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Give Your Garden The Gift Of Fruit Trees

plastic tree guards around young tree trunks

Let Them Grow Fruit

The Bloomington Community Orchard is chock full of pear, plum, apple, peach trees -- and one lone fig tree. It’s also brimming with good energy as volunteers prepare the trees for winter by attaching tree guards to the trunks and pulling mulch away from the bases. To them, this place is more than just a collection of trees.

"It’s a place for people to convene and convive," says Amy Roche, board chair for the Bloomington Community Orchard."It’s a public commons."

Thanks to a grant from the Alliance for Community Trees, the orchard will be sharing the conviviality of fruit trees with the Bloomington community -- they will be giving away 75 trees to anyone who wants them.

Happy, Healthy, Hardy

Michael Simmons, co-chair of the Orchard's Education Team, assures potential orchardists that it doesn’t take an advanced degree in gardening to maintain a fruit tree. "The secret is in soil preparation, proper planting and adequate amounts of water, especially during the first three years of life," he says.

Simmons paraphrased a famous quote by American author and farmer Wendell Berry:

The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all... without proper care for it we can have no life.

This is especially true with fruit trees, "which are dependent in large part on complex relationships with the soil and food web to uptake the nutrition they need," he says. So before you plant, get your soil tested to know what you're working with!

Since fruit trees do best with soil that is well-drained and rich in organic matter, adding compost is essential. In addition to providing beneficial microbes, compost increases the water-holding capacity and permeability so water drains more readily.

Planting Is Easy

Late fall may seem like an odd time to plant fruit trees, but Simmons actually prefers this time of year for planting apple trees. It gives them a head start on the growth cycle and allows them to establish their roots through wintertime.

Planting fruit trees is simple and he cautions to keep it that way -- dig a hole, plant the tree and refill the hole with the native soil. "The second greatest cause of fruit tree death is putting fertilizer into planting tree hole," he says. The only foreign component that needs to accompany a newly planted tree is a small bit of compost.

And, the number one cause of death for fruit trees -- lack of proper water during their first three years.

Keep these tips in mind and your tree should start producing fruit after three or four years!

Before Bed

The first frost of the season will be here any day now, so volunteers are busy preparing the trees for winter.

The fig tree gets a special winter coat called a cloche. All the other fruit trees are fitted with plastic trunk guards. These will help prevent Southwest Injury, which is when the southwestern side of the tree heats up faster, expands and splits, becoming susceptible to disease. The guard equalizes the heat around the bark. It also prevents gnawing mammals like voles, or field mice, from making a snack out of the bark.

Speaking of pests, pull mulch away from the trunks to create a ring of bare ground around the trees. This way voles are less likely to make the leap from burrowing under the mulch to gnawing on the bark. Why? Because a hawk could swoop down and grab a snack of their own!

Roche understands the importance of these tasks, but "I’ve seen some of those voles and darn, they’re really cute," she says. "I’m like, oh I want you to go away but I kinda want you to stay!"

More: You can sign up to receive a free fruit tree from the Bloomington Community Orchard on Saturday, October 26. Sign-up sheets will be available at tree planting demonstrations 2:00-3:00 p.m. at Mother Hubbard's Cupboard and Hilltop Garden and Nature Center.

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