Yesterday I posted a video on how to make fruit trees grow fast.
Today I’ll cover the 4 steps we take to make our fruit trees bear quickly and get off on the right foot.
First, here’s the video:
Let’s run through the four steps – after one important introductory note.
The Best Time to Plant Fruit Trees
Before we jump into the four steps, let’s talk about planting fruit trees.
My preferred time to plant fruit trees in while they are still dormant. This applies to temperate fruit trees, of course, as tropical fruit trees don’t really have a dormant period. Peaches, apples, pears, nectarines, cherries, etc., all sleep through the winter and pull their sap down into the roots while awaiting the warmth of spring.
If you transplant a sleeping tree, it hardly knows it’s been moved. We’ve had incredible growth from dormant potted trees and bare root plantings. I much prefer this to planting trees which have already leafed out for spring. They wake up in their new location ready to leap for the sky.
If you can, plant your trees a little while before they wake up in spring.
The second best time to plant is in the fall as trees are going into dormancy. If you have potted trees to put in the ground, you can plant them then. Water them in but don’t feed them so they can go to sleep for the winter. During winter and until they wake up in spring, there’s nothing that needs to be done for them except to ensure they have mulch around their bases. Don’t put compost in the holes, don’t toss fertilizer around them, don’t do any of that. Just dig a big hole a few times the size of the root ball and plant the tree at the same depth it was previously planted, then mulch it and wait for spring.
Now – let’s get to making them grow!
How to Make a Fruit Tree Bear Fast
Unlike tender annual vegetables, trees can take some abuse before they let you know they’re not happy.
Often, they’ll live with neglect but they won’t grow fast at all. A friend planted a Granny Smith apple tree about six years ago and it never got taller than chest height. It was in poor soil and 3/4 shade with no mulch, no watering and no fertilization. It barely grew at all, just pushing out a few leaves every year, then dropping them in the fall.
If you want happy trees, you need to do better than that. Happy trees are fast-growing trees.
Here are the four steps I recommend to make fruit trees grow fast.
Step One: Remove Grass Competition
Grass fights with trees for resources.
Grass roots grow faster than tree roots, and readily absorb fertilizer and water that should rightly be going to your trees.
There are two good organic ways to get rid of grass around your trees.
One way is to sheet mulch, by putting cardboard or a thick layer of newspaper over the grass around the base of a tree and then mulch heavily over the top. Over time, this kills the grass beneath.
We’ve also used banana and canna leaves in place of cardboard, then thrown kitchen scraps and mulch over that.
A second way, which I used in my video, is to mechanically remove the grass. You can do this with a shovel, a hoe or even a machete, but I find my wheel hoe works the very best.
The reason I used this method with these trees rather than sheet mulching is because I wanted the grass to be dead and gone before the trees break dormancy. I believe sheet mulching is better performed in the fall so it can kill out all the grass before the trees and grass both start grow
ing in the spring. By chopping the grass out now, we immediately remove all root competition and start with a clean slate as the fruit trees begin their active growth cycle.
We like to remove grass to about 4′ away from the tree.
Once that is done, it’s time to move on to step two.
Step Two: Feed Your Trees
Trees appreciate good nutrition.
If your soil is acid or low in fertility, this should be balanced. There are plenty of ways to feed trees what they need, yet many overlook this important step.
In this video I use a mix of cottonseed meal with kelp meal and pelletized lawn lime to give the trees some slow-release nitrogen, calcium and other minerals while also “sweetening” the soil by raising pH. I used roughly 4 parts cottonseed meal to 1 part lime and 1 part kelp meal. But I don’t measure precisely – it’s a “that ought to be good” sort of guess, rather than some precise calculation. The kelp is for micronutrients. When we lived in Grenada, we just threw seaweed from the beach around our fruit trees for micros.
Another good way to slow-feed your trees is with homemade compost. It doesn’t have to be perfect or even finished compost. I’ve often just dumped kitchen scraps and other compostables in the root zone of a tree and let them rot down right there, slowly feeding the tree as the microlife breaks the materials down. Banana peels, coffee grounds, dog droppings, eggshells, soup bones, grass clippings – whatever organic matter you put there will feed the tree as it decays. I’ve even put logs and chopped up branches and leaves around trees to rot down and slowly release humus and nutrients into the soil.
Alternately, you can hammer in fertilizer spikes or apply 10-10-10 or another “balanced” fertilizer a few times over the course of spring and summer. Don’t feed later in the year, as the trees need to get ready for their winter dormancy. I don’t give them fertilizers after July or so, though I think compost is fine anytime as it releases slowly without stimulating huge growth.
Step Three: Mulch Your Trees
Mulching is key to keeping most trees really happy.
A good mulch breaks down slowly over time, creating humus and releasing nutrients. My favorite mulch is what I call “tree company mulch” – the shredded chips that the power company crews create as they clear the lines. It’s a mix of green leaves and various tree species and it rots down nicely over time. Pine bark is much slower and I don’t like it as much except for mulching blueberries. We’ve used grass clippings for mulch and they work well for a little while but need constant replenishing.
Mulch keeps the tree roots cool during summer, holds in moisture, supports microlife and helps keep the grass and weeds from coming back.
About 6″ of mulch is fine, and don’t put it right up to the trunk of the tree. I turn over the grass and weeds we chop around the trees and throw it on top of the mulch to dry and rot down as well.
Step Four: Water Regularly
The #1 thing fruit trees need is water.
As I say in the video, this could be Step 1, but we have to put it somewhere.
A regular source of water is the key to rapid tree growth. When trees do not have enough moisture in the soil, they go into conservation mode. They don’t feel expansive.
You know what it’s like, don’t you?
When you have $5 left in your wallet, you probably don’t feel like buying a new car or going out to dinner with friends.
But if the IRS gave you a $5000 tax credit, you’d feel like having a great time. You feel expansive!
Trees grow when they have the resources to grow. You don’t want them to feel like they need to conserve all their water reserves and stay put. When they have water, they have the ability to grow and to make lots of good, juicy, high-quality fruit.
Psalm 1 compares feeding your spirit on the Word of God with a tree being regularly watered:
Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
A tree that can dip its roots into water or a patch of moist soil is happy all the time. It doesn’t wilt and it bears its fruit in season.
David recognized that when he used it as a metaphor in his psalm. A well-watered tree is a happy and fruitful and actively growing tree.
When you plant a new tree, water it regularly. Pretend it’s a tender little lettuce and keep it watered every couple of days and it will grow much faster. Even just running a hose on a drip at one edge of the tree canopy is enough. If water touches the roots anywhere, it’s great. You don’t have to saturate the entire root zone to keep a tree well-watered. The roots near the water will take what they need.
Trees don’t complain but they do appreciate extra tender care, especially when they are young. I’ve seen trees double in size over the source of a year when they are well-tended. If your fruit trees are small and gnarled and scrubby, it’s time to pay some attention to them.
If you want to grow fruit trees fast, give them mulch, fertilizer and water and don’t let the grass fight with them for resources.
My backyard Grocery Row Gardening system makes trees grow fast by putting them in well-tended vegetable garden beds where they have lots of resources to grow and get regular care.
You can do the same in your orchard or in your front yard – it just takes diligence and a little love.