Planting Fruit Trees in the Desert - Knowledgebase Question

Yuma, AZ
Avatar for Ldyrange57
Question by Ldyrange57
November 10, 1999
I would like to know what is the appropiate method of planting young fruit trees. Should I add something to the soil when planting the trees to help hold moisture? And when is it a good time to transplant?

Answer from NGA
November 10, 1999
Deciduous bareroot fruit trees are usually planted in December/January in our area. March-April is the best time for citrus. Recent research shows that planting holes for trees should not be improved with amendments because it creates a "container effect" in which roots don't want to venture beyond. Trees develop shallow, spreading root systems in the top two feet of soil and have few deep or "tap" roots. Till or loosen an area of soil that is five times as wide and only as deep as the tree's root ball (or container size). Starting with a wide section of aerated soil provides roots with oxygen and allows them to spread easily.

In the center of this area, dig a planting hole that is twice as wide as the root ball and no deeper. The top of the root ball should be level with the ground, or just slightly above to allow for sinkage.

Do not amend the backfill with organic matter. In over 30 studies on trees, no advantage was found to incorporating amendments into the backfill. Ensure that the tree is securely upright but do not heavily tamp or pack the backfill, which compacts soil and impedes water and oxygen flow.

Form a circular berm, or rim, to make a water well on the outside of the root ball. The goal is to keep water away from the trunk to discourage disease.

Add a three- to five-inch-deep layer of mulch around the tree's entire planting zone. Mulch conserves moisture by keeping soil temperatures cooler and reducing evaporation. Keep mulch about six inches away from the trunk to help prevent disease. Fertilizer isn't needed during a tree's first year.

Water the extended planting zone slowly and deeply. Soil should remain moist but not too wet during the first year of growth. Always water deeply (two feet) to encourage root growth and to flush salts below the roots' active growing area. Deep, infrequent irrigation is preferable. Frequent, shallow sprinklings do more harm than good. To determine how far water has penetrated, poke a soil probe (any long metal rod or screwdriver) into the soil. It will move easily through moist soil, stopping abruptly where soil is dry. As trees mature, expand the watering zone somewhat beyond the tree's canopy (or dripline), which is where roots are actively growing.

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