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Our backyard is in a Mediterranean climate (Adelaide plains, South Australia) and we've been gifted a young grafted apple tree which has its root ball still wrapped in plastic. It's about 1.3m (4ft) high now. It's a Pink Lady cultivar grafted onto some unknown rootstock.

Remembering it's midwinter right now here:

  1. How long can I put off planting the apple tree?
  2. How much sunlight would it need? Would it be wise to put it up against the eastern fence so it doesn't get the nastiest amount of sun in midsummer?
  3. Any tips to help it survive? Mulch? Fertiliser? How much watering early on?

One last bit of info is that the soil in an area like ours is not great. It is geologically ancient so there's not really much organic matter in it except what you add. It is mostly red, clay-type soil.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted
  1. The sooner you get it in the ground the better (unless your ground is currently frozen or soon will be).

  2. The more sun it gets the better (IMHO). At the moment you have a small tree, but when selecting an appropriate place to plant the tree take into account its final full grown size.

  3. Measure from the bottom of the plastic wrap to the top of the soil. That is how deep you want to dig your planting hole. Planting trees too deep will lead to major problems down the road. The trunk flare should be just visible once the tree is planted. Dig the hole twice as wide as the root ball that is currently wrapped in the plastic.

    • When putting the root ball into the hole, remove all wrapping material, tease out any roots that are circling the root ball.

    • Seeing as you said your soil isn't that good, I would mix the existing soil from the hole with the same amount of good quality compost, then use that mixture to back fill the hole. When back filling the hole, make sure you heel it in.

    • With the leftover soil make a watering doughnut (approx 100mm high and 1000mm diameter) around the tree.

    • Fill the doughnut with 50 to 75mm of mulch (personally I would use good quality compost), start approx 100mm to 150mm away from the trunk* of the tree and work out to the watering doughnut. Using compost as a mulch in this situation has the added benefit of feeding the tree naturally and slowly. Then add a fresh 25mm to 50mm layer when needed (usually once a year).

    • Then fill the doughnut with water.

    • For the first year you will want to water at least once a week (you don't want to over water, but then again you don't want the soil drying out).

    • If the tree is planted in a windy location, you might have to stake (brace) it for the first 2 to 3 years.

*You never want anything covering the trunk flare. The trunk flare needs to "breathe". A sure way to make a healthy tree, unhealthy (eventually killing it, if the problem is not rectified) is to do something like volcano mulch.

Addition:

Today (2011-07-18) I was made aware of an excellent, but simple watering guide for trees, posting links to it here (see below), as I believe it's useful & relevant to this question:

Today (2011-08-07) I stumbled across the below article, posting the link to it here, as I believe it's useful & relevant guide:

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Thanks, the soil here will never freeze so I'll have to hop to and plant it out. –  Lisa Jul 5 '11 at 4:49
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As pointed out, if the tree is likely to be rocked by winds, it will need to be staked, and this needs to be done AT PLANTING TIME, not later, after the damage has been done. There is some very helpful info. about this, here: google.co.uk/… –  Mancuniensis Jul 5 '11 at 11:55
    
Planted this morning at crack of dawn to do it before work. I have followed all your instructions, except to fill the donut with mulch since I ran out of time. Will do tonight. I did include the stake, because it's quite a skinny little tree thus far and relatively exposed. One thing that got me concerned though was that the rootball wasn't really a solid massat all, just compact sawdust and so dissolved and dropped away as I planted the tree, exposing the roots for a moment. I hope it will survive! –  Lisa Jul 5 '11 at 23:12
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@Lisa, it should be fine, so long as you keep it well (but not over) watered during its first year. Also don't forget to add the mulch layer (but whatever you do, do not volcano mulch), that will greatly help keep the moisture in the soil, especially during your hot summers down under. Good luck :) –  Mike Perry Jul 6 '11 at 1:24
    
Link to watering guide is broken –  Nemi Aug 15 at 14:33

This is a bare root tree. Hopefully you made sure that the soil is in contact with your roots and there are no air spaces. In this instance, I would lightly stake this tree. Put your stake upwind of the tree and a loop of soft material around the trunk above the midpoint. There should be plenty of room to move in the wind. Leave the stake until the next dormant season when the leaves fall off and then remove the stake altogether. You will need to keep the root ball quite moist. I would also get mycorrhizae to help those roots uptake nutrients. Keep decomposed organic mulch on top of the soil way past the drip line but keep it away from the trunk. Primary objective this season is a good set of roots. Use a fertilizer that is extended release and all three major nutrients are even or allow the nitrogen to be a little less than the phosphorus and potassium. Prune any crossing branches, branches that go towards the center, diseased or injured branches. Prune all the way back to the main trunk. Leave all the other branches including those that feed the trunk. These young trees are very tough, the main thing is moisture right now. Oh! Make sure you clean your pruners before doing any pruning of your tree with alcohol.

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