How To Plant + Prune Deciduous Fruit Tree’s

take the label off

Shelter trees, deciduous fruit trees and feijoas a go! – it’s time to get planting.

Apart from citrus and subtropicals that is. It makes no sense to put their heat loving feet into freezing ground. If you live somewhere frost free and mild (eg: the winter-less north) then do it, for the rest of us, its savvy not to. Buy them now while good specimens abound, and tuck them away on the porch until the frosts fade and soil temps climb above 10 degrees again. October’s usually a safe bet at my place.

Before you plant your trees, be sure of the best spot and appropriate spacings.


  • Dig a hole big enough to accommodate the roots – just enough so they are a snug fit.
  • If you are on clay, puncture the bottom of your hole by pushing your garden fork in as far as it will go
  • If you are on sand line the bottom of your hole with wet newspaper
  • For heavy clay or sand, mix the original soil 50/50 with compost. If you have lovely friable loam (you lucky devil), you wont need any compost in the hole.

Plant And Backfill

  • Soak trees in PB’s (planter bags) in a bucket of water, until bubbles no longer appear. Slit the bag open and check the roots are all heading out/ downwards. Tease out, or trim any that are not.
  • Bare rooted trees need to be planted as soon as possible – the very day they arrive even! Create a hump of soil for them to rest on – a solid base as it were. Sit the tree on the hump, making sure the graft is above the soil line and the roots are all heading downwards. Trim any too long roots to fit the hole.
  • Position the tree so it’s standing tall and straight.
  • Backfill the hole pushing the soil, or soil/compost mix in. I like to use my hands here to firmly push all the soil around the roots. Your goal is no air gaps around the roots, and a sturdy tree.
  • Give the tree a good tug to be sure it’s firmly in the hole.


Remove the stake and ties

Remove that flimsy bamboo stake and the green tape that holds it there – these are pot support, not part of your permanent planting plan. Left on, that green tape will grow into the bark and interrupt the precious flow of nutrient.

For best root development and the end goal of an independent, resilient tree – your tree needs to move about a bit in the wind, especially important if it’s windy at yours. A bit of movement stimulates root development.  More roots = a stronger tree with the ability to source a wide range of nutrient and support. More roots gives it the best shot at being drought proof, wind proof and heavy crop proof.

Drive a robust stake into the ground about 20cm away from the trunk on the windward side. Affix the tree to the stake with soft stocking tie – firmly, not rigidly.

  • If you are in a really windy site then a stake each side is a good idea. Remove the stakes after 2/3 years once the tree has firmly pegged itself into the ground.
  • If your trees are on dwarf rootstock then stakes are forever. Which is why I prefer a bigger rootstock – independence is a character I do so admire.

Feed And Water

cardboard first
  • Spread a little compost on top. That’s all, not sheep pellets nor blood and bone, we want something sturdy and fruitful, not insanely vigorous and leafy.
  • Water gently to further settle any air pockets around the roots until its barely moist, not soggy.
  • Lay cardboard and spread a mixed woody mulch on top.
  • Remove the damn label! A plant label is another strangle hold moment if left wrapped about the trunk. Whip it off and attach it to the stake or tie until you sketch it onto your plan. What?! No plan! A rough sketch with names and rootstocks recorded is so very useful. Painted rocks or stakes are cool but do fade and need re doing. As for that box with all your plant labels from 1987 onwards ….


If your tree is a whip (a single shoot), cut it at hip height or about 1m, above a bud. Gasp! I know you’ll find this hard, but this easy, simple cut is what is going to have your tree be reachable, compact and full of fruit in a small space. So go on – be brave. If your tree is close to this height already – just leave it be.

If it is a feathered whip, with branches – you can keep well placed feathers (branches) and remove the rest. Trim the long ones to match the length of the others and stop there and see how it feels. If there is only one well placed feather, you can remove it and begin again next season. In that way the new ones that grow will all be of the same age and have good balance.

The thing that scares you is that this is the end. No my friends – its the beginning. Of good things. The first scaffold of branches and the leader will spring from this point for a nice low centre of gravity. Trust me here.




  1. Sue @ Murch says

    Hi Kath, thanks as ever for all this good info. Just one question: is it ok to prune my new-ish black-boy peach at this time of year? The leader was cut off when I got it but a bit too high up, now that I read what you say about this. I thought that stone fruit trees are very prone to fungus diseases like silver leaf that can get in through the pruning wound, so have to be done in late summer.
    Grateful for your advice as always!

    • If its only small wood and the tree is in good heart I’d do it! You could always rub some beeswax or spray EM on the cut. But yes you are correct if silverleaf is an issue at yours then the best time is summer to avoid the spores. Its one of those moments to follow your gut and either way will be good as gold. Hope this helps!

      • Sue @ Murch says

        Thanks, Kath. I think I might give it a go. I can do the cut with Vinevax.