How to care for young fruit trees
Seeing as I mentioned my new orchard in the last post I might as well add a little information on caring for new fruit trees. Getting trees established well has a big impact on future fruiting so while planting is important, care in the first two years in also crucial.
To begin with you need to understand what has happened to the tree before it's planted. In the case of a bare root tree, even if you get the very best available, it will have lost over 50% of its roots. The size of the tree is therefore out of proportion to the roots that are supporting it so they will struggle to keep up with the water and nutrient requirements of the canopy. In the early stages we need to make it as easy as possible for the tree and reduce any extra stress on an already compromised plant. The focus should be on growing and repairing the root system rather than producing fruit.
Firstly, and you won't like this one, you need to remove all the immature fruit. Most fruit nurseries offer trees that will fruit in their first year, presumably because we are so impatient these days. Fruiting requires a lot of energy which, as we've said, is better diverted into root growth. Just for fun you can leave one fruit bud to produce a single apple but there will be no apple pies in year one. For the second year allow half a dozen fruit to develop but leave it at that.
You should also keep a wide area, at least a metre in diameter, around the tree weed free. As per the introduction, weeds are beautiful but they are also vigourous plants which compete with young trees for nutrients in the soil. You can see one of my new plum trees above with it's clean area around the trunk. I removed any deep root weeds at planting time and covered the soil with a mulch of stable bedding. If there is a riding stables near you they are a great source of mulch, it is usually high in sawdust or wood chip so not for digging in but is an excellent surface weed suppressor.