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Planting and pruning fruit trees

Outdoor Living

Organic Growing
Hans Wieland

Part 2

In Part 1 of this three-part series on fruit growing, I looked at preparation and planning. So we’re now ready to plant our carefully selected trees and bushes on our well prepared site. These tips on planting and aftercare will help to ensure your efforts aren’t all for nowt.

  • Respect planting distances. These are determined by rootstock type. Those on dwarf rootstock will need three-metre spacing. The largest may need up to seven metres. Don’t plant large growing trees too close together. You will end up hacking the growth back as they intertwine. The space in between can be used for other crops for years until the trees fill the space.
  • Don’t plant too close to your windbreak hedge/fence and plunge your trees into the shade. Ensure they are placed where they can potentially receive at least eight hours direct sun during the season.
  • Make the planting holes at least 40cm wide and 25cm deep. In the West of Ireland, where soils are very shallow and low in nutrients, add about 25-30 percent of the planting mixture as compost or rotted manure. In more fertile locations, less would be needed. There’s no need to oversupply nitrates to young trees. You could also add some seaweed powder and a pH raiser, such as calcified seaweed to the planting mixture.
  • Fix a strong stake into the planting hole for bare-root trees before adding the planting mix – slightly off-centre towards the south west to counter prevailing winds. For a container-grown tree you will have to stake after planting. For dwarf trees, which need staking their whole lives, use a 6-10cm stake.
  • Use a flexible rubber tree tie which can expand for fixing the tree to the stake. This avoids damaging the trunk.
  • To avoid the regrowth of weeds and grass use mulch or a membrane on your prepared area. Keep your tree free of competition for nutrients. A mulch of straw or hay is good, but anything that biodegrades and improves the humus content of the soil while allowing it to breath is fine.
  • Keep the tree roots competition-free for the early years. Combined with correct pruning, this will ensure the trees get away to the best possible start for a long fruiting life. After about 4 or 5 years, medium and large stock trees can usually begin to cope with grass and weed competition, but dwarf trees will need to continue to be maintained this way for their entire lifespan.
  • Pruning is surgery, so you need to think about tools and hygiene. Buy good-quality secateurs and a pruning saw that make clean cuts. Don’t spread diseases. When moving from tree to tree or after pruning a diseased branch sterilise your tools with surgical spirits.
  • Winter and summer pruning have different effects. Winter pruning increases new branch production and slows down flower/fruit formation. Best time is late January to mid- February. Summer pruning slows branch growth and encourages flower/fruit formation. This comes into its own from three years after planting.
  • To become a confident pruner, get a quality book or manual, and try to watch someone experienced in action.  

Hans Wieland is training manager at The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim, which offers courses, training and information on organic growing and cooking, and runs an Eco Shop and an online gardening store. For more information, visit Gardening questions or comments? Contact Hans at