Depending on where you are in the world, this time of year can either be a great time to be out in the garden, or a cold and miserable experience. Just yesterday I had warm sunshine with a gentle breeze and all seemed well with the world. Today, however, it's wet and windy, so indoors is a much more preferable place to be. But now is also the time to make the most of the good days and get out there planting, especially if you'd like some fruits for your labor later on in the year.
Fruit that can be planted in winter (known as the dormant period) includes apples, pears, blueberries, cherries, and peaches. Some of these grow on trees, and others on bushes. In some cases, they will bring a wonderful springtime blossom as well as the summer or autumn fruit.
Generally, it’s better to plant trees between the months of November and March so that they don't dry out. Importantly, the tree should be planted before the leaf buds start to develop. Purchasing bare-root rather than the potted varieties is considerably cheaper and it’s also easier to dig the hole in the soft winter earth rather than a sun-scorched rock hard summer soil. Although, planting in a frozen ground is a definite no-no.
Most of the growth of the tree will be between May and August when the roots develop and establish themselves properly in the ground. Some of the softer fruits, such as blackberries, will need some protection from birds, such as netting, to stop them being eaten as they ripen. The netting solutions can vary from a basic net thrown over the plant to a full scale structure with its own supports to really keep the birds out.
Preparation and Planting
The quality of the soil doesn't have to be perfect, but it's always worthwhile mixing in some manure or rotted compost into the topsoil prior to planting the tree as it will help it establish itself. Several factors will affect the rate of growth such as whether the soil is sandy, clay, or silty. The amount of water available to the roots of the tree will have the most affect, though. The site should be well-drained, and not boggy. Any weeds in the area should be cleared away so that nutrients and water in the soil will be taken by the tree rather than anything else.
Then, a hole needs to be dug, ensuring that it's about a third wider than the roots. It’s useful to fork the sides of the hole so that the roots can penetrate the soil more easily. Ensure the hole is the correct depth; the top of the roots should be level with the soil surface, unless the soil is particularly heavy, in which case the root ball can be slightly proud in order to assist with drainage. If the root ball has any protective wrapping on it, ease the tree to one side and remove it. Insert a stake next to the tree, making sure not to damage it.
The hole should then be filled with soil and mixed in with manure or compost. Check that the tree is vertical before firming the soil and treading in. Use a tree tie to stabilize the tree against the stake, ensuring that it's not too tight and therefore that the tree trunk isn't damaged. Once finished, ensure that the tree roots are well-watered. It’s vital that the tree roots are not allowed to dry out.
Pruning offers the chance to shape the tree as required, as well as helping to maintain the healthy tree by removing any dead or damaged branches. Additionally, this will allow increased light to more of the healthy branches, which should improve the fruit yield of the tree.
Bush fruits, such as blackcurrants and gooseberries, can be planted throughout the winter. These are put into the ground using the same method as the fruit trees. However, if planting blackcurrants, all stems should be cut back, and if planting gooseberries or redcurrants, all side shoots should be removed within four inches of the soil so that the plant has a stem.