Fruit trees can be challenging to grow in Missouri because of erratic weather conditions and a favorable climate for diseases and insects. While much attention is usually given to frost protection, irrigation, nutrition, and pest control of trees after planting, it is also important to provide good care of mail-order plant material before it is placed in the ground. Here are a few tips that will improve survival and enhance the growth of your fruit trees and small fruit plants.
When you place the order with a nursery, ask them to provide a specific shipping date so you will be prepared for the delivery. Bare-root plants are best planted in late March through April 15 in Missouri. Plug plants with green leaves should be delivered after the danger of frost (May 10 for most parts of Missouri). A tracking number for the shipment is helpful in determining the day and time of delivery. As soon as the delivery arrives, open the container and inspect the plants to make sure they haven’t been damaged during packing, handling, or shipping. Don’t worry if the roots or the top branches of woody plants have been pruned or if a few of the branches or shoots are damaged. However, if the graft union is broken on fruit trees, the nursery should be contacted immediately. Similarly, if the packing material surrounding the roots is dry, buds on bare root fruit trees have leafed out, or disease symptoms are clearly visible on any plant part, call the nursery immediately and request replacements or a refund.
After inspecting plants, it is always best to set them in the ground immediately. However, if this is not possible, re-wrap the roots with moist packing material (sawdust, shredded paper, etc.) and seal the root system in plastic to prevent moisture loss. Dormant, bare-root plants should be stored in a cool dark area, as near 40°F as possible. Plug plants with green should arrive later in the growing season than bare-root plants and can be stored in a shaded area with the roots also protected from moisture loss. Do not store bare root or plug plants near ethylene-generating plants such as apples, pears, peaches, bananas, or tomatoes. Ethylene is a natural hormone that stimulates bud break and will reduce the storage life of fruit trees. If cold storage is not possible, fruit plants can be potted in containers temporarily and kept outdoors until they are moved to a permanent planting site. Potted plants will require watering when the growing medium is dry. Also, potted plants need to be covered to prevent root freezing when air temperatures fall below 20°F.
When planting time arrives, soak plant roots in water for about an hour before setting them in the ground. Prune any broken branches or long roots back and plant them in a hole large enough to accommodate the root system. Next, firm up the soil in the planting hole and apply fertilizer to the soil surface in a circle, at least 6 inches from the stem, and water to dissolve the granules immediately after planting.
REVISED: January 3, 2013