Starting new trees
Dear Good Fruit Grower:
Kudos to you and Tim Smith for helping growers get their trees started right. Regarding your article “Getting trees off to a good start,” in the May 1 issue of Good Fruit Grower, you are spot on with the recommendation “to apply just enough water to settle the ground.” I would emphasize that this is true because good soil moisture is not enough; good root/soil contact is paramount.
To a point, “mudding them in” is the way to go. A week after trying this, growers should look for air pockets with a soil probe. If found, try watering in again. Heavy soils may require many short sets to get this done.
The rest of your article is very helpful. However, I respectfully disagree with the concept that trees do not need water until they leaf out. Rather, desiccation of nursery stock begins the moment they are dug in the nursery. With the trend towards large, feathered trees on dwarf rootstocks we have seen claims of nonperformance rise. In the worst-case scenario, these big trees get pruned days or even weeks after they are planted, whereas they should be pruned the day of planting. Windy, dry, eastern Washington conditions can dry them out in a hurry.
Planting later in warmer weather, planting in dry soil, delaying irrigation, late-planting dormant trees directly from cold storage, not irrigating till the soil settles, or planting in very sandy, rocky, poor soil, etc., only amplifies this desiccation issue. Compounding this risk further is the current trend toward not pruning trees at all at planting.
Balance is key. Balance shoots to roots at planting. Start by removing all branches you know you don’t need. If the roots look small or you are planting late, prune more. Make sure the trees are able to draw up the moisture they are using/losing. Finally, feel the bark towards the tips of your planted trees. If it’s wrinkled instead of shiny and turgid, and the buds are not swelling, pour on the water and consider repruning, because your trees are desiccating.
Thanks again to both of you for what you have done for the industry.