Brisbane has a wonderful subtropical climate that is suitable for growing a wide range of fruit trees.  In this growing guide, we will discuss some basic techniques for planting and growing fruit trees. Firstly, what things should you consider before buying fruit trees for your backyard?  Secondly, what is the best way to prepare the soil for planting?  And finally, planting the tree properly to ensure a healthy start.  The information given here is specific to the general requirements of most fruit trees.  However, the same general approach can be applied to planting almost any type of tree.  In this 3-part guide, we will discuss:

  1. Selecting Fruit Tree Varieties
  2. How to Improve the Soil Before Planting
  3. Planting Fruit Trees

Selecting Fruit Tree Varieties

Space

Select a fruit tree that will fit in the available spaceFirstly, we will consider space requirements.  Do you have a large backyard or a small empty courtyard? The maximum growing height of a fruit tree is often listed on the tag, and on our Fruit Trees page.  Some fruit trees can be pruned to 2m which can alleviate some of the size problems.  Dwarf fruit trees are perfect for small spaces.

Sunlight

Fruit Trees require direct sunlightNearly all fruit trees require at least 80-100% direct sunlight in order to reach their full potential.  They might still grow in less than this, especially while they are young.  However, as the tree matures, fruit production will be reduced and they will be more prone to pests and disease problems.

Soil Requirements

Fruit trees like well-drained soil.  But what does that mean? Basically this means the roots don’t like sitting in water all day. The water must be able to drain away, or soaked up by some spongy medium inside the soil (i.e. organic matter).  Unless you live in a rainforest with perfect soil already, your soil needs to be improved from it’s original state.  This can be done by following the steps below on How to Improve the Soil for Planting Fruit Trees.

Pollination

The majority of fruit trees only require a single tree to be able to set fruit.  These are called self-pollinating. However, a small number of fruit trees require cross-pollination from 2 or more compatible plants before they can bear fruit to their full potential.  These include Avocadoes, Kiwifruit, Feijoas and more.  Furthermore, the trees must be placed close enough that cross-pollination can effectively take place.

How many Leaves in Winter?

When it comes to the number of leaves in winter, there are three main types of fruit trees.  Evergreen (all leaves in winter), semi-deciduous (some leaves in winter), and deciduous (no leaves in winter).  Most fruiting plants are evergreen.  This means they never loose their leaves and stay lush and green all year round. Semi-deciduous trees will loose some of their leaves.  Deciduous trees produce some of the best fruits and nuts, however they always return to a brown stick in winter. Take this into consideration before choosing a position to plant your trees. For this reason, many people opt to put deciduous trees at the back of their property, and evergreens in the front yard.

How to Improve your Soil Before Planting

Home GardenIf your soil is particularly hostile (for eg. compacted, clay soil, or nutrient-poor) then here are some tips to improve the quality of your soil:

  • For poor soils that lacks nutrients, try mixing in a bag of premium potting mix. This is an easy and effective way to improve the condition of the soil before planting.
  • For clay soils, add gypsum to break up any hard lumps. This method can take weeks to be effective so be patient.
  • Build up a small raised mound (about 25cm or more) above ground level. This helps water to run away after it rains and prevents the roots from becoming water-logged.
  • Add organic matter regularly for 6 months before planting. This will condition the soil and provide a food-source for beneficial insects, fungi, and earthworms. The result of this is a perfect rich free-draining soil ready for a new tree.
  • Avoid chemical fertilisers in powdered form as these are a short-term “quick-fix” solution. That is easily washed away into our waterways, and does nothing to build the soils structure. Aim to condition the soil and build structure, water, and nutrient-holding capacity before resorting to chemical fertilisers. Look for an organic slow-release fertiliser such as Neutrog.

Planting Fruit Trees

How to mulch a fruit treeThere’s nothing to it.  Just dig a hole, throw in the tree, then cover it up, right?  Wrong.  Do it this way and your tree is more likely to suffer and die a slow death. Be nice to your trees.  The correct steps to plant a fruit tree are as follows:

  1. Loosen up the soil manually by digging and breaking up any hard clumps with a mattock/pick. Remove any large rocks.
  2. Add organic matter. This should be mixed into the existing soil, and not merely placed on top. This can include aged manure, compost, blood and bone, sugar cane mulch, coconut coir, dried leaves, hay, pine needles, mushroom compost, and many other organic materials.
  3. Dig the hole the same depth as the pot and about twice the width.  Carefully remove the tree from the pot and place it in the hole you have dug. Fill the soil back around the plant, ensuring that the soil remains at the same level as the soil was in the pot.
  4. Top it off with a layer of mulch on top of the soil (eg. woodchips, grass clippings, pine bark, sugar cane mulch etc.) to conserve water and attract earthworms into your garden.  The mulch should be about 10cm thick.
  5. Give it a deep watering. Do it immediately, don’t wait. This helps bring the soil into direct contact with the roots, and also stabilises the tree against strong winds.

This might seem like a lot of work.  Consider it as a wise investment in the future.  Spend just a little of your time getting them off to the right start, and they will spend years to come producing delicious fruits for you and your family to enjoy.