Planting Fruit and Nut Trees in January

December 29, 2007, Article

by David Rodriguez

Now is the proper time to plant both pecan and fruit trees. Planting is probably the first big mistake made by most homeowners trying to grow fruit and nut trees. Their mistake: placing a $20 tree in a 50¢ hole. Fruit trees should be planted in the areas that provide the very best possible drainage. Where poor drainage is unavoidable, trees should be planted on elevated rows or ridges. These ridges should be at least 10 to 12 inches high to ensure adequate drainage of excess moisture.

The best fruit trees that a homeowner can buy are trees that are two years old and two-to-four feet tall. The best pecan trees are three-to-four years old and six-to-eight feet tall. Not only do they have the best chance of surviving transplanting, they also become established sooner.

The largest tree is not necessarily the best. Smaller trees without branches often are preferable because they: (1) cost less, (2) are inherently more vigorous, (3) start growth sooner, (4) are easier to plant and, most importantly, (5) they can be properly trained to look shapely and bear heavy crops. However, very small trees that are runts in the nursery should clearly be avoided!!

Probably the most difficult thing for the gardener to grasp is the fact that half of the top growth should be removed from bare-root or balled-and-burlapped trees before planting. Many nurseries provide this service to customers. When a tree is dug at the nursery, about half of its root system is lost. An equal amount of top growth must be removed to bring top and bottom back into balance (the root: shoot ratio), and for the main branches to begin their growth in the right places. If this balance is not maintained, the tree will grow feebly, if at all, and branches may die back anyway. New fruit trees should be cut back to 18 to 24 inches with all side limbs removed regardless of tree size. Pecan trees should be cut back to 42 inches.

When planting, dig the hole only as big as the root system. Set the tree at the same depth that it grew in the nursery. Never set it so deep that the union of the scion (top, desirable part and variety of the tree) and root section is below ground level when the hole is filled. If a tree cannot be planted immediately, it can be healed (roots covered with loose soil) in a well-drained area making sure that the roots never become dry.

It is a good idea to soak the tree’s root system in a bucket of water for one hour prior to planting. This ensures good moisture uptake. After the tree has been placed in the hole, begin filling the hole with pulverized soil, shaking the tree gently to filter the soil among the roots. It is best to refill the hole with the same soil that was removed when the hole was dug. Tamp firmly and thoroughly with your foot or a well-padded stick. Adding water when the hole is about 3/4 full will help pack the soil around the roots and increase chances for survival. After the water has completely soaked in, fill the hole, leaving the soil loose on top.

No fertilizer is added at the time of planting. However, a light application of nitrogen may be necessary in June following planting. It is very essential that the tree be well watered and that all vegetation under the tree is controlled immediately. A heavy layer of mulch does an excellent job of weed control.

For the best Extension recommended varieties for this part of the state, visit Bexar County Horticulture website at:
The best local source of fruit and pecans trees, visit Fanick’s Nursery at:

For hard to find an unusual fruit trees and pecans mail ordered, contact Womack’s Nursery at:

Now go out there and plant your orchard.

Remember, Learn and Have Fun!

David Rodriguez is the County Extension Agent-Horticulture for Bexar County. He represents Texas Cooperative Extension with the Texas A&M University System. To get questions like these answered, call the Bexar County Master Gardeners Hotline at (210) 467-6575, e-mail questions to, or visit our County Extension website at:, click under Horticulture and Gardening.

Special Note: Listen to a live broadcast of the Garden Show with David Rodriguez and Bill Rohde on WOAI 1200 AM every Saturday morning, between 8:00 and 11:00 a.m., call in your gardening questions at (210-737-1200 or 1-800-383-9624). Check it out!

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