How To Plant Trees On Your Permaculture Homestead


photo of apple tree

One of the greatest assets to any homestead are the productive trees growing on your property. In this article, I will cover some tips for planting them on your homestead which should give you the best results for having healthy and productive trees.

 

When planting a tree there are a few things you need to consider and do such as.

  • Pick the right tree for your homestead.
  • Choose the right time of year to plant your tree.
  • Put serious consideration into the location of the tree (it’s going to be there a long time).
  • Follow the steps for planting the tree that will give it the best chance to thrive.

 

Let’s dive into each one of these points and give our trees the best opportunity for a long productive life on our permaculture homestead.

 

Picking The Right Trees For Your Climate

 

Know the heat tolerance of your tree and your climate.

Some trees just don’t do well in hot climates so if you’re in such a climate you need to look for trees that thrive in these conditions to have the best chance for high production.

The same is true on the other side of the spectrum. Many trees that are native to tropical climates just won’t grow well in colder regions. So pick the trees you want to grow wisely.

 

Understand the chill hours of your tree and your climate.

A Chill Hour or chill unit is equal to one hour that a fruit tree spends in cooler temperatures, ranging from 32 to 45 degrees F. Many fruit trees vary in the number of chill hours that they need.

 

Know what your zone is. 

Trees can be purchased that are appropriate for certain zones that they grow well in so knowing your growing zone is important when picking the right trees.

 

map courtesy of planthardiness.ars.usda.gov, find more information on your growing zone by following the link.

 

Are there disease issues for trees in your area and is your tree disease resistant? 

There isn’t much worse at destroying your chances of having a tree survive or be productive than a disease issue. Many trees are prone to certain diseases but by being aware of potential issues in your area it can help you to purchase trees that will be resistant to such issues.

 

The Ideal Time Of The Year To Plant A Tree

 

When the tree is dormant but the ground isn’t frozen is always best.

Trees go to sleep every fall and wake up every spring. This sleep called dormancy enables trees to survive harsh winter periods. Growth above ground essentially stops during dormancy and ends only after a period of sustained chilling. Besides cold temperatures, the shorter day lengths help to trigger dormancy.

Growth continues when warmer temperatures and longer days return in the spring. However, roots are never truly dormant but are in a resting state called quiescence. Even when only a portion of the soil is warmed, roots in the warmed region will grow. This can occur even when air temperatures are well below freezing.

 

Planting trees while they are dormant reduces the transplanting shock trees sometimes experience if conditions are not ideal. In most places, with a four-season climate, early spring and late fall are usually the best times to plant a tree.

 

Trees CAN be planted anytime but require more care when not dormant.

When you plant a tree that is out of its dormancy you want to make the transition as easy as possible on the tree to reduce shock. The number one thing you need to do is make sure the tree is adequately watered frequently.

 

Picking The Right Location For Your Tree

 

A place with the right amount of sunlight.

Your tree may survive in a place with less sunlight but it may not be as productive so to get the most from your tree give it the sunlight that the tree does best in. Most trees do best in full sun but many can thrive in less so research the tree you’re considering to give it the best chance to be productive for your homestead.

 

A place where the tree won’t cause any damage as it grows. (roots, tree limbs, falling fruit, leaves)

We’ve all seen it, a tree that has been planted somewhere that years later as it matures it causes damage to things around it. Roots can reach out to destroy concrete sidewalks, blacktop parking lots or roads, or even foundations on houses if planted too closely. You always have to consider the future and how big your tree will get and the potential damage it can cause in any location. 

 

 

A place where the shade from the tree will be an asset rather than a burden. 

Everyone enjoys sitting under the shade of a large tree on a hot summer day but the shade isn’t always good everywhere. You have to consider the future canopy of your tree and the shade it will cast. Will the tree one day shade out another growing area that will lessen the production of that area? This is something that has to be considered when picking a good location.

 

Digging The Hole For The Tree

You should dig a large hole roughly 2-3 times the size of the root ball. It should also be a jagged hole, not round, square, or better yet star-shaped. Also, the hole should not be too deep, the root flare of the tree should be exposed when the tree is planted.

 

 

Perform a perk test on your soil

Having the proper drainage for a tree is important,  If water drains (percolates) away from plant roots too quickly, the plants will parch even if they’re getting regular water. And if water doesn’t drain, many plants will drown and rot from the roots up.

Start by digging a smaller hole than you will need for the tree, roughly 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide. After you have dug the hole fill the hole with water, and let it sit overnight. This saturates the soil and helps give a more accurate test reading.  Then refill the hole with water the next day and measure the water level by laying a stick, pipe, or another straight edge across the top of the hole, then use a tape measure or yardstick to determine the water level. Continue to measure the water level every hour until the hole is empty, noting the number of inches the water level drops per hour.

 

 

Ideal soil drainage is around 2 inches per hour, with readings between 1 and 3 inches, which is good enough for most trees that have average drainage needs. If the rate is less than 1 inch per hour, your drainage is too slow and you’ll need to improve drainage, if drainage is more than 4 inches per hour, it’s too fast. Drainage problems can be addressed by incorporating compost or organic matter into the soil.

 

Preparing The Root Ball

First, you will want to loosen the soil around the roots, use water if necessary to get the roots loose and hanging. If the roots are in a circle and rootbound and can’t be straightened then cut them to prevent girdling. Pull the soil away from the top of the root ball to expose the root flare.

 

 

Placing the Tree

Place the tree in the hole at a height that the root flare will be above ground. Then you will want to spread the roots outward avoiding a circular motion to help the roots to not girdle.

 

Backfill The Hole

Use only the soil you removed from the hole to put back in the hole. Do not tamp the soil but instead use water to settle the soil. You do not need to add any amendments to the soil at this time unless your soil failed the perk test and has drainage problems.

 

Mulch The Disturbed Soil

Cover the disturbed soil with about an inch of compost or worm castings. Then add about 3 inches of wood mulch over the top of that. Pull it away from the tree making sure the root flare is exposed.

 

 

Only Stake The Tree If Necessary

If you plant the tree in a windy location or if the native soil is very loose this may be necessary.

 

Watering The Tree

Be diligent the first few weeks about making sure the tree gets enough water. Water Deep! This means water heavily enough that the water saturates the top 8 inches of soil.

 

Pruning or Cutting Back The Tree

Many “experts” will tell you to cut the top of the tree to compensate for root loss. My experience says to leave it alone the first year and wait until the second year to prune the tree.

 

 

I’ve taken this advice from several experts over the years and have had successes and failures with many trees and these are the things that have given me the best results. Taking these actions should give your tree the best opportunity to thrive on your permaculture homestead.

Harold Thornbro

Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Public Speaker, Teacher, Homesteading and Permaculture Enthusiast. If You're Looking For Me, You'll Find Me In The Garden.

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