The Farmer’s 7 Step Guide for Growing the Best Fruit You’ve Ever Tasted: Planting Fruit Trees & Blueberry Plants in Your Own Backyard

Photo Source: District Blue Valley

While in this day and age we are treated to having fruit of any kind available year round, fruit grown locally in season is incomparable in deliciousness! You can grow it in your backyard to enjoy for years to come.  Farmer Ryan Voiland is very passionate about local fruit, and particular about the varieties that taste the best for what we can grow in New England.

In spring at our two farm stores, you can now find his selection of favorite apple and blueberry plants, with blueberry varieties we have tested in our fields, as well as favorite apples from our taste tests.

We want to pass what we’ve learned on to you, giving you the chance to grow the healthiest and most delicious crops of fruit in your own garden. Read on for farmer Ryan’s planting guide:

1) Location, location, location!

Planting your fruit trees in the right place is critical! Water and sun saturation level, soil content, and slope of the ground are all factors that will affect how healthy your tree or bush will grow.

Fruit trees and bushes need soil that has good drainage, so avoid areas where water puddles after rainstorms or from winter snowmelt. Also avoid locations that are shaded by trees or buildings, as these plants need full sun.

Also avoid soils that have a high clay content, or that are too rocky. Trees can grow around some rocks without a problem, but large boulders or ledges must be avoided. Sandy loam soils are ideal.

Trees and bushes can grow on sloping areas, but make sure it is not too steep to mow and work around the trees. Be aware of the expected mature size of the tree or bush variety that you are planting, and space accordingly. Remember that for apple trees, the health of the rootstock will make a big difference on how large the mature tree will grow!

2) Get the pH right

Apple, peach, and pear trees all need a soil that has a pH that is in the range of 6-7. Many New England soils have a naturally lower pH, so adding limestone is often needed to raise the pH.

Photo Source: Fast Growing Trees

You can take a soil test to figure out how much lime to add, which UMass offers. Their “Routine Soil Analysis” for Home Grounds and Gardens, currently $15, is a great basic test for home gardens and will give you recommended rates for how much fertilizer and lime to apply by testing your soil’s pH and nutrient ratios.

Blueberries are an exception and require a low pH of 4-5.5 in order to grow well. If your pH is too high, then elemental sulfur can be used to lower the pH.

Elemental sulfur takes up to one year to fully react with the soil and cause the pH to drop, so in the short term, if planting a blueberry plant consider using a high percent of peat moss mixed into the planting hole. Peat moss has a naturally low pH and will help blueberry plants thrive. A soil test can also aid you in figuring out how much elemental sulfur to use prior to planting.

Photo Source: Liberty for Captives

3) Keep weeds out!

Making sure weeds are eliminated both before and after planting is critical. In fact, being able to prepare the planting area a year in advance is ideal!

Use tillage or mulch (cardboard with straw or leaves on top works well), in order to make sure sod grass and other weeds are killed in the planting area prior to planting. If planting into a lawn or grass area, make sure to dig out and remove the grass chunks prior to planting in at least a three-foot circle or strip from where the tree will be planted.

Probably the best organic approach to managing weeds around new trees and bushes is to mulch them after planting. Use shredded leaves, straw or hay to make a layer that weeds can’t penetrate.

Try to keep at least a three-foot area around the plants weed free. In the absence of mulch (or if any weeds break through) you must hoe or pull those out promptly so that they don’t compete with the young tree or bush! During winter it is a good idea to pull mulch back away from the tree trunk area (in order to discourage mice and voles from chewing on the bark.) Wire mouse guards are a good idea to protect the young trunks.

4) Plant at the right time of year

April, May, and early June are the best times of year to plant trees in MA, though potted plants can be safely planted until mid-summer if well watered.

Photo Source: Gardenality

5) Settle it into the ground with good food

Dig the planting hole at least 25 percent larger than the pot or root ball. Mix quality compost, rotted manure (or for blueberries use

peat moss) in a ratio of 1/3 compost and 2/3 topsoil, and use this mix at the bottom of the hole, and to backfill around the tree roots.

If the tree roots are densely spiraled in their pot, scruff them up a bit on the surface prior to planting, as this helps the roots find the new soil as they start to grow.

Backfill around the root ball with the topsoil/compost mix, tamping firmly in order to avoid air pockets around the roots.

Photo Source: UNM Extension

For apples and pears, make sure that the graft union is two or three inches above the soil level in order to assure that the scion does not try to grow roots!

For blueberry plants, be careful not to plant roots too deep. They should not be planted any deeper than they are growing in their pot! Arrange a ring around the tree that will help keep water soaking into the root area and not running off.

6) Water according to rain levels

Newly transplanted trees and bushes need lots of water right after they are transplanted. Water liberally with 5 gallons of water so that the entire root zone is well moistened. Going forward, if it does not rain one inch or more per week, continue to water new trees on the drier weeks with 5 gallons of water per tree per dry week throughout the summer.

Photo Source: Love to Know

7) Fertilize like a pro 

In soils that have good natural fertility, it may not be necessary to use additional fertilizers beyond the compost at planting, up until the trees begin yielding some fruit after two or three years.

On sandier soils, using some additional fertilizer may be helpful starting a few weeks after planting. I recommend organic fertilizer sources, which release their nutrients to the plants slowly over time.

Dehydrated chicken manure fertilizers with an analysis such as 5-4-3 are good for apples, peaches and pears using 1-2 lbs. per tree sprinkled in a ring under the drip line of the tree.

For blueberries, avoid manure-based fertilizers, and instead use organic fertilizers derived from blood meal, soy or cottonseed meals, rock phosphate, sulfate of potash among others (these organic fertilizer materials are also fine to use on fruit trees).

Fertilizers should be applied only in spring or early summer. Never apply nitrogen fertilizers after early July as this may lead to weak growth that is not hardy enough to tolerate winter cold.

Ideally, make fertilizing decisions based on soil tests or tissue analysis of growing leaves.

Observe how much new growth occurs on trees each year. In general there should be 8-12 inches of new shoot growth per year, so if there is less than that on your tree, it may need more fertilizer.

With these steps of care, your tree or bush should be off to a good start.

By Ryan Voiland

Making delicious recipes from your trees and your Red Fire Farm fruit share is easy and fun! See below for some tasty things you can make.

Baked Apples

Kale n’ Apples

Blueberry Crumb Coffee Cake

Warm Fruit Sauce

Roasted Corn and Peach Salsa