large hedge or wall which will prevent the frost rolling away. Generally all fruit blossom will be damaged by frost so it is best to avoid locations where it can be most damaging. It is also important not to plant too close to large existing trees as the competition for water and soil nutrients will severely affect the growth of your plants and trees.

A critical planting factor to note is to never replant fruit trees or plants of the same kind in the same location that they were removed from as specific plant diseases can build up in the soil and this can cause very poor or minimal growth. For example if removing an old apple tree do not plant another apple tree or trees on the same site. If you have no alternative but to plant a new fruit tree or plant where one has been previously, remove all soil from the planting position and replace with fresh soil from elsewhere in your garden or allotment. You can then plant a different kind of tree or plant e.g. a pear or plum tree where an apple has been or a redcurrant or gooseberry where a blackcurrant has been.

In preference a good open aspect is ideal for all fruit as this will encourage good growth and good ripening of fruit. Growing top fruit along walls or fences can be a good idea to maximize use of these features but do not plant too close to the wall or fence as drainage can be compromised and be prepared to water trees grown alongside warm walls in particular.

Having selected the site the ground must be carefully prepared. First of all it is essential to ensure that the site is cleared of all weeds and any other growth. This is an absolute must as weeds will not only act as competition for water and nutrients but they can also harbour pests and diseases. My personal preference is to then thoroughly double dig the area to be planted as this will ensure that there is good drainage by breaking up any clay or gravel solid “pans” but will also enable plenty of organic matter to be worked into the planting area if the soil is very heavy or very light. However do not use too much organic matter before planting gooseberries, currants or strawberries or too much leafy growth will be produced. I like to work bonemeal or blood, fish and bone into the soil in addition to well rotted organic matter as this acts as a natural slow release fertiliser and to achieve additional benefit when planting also add a further handful of bonemeal or blood, fish and bone. Never be tempted to use a high nitrogen fertliser such as chicken manure or pellets as this will not aid root growth. The only time to use chicken manure is when it has well rotted down over a period of several months and then as a mulch rather than as a planting fertiliser.

To conclude I must emphasise that preparation – as with anything in life – always pays off. You might get away with planting fruit trees and plants anywhere without thought of the ground condition and aspect but you are unlikely to achieve longevity or good growth.

Gerry Edwards
1st November 2012

Gerry is an experienced amateur fruit grower who is Chairman of the RHS Fruit Group, a member of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Fruit, Vegetable and Herb Committee and also their Fruit Trials Panel. Gerry judges fruit nationally for the Royal Horticultural Society and is also a qualified National Vegetable Society judge.

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