Satya: Why don’t we start off by telling the members what your initial approach was to me, Sheryl?
Sheryl: I wanted to educate our members that instead of going to the nursery and buying your fruit trees, that they should get their soil in perfect condition first and only then go out and buy trees. But most of us, including my good self, go on excursions and buy our trees instead of getting the soil in peak condition to get optimum growth from it; so I went looking for a Soil Scientist.
Satya: And came out with a Pragmatic Permaculturalist! I’ll start the talk by dividing it into getting a good root system, preparing your soil and getting it right because if you have these 2 things right, you have the basic mechanics of having a good fruit tree. Of course there are other things such as watering, mulching etc. I’m an Arborist and Horticulturalist, I’m in private practice – I do a lot of post mortems on trees – regularly – and the first question usually is “Why hasn’t my tree grown” and “Why has my tree died” “Why hasn’t it borne fruit, flowers – why is it the wrong colour – isn’t it healthy, can you work a miracle and do it now” So I’ve bought this one along. It came from one of my client’s properties, from commercial nursery stock – in fact it came out of a plastic bag I believe. 3 trees died out of 50 in a hedge – planted as a seed in a tube – who gets paid the least in a nursery – the guy on the potting bench – he’s paid to put 400-500 trees in every day – the aim is speed –it’s got nothing to do with quality. There’s a big responsibility on nurserymen that isn’t being taken care of. So if you have a plant like this, how do you prepare it before you plant it?
Club: 1. Tease it 2. Cut off the bottom half with a saw if the roots are really bad (root bound) 3. Cut the roots all the way around with your secateurs.
Satya: If you buy a tree that dies and you can see that the roots are all root bound, then take it back and ask for another one. Always check a plant’s root system before it leaves the nursery. Think of the love and energy you put into your tree – you don’t want to waste your time. If a tree is not doing well and you dig it up to check its root system and see that the roots are twisted around, cut off the offending roots, replant and spray with an anti-transpirant and it might make it.
Sheryl: Perhaps you could show them the correct way of planting a seed.
Satya: Always start your seed in a minimum 6” pot. If you want a good tree, don’t pot it on. Once its root have taken, plant it straight out and this is when I think nurserymen make mistakes – they keep potting it on because it’s not sold – perhaps they only had enough space for 4” pots. So take your seed and plant it in whatever size pot you are planning to keep it in until you plant it in the field. Don’t plant a small pot up if you can avoid it.
George: You can also follow the roots down the tree and cut off any roots.
Satya: Yes you can do that – get out your sharp shovel, and just make a few cuts in the ground. Watch for girdling of roots – so check them before planting out.
Sheryl: Getting back to the soil! How can we tell if the problem is just root structure, a slow growing tree or not given enough water/fertilizer – we’re talking optimum growth.
Satya: Consult your Arborist! Seriously, one of the benefits of field trips of being a member of a group like this is that you get to look at each other’s trees so you know how fast a certain tree should grow.
George: My trees are fast growing, close-packed, humid conditions, like a rainforest
Satya: …like a microclimate – I know a man who grew Microcitrus australasica – they have a reputation as very slow growers – his made 2 metres in 2 years because he had a good microclimate with plenty of mulch and a good microclimate. If you have an advanced tree which shows signs that the roots are girdling at the top, you can try just cutting them off without pulling the whole tree out. Now to soils: In new estates, where they run over the soil with heavy machinery, the soil gets compacted. You can hire an Agroplow or you can get a Wallis Soil Reconditioner which does the same function – they go through the soil – they aerate it down low but don’t break the surface and they do not invert and theoretically you do a close run every 12 inches if you’re doing it once only or every year otherwise. Then each year either go across or move over 6 inches or so. Talk to your local machinery shop or the local produce place and ask who has one. Having large animals on the property will also compact the soil – if you can’t get one of these, then use a chisel plough. Soil should be quite dry when you carry this out – crumbly and dry. Another option for a small allotment is a fork. On a large allotment, always work along the contour whether you’re ripping or mowing. Put at least 1 metre of mulch around each tree. Label your trees with name & date – only use aluminium ones.