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Planting fruit trees? Consider going ‘bare’ this season

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

TOBEYVILLE — Get out your shovels now because it’s bare-root fruit tree season — and it doesn’t last long.

“There’s a very small window when you can plant bare-root fruit trees in Texas,” said Jessica Robertson of Backbone Valley Nursery. “It’s all about the trees being dormant when you plant them.”

A bare-root fruit tree tree looks like a long stick with a few branches and a bare root. It has no bucket or rootball. The trees can be purchased from a nursery or even online.

“When a (growing) nursery gets an order for bare-root trees, whether it’s you buying one or two online or an order for a (retail) nursery, the grower probably goes out that day, digs them up and ships them,” said Beth Mortenson of the Highland Lakes Master Gardener Association. “And you can only do this while the trees are dormant, so that’s why they are only available for a short period of time during the winter.”

With the container-grown fruit trees available and plantable throughout the year, one might wonder why bother with the bare-root varieties.

Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

“One of the big advantages of bare-root trees is the cost,” Robertson said.

She and Mortensen pointed out that the bare-root varieties come without containers and soil, making them less expensive for growers.

Robertson said bare-root trees aren’t particularly needy, but there are a couple of ways they differ from container-grown varieties.

“You have to get them planted quickly,” she said. With container-grown trees, gardeners have a little extra time since the trees are in soil that contains nutrients and support. Bare-root trees, however, are basically naked, so once a person purchases one, it needs to be planted as soon as possible.

Another difference pertains to pruning. Many growing nurseries prune the container-grown trees but not the bare-root ones.

This can cut both ways for growers, Robertson noted, as some people might not feel comfortable pruning a young tree.

In other ways, that’s beneficial.

“With a bare-root tree, it’s kind of like a clean slate,” Mortensen said. “If you have a particular area or particular design in your garden you’re working with, you can prune the trees in a particular way to fit your landscape.”

Once it’s in the ground, Mortensen said people should hold back from doing the one thing they probably think is necessary: fertilizing the young tree.

“For a new tree, you don’t really want to fertilize it the first year. You want it to get established,” she said. Feeding the tree could encourage top growth and even fruit or nut production when the main need — from the plant’s perspective — is root growth and building a foundation.

This is where container-grown trees have a slight advantage because they tend to have a bit more vigor right out of the “box.” In fact, a container-grown fruit tree usually starts producing fruit or nuts a year before a bare-root one does.

However, a big advantage of bare-root varieties is just that: the variety.

“When nurseries put plants in a pot, they usually pick ones that are popular or will likely sell well, so that limits the varieties,” Mortensen said. “With bare-root trees, you can usually find a lot of different varieties.”

People interested in bare-root fruit trees can learn more from local nurseries. On Jan. 10, Robertson is hosting a fruit tree workshop at 1 p.m. with a good dose of bare-root information. The workshop will be at Backbone Valley Nursery, 4201 FM 1980 in Tobeyville, about two miles north of the RR 1431 intersection between Marble Falls and Granite Shoals.

Go to www.backbonevalleynursery.com for more information on the nursery.

Go to www.burnetcountyhighlandlakesmastergardener.org for more gardening information.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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