On Thursday, we drove up to Winterport, Maine to pick-up some bare root trees from Winter Cove Farm. If you read the Three Bird Farm Blog, you know we love supporting local farms, and Winter Cove Farm is no exception–we’ll certainly be visiting them again. Jill and Brian are self-described “fruit explorers” focused on fruits that do exceptionally well in cold climates like Maine. Back in April, we came a cross an ad they had posted on CraigsList and ordered two plum trees (a waneta and a black ice), an encore peach, a kieffer pear, and a hazelnut shrub–all bare root. We also ordered some ever-bearing strawberries. The deal is that you can either go to the farm to pick-up your trees or you can arrange to meet Jill and Brian somewhere along the I-95 corridor. We, of course, opted to go to the farm!
Unfortunately, a variety of circumstances conspired against us getting up to the farm as early as we wanted, and with spring fully upon us, there was no more time to wait…so we loaded up the truck and headed north-northeast up Route 1 through Belfast and then up the west side of the Penobscot River to Winterport. Winterport was settled first by Europeans in 1766 because of its proximity to a (usually) ice-free harbor on the Penobscot River.
It was an exceptionally hot day–the first 80s since September–making it less than ideal for transporting our new trees home, but as spring has sprung, we knew we really needed to get the new trees in the ground. When we got the trees home, we soaked them in a 50-gallon tub for a few hours while we prepped the sites where we planned to plant them.
What is a Bare Root Tree?
Bare root trees are just what they sound like–rather than being in a pot or having a large rootball attached, bare root trees have no dirt at all around the bare roots. Many people serious about their trees prefer bare root, as the roots are unencumbered and, if planted properly, can get off to a much better start in their new location. While that large tree with its attached rootball may look appealing at the nursery, the fact of the matter is that, within a few years, your bare root “twig of a tree” may actually surpass that expensive nursery tree that looked so good at the outset. Further, the bare root tree often develops a stronger root system, and, best of all, if you buy your bare root tree from a local trusted source, it will have a far better chance of adjusting to your zone than some nursery trees that may be trucked in from far away.
Where to Plant
We are lucky to already have many fruit trees on Three Bird Farm, including some really remarkable apple trees. Most of our fruit trees are around the perimeter of our back lawn, where they get plenty of sun. The spring blossoms tend to go in succession so that for about a month or so, something is always in bloom. Right around now, the blossoms on some of our huge old apples are absolutely stunning.
The two new plums and the new peach are going in near one of our cherries that is just a few years old. The four trees together, will form a boundary along a small berm on the southwest side of the lawn. The pear will go higher on the property, where it can have a little more space, as it will likely be the largest of the bunch. It will have an apricot and several apple trees as neighbors.
In general terms, most fruit trees need 6+ hours of sun per day and good soil that retains moisture well. In terms of soil amendment, we’re not really doing much besides eventually mulching around the planted trees, although we did add some green sand to the hole we dug for the pear tree.
To prepare the area where the two new plums and peach are going we used the box blade with the tines set low to “rough-up” the soil and pull some of the larger roots. The area has been a pretty weedy patch we bush hog a couple times a year.
After roughing-up the soil, we then went in and pulled roots by hand.
Once the weeds and roots were pulled, we bermed up some soil along the edge of the lawn and then dug the holes for the two plums and the peach.
Planting the New Fruit Trees
We dug the holes significantly larger than the roots of the trees and then backfilled the soil to the size of the individual trees roots, making sure the soil was not too compacted but also had no air pockets. In general, each tree has a couple feet of turned soil on all sides of its roots to encourage root growth.
When planting grafted trees, it is important to leave the graft line above the soil. The graft line is the place where the scion or upper part of the tree is attached to the understock during the grafting process.
Holding the tree plumb in the hole, we then backfilled around the roots. We choose not to use any fertilizers, as we want our new tree to seek out the nutrients it needs from the surrounding soil, thereby establishing a strong root system. Fertilizers can also damage the roots of young trees.
Planting fruit trees in the spring is the preferred choice for northern growers. A spring planting ensures that the trees have enough time to become established before winter. It’s best to plant when the tree is dormant, but we were a little late for a couple of our new trees that already had some leaves. TLC will be a must throughout the trees’ first season here at Three Bird Farm.
After planting, we created a trough around each tree and then gave the trees a nice long drink. We are fortunate to have both city water and a well at Three Bird Farm, and we use our well for most of our irrigation needs. After an initial watering, we went ahead and mulched the entire berm, being sure to keep the mulch off the trunk of the tree.
The pear tree, which is on its own a little higher on the property, received similar treatment. We decided to pot the hazelnut in a large pot for the time being, as we’re not entirely sure where we want it to go at the moment. We also put the strawberries in containers.
Planting bare root trees does require some patience. It will be a couple years before we see fruit on these trees, but when they do begin to produce, the trees should be strong with exceptionally well developed root systems.
A Little More about Our New Trees
The encore peach will be only our second peach tree. Peaches came to North America from China by way of Persia and Europe. Spanish explorers brought peaches to Mexico in the 16th century. Peach trees were present at Jamestown, Virginia in the early 17th century. Like our other peach tree, our encore peach tree should produce in late August. It is, like most peach trees, self-fertile. The encore peach was developed at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station by Dr. Catherine Bailey and Frederick Hough. It is known to have a tolerance to bacterial spot. Our encore peach is on Lovell root stock.
One of our new plums is a waneta plum, which is a yellow skinned plum. This is a variety of Japanese plums that arrived in North America in the 19th century. It is an heirloom variety and, according to Winter Cove Farm, the largest of all hybrid plums. Jill tells us that this plum may be the first of our new trees to bear fruit–apparently some of theirs have produced on the second year after being grafted. This plum tree requires another plum nearby, and our existing toka plum should fit the bill. This variety is extremely hardy, having been developed at the South Dakota Experimental Station in 1913 by Dr. N.E. Hansen. It is generally considered one of the best all around plums and has been a favorite for a century. It bears fruit in late August into early September. Our waneta plum is on Myro Rootstock.
The other plum is a black ice plum known for its large fruit and winter hardiness. We’re particularly excited about this plum, as it should produce earlier than our other plums. This variety was bred by Professor Brian Smith of UW-River Falls, who spent years crossing cherry plums with Japanese dessert plums.
Our Kieffer pear tree is an heirloom pear that is self-fruitful and known to bear fruit early. It is often claimed that this variety is an accidental one, having originated during colonial times on the Philadelphia farm of Peter Kieffer. It may be a cross between a European and an oriental pear. In addition to being cold hardy, this bear is also “practically immune” to blight.