Sunday, June 19, 2011

Grafted Fruit Tree Update

Because of the cool and wet weather this summer it took a month longer than I had anticipated to see what our success rate was for our little grafted fruit trees. I am happy to report that we had an astounding 19 of our 20 grafted trees leaf out and grow! The only one that didn't "take" was grafted with a questionable scion. It was the last one of that variety of pear, Doyenne d'Hiver, in the bucket at the scion exchange and it had looked a little old when I picked it out. That will teach me.

I have given them a couple doses of fish fertilizer to help them along.

"Potting soil" has no nutrients in it. It is not actually soil. Even if it says on the bag that it has nutrients added, Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K) are all highly water soluble and after a month or two of regularly watering, all the nutrients have washed out of the pot. Potting soil is mostly rotted bark dust and other nutrient void materials like vermiculite and pumice. Other than trace nutrients it has no real food for the plants. It is merely formulated to stay fluffy in a pot for a long period of time.

As a side note,
the answer to this is not putting actual garden soil into the pot. Soil goes through a natural cycle of decomposition of all organic matter and even with the richest of garden soil, in fairly short order your potted plant will be trying to grow in a pot of rock hard clay. I have proved this fact many times when I have potted divisions of plants in the soil they came out of and then forgot to give them away or replant them.  It is too traumatic for the plant to constantly re-pot it, so the simple answer is to use potting soil and to fertilize.
I did not purposely torture this tomato plant. It had been set aside to be given to someone and it missed the last two feedings of fish fertilizer. This is the classic leaf curl and color for a starving plant. Poor thing, I gave it a meal today.

With the push for "organic" gardening and sustainable farming, fertilizer has gotten a bad rap in the media, but that is about the petroleum sucking, microbe burning, artificial fertilizers, like Miracle Grow and the likes. Unfortunately amongst beginning and not so beginning organic gardeners and "farmers" this has erroneously been generalized onto all fertilizers. Farmers for centuries in all corners of the earth have known that farming is not necessarily a nature friendly endeavor (monoculture) and that if we are to work the soil and ask so much of it we must replenish what our food plants take from it. Generally this has been dealt with by spreading manure, animal byproducts, compost and rotation of crops. These are fertilizers.
All plants need rich soil to grow well. Potted plants get the short shrift. Rotted sawdust is not rich soil. So you need to give your potted plants food. I prefer fish fertilizer for baby plants because it is rich in nitrogen (N) for their leaf growth but it also has healthy doses of potassium (P) and phosphorus (K) for root growth, but it is not so strong that it will burn them.

Of course the best solution ultimately is having really healthy soil, full of compost and organic matter, in my case horse and chicken manure, and getting your plants into it as soon as possible.

These little trees are a ways from being in the ground though. Although they have "taken", their grafts are still tender and delicate. They will need to stay in the safety of my garden for an entire year.

While they start out their long lives as productive apple and pear trees I will be regularly fertilizing them and keeping their lateral limb growth at a minimum. I will also be making a point of pulling off any leaf growth coming from the root stock, including suckers coming up through the soil.

I have, in the past, inadvertently let root stock take over grafted trees before and it doesn't take long.
Pinching off any growth below the graft keeps the root stock from rejecting the graft and growing into a useless tree. Are those weeds trying to do a Photobomb?
Our ideal tree here on the homestead is one that limbs out at 8 feet. Too high for the deer to do much damage and high enough to keep from knocking us off our horse or tractor when we go under the tree.

In the city it's nice to have fruit low enough to pick without a ladder (although it's good to have a tree high enough to easily mow under it) but here on the homestead Buck and I have decided to make the tree limbs higher. Climbing on a ladder is about the least dangerous thing I do around here and the incredible cost of building a truly deer proof fence for an entire orchard is just not on my list of things to do. I won't do the plastic deer fencing, it's cheap and easy to put up but tall weeds grow through it and you can't weed-eat the perimeter because it catches in the deer fence and shreds, so it looks really shabby in just a couple of years. I would rather let the trees protect themselves and use my fence calories for garden and pasture.
And since we will be putting them in the ground next year it will be much easier to protect them from deer if they are growing up and not out.

These trees were pruned to be city trees with low limbs and now we will have to turn them into country trees by limbing them up slowly.
Some of our other trees are apple trees that we purchased from One Green World,  a great nursery to shop online and which just happens to be a few miles from the Homestead. I am very happy with these. Buck picked them up for me and I was thrilled to see that they were just a straight whip, no lateral limbs. Just what I wanted. These will have a strong and fast start and were super easy to make 6' protective cages for.


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