Create an Inexpensive Orchard with Bare Root Fruit Trees

Bare root trees are young trees that are removed from the soil during their winter dormancy, so that the trees’ roots are exposed. This is done to make packaging and shipping easier and cheaper, and it’s a popular way to market fruit trees like apples, pears, peaches, plums, cherries, figs, pomegranates, and various nuts and berries.

peach-blossoms

Half Price Fruit Trees, Anyone?

When you buy bare root trees, you can often get fruit trees for about 50% of the cost of the same size trees if they were shipped in a pot. Half-off fruit trees, anyone? Now’s the time!

Bare root fruit trees are typically only available for a few months in the middle of winter. The trees need to have their roots placed back in the soil before they come out of dormancy and begin to bud out for the spring.

You can often fit a dwarf or semi-dwarf fruit tree into a pretty small space, and you can keep the tree even smaller with careful pruning. So, take a stroll around your property and see if there’s room to squeeze in a new fruit tree. You might be able to add a significant food source to your yard for less than $50…

If you’re lucky, you might find bare root fruit trees at a local nursery, garden center, or farm supply store. They should only have trees available that are appropriate for your area, so the hardest part of shopping is already done for you. If you can’t find them locally, you can always buy online – although the shipping costs can take a bite out of the overall savings.

Things to Consider for Bare Root Fruit Trees

Chill Hours

Chill hours are the number of hours that elapse while the temperature is between 32 F and 45 F. Some trees won’t flower until an approximate number of chill hours have elapsed. The best trees for your area are the trees whose chill hour requirements match the average chill hours for your area.

• If you have a tree that requires 400 chill hours in a winter that only provides 200 chill hours, the tree probably won’t flower that year.
• If you have a tree that requires 400 chill hours in a winter that provides 800 chill hours, the tree will likely flower prematurely, and the blooms will freeze and fall off.

chill-hours-map

Pollination Requirements

Make sure that your fruit tree’s pollination requirements are met. Many fruit trees won’t bear good fruit without another tree nearby as a pollen source. Some trees will produce bigger and better fruit when pollinated by another specific variety of tree. If you only have room for one tree, make sure the tree you select is self-fertile. Also find out if your tree requires a 3rd party pollinator, like bees, or if it’s just pollinated by the wind.

Start Small and Scale

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Fruit trees require a little more maintenance than your average landscape tree. At a minimum you’ll probably need to spray once a year, prune once a year, and fertilize twice a year. Depending on the pests and diseases that are prevalent in your area, more spraying might be necessary. Start with a tree or two and get a feel for it before you commit to more maintenance work than you really want.

[Prune Your Fruit Trees Now for a Great Harvest Later]

If you’re not sure how to plant a bare root tree – don’t worry about it – it’s super simple. Here’s a video where you can see a bare root tree planted by Theresa Knutson, a horticulturalist at Raintree Nursery in Morton, WA:

marjory-wildcraft-how-much-land-do-you-need


Thanks to Raintree Nursery for the nifty video.

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Michael Ford


Contributor

Michael has been the resident editor at The [Grow] Network since January 2015. Michael grew up in St. Louis, where he became a lover of nature - hiking and fishing his way through the Ozark hills in Missouri. He attended Baylor University in Waco, TX, and he currently lives in Austin. Michael has background experience in small-scale farming, commercial growing, vegetable gardening, landscaping, marketing, and software development. He received his Permaculture Design Certification from the Austin Permaculture Guild in 2013.


6 Comments
  • DP

    Good info., thanks. We purchased some acreage in TN and I have been wanting to plant a small orchard on part of the land.

    Good advice to start small and grow as you learn what you’re doing!

  • Martha

    Interesting. Many nurseries are now recommending that you cut the main leader back to 18″ to 24″ to create more fruiting spurs, and to create an open center on stone fruit. This is to keep the tree small without having to buy dwarfing rootstock.

    • Profile photo of Michael Ford

      Hi Martha – Yeah I’ve heard that a lot too – I’ve also seen those instructions printed on bare root packaging. On the other hand, I have heard other people recommend that it’s best to wait for the tree to get established before you lop the top. If the tree is strong, my guess is that it would do fine either way.

  • Jim Reed

    Be sure to keep the root flare above ground level.

  • Moe Eaton

    Good info, Thanks. But next video, please back out a little ways so we can see better the big picture. Everything was too close up to get a good look at what she was doing. Just sayin…..

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