Fruit and nut trees have arrived in the nurseries and garden centers. January is the ideal time to plant to allow time for root development prior to spring growth. Fruit and nut trees can be purchased as container grown or bare-root. If cost is an issue, the bare-root is your better buy.

Clear the site of perennial weeds, and till an area 4 ft. by 4 ft. Any hardpan layer beneath the soil should be broken up. Level the site. Organic matter may be added to the planting area, but it is not necessary, and never add fertilizer. When planting bare-root trees, to allow for soil water drainage, the site should be built up so that the tree will be sitting on a small berm. Plant the tree in the middle of the tilled area in a hole as big as the root system, usually about 12 inches square, and at least 18 inches deep. For container grown trees dig the hole twice as wide as the soil in the container, but only as deep as the soil ball. Plant the tree at the same depth at which it was growing in the nursery, using the old soil line on the trunk as your guide. When you refill the soil, the bud union should remain above ground by several inches. As the grass greens up in the spring, continue to keep the 4 x 4 area free of weeds and grass by spraying with a glyphosate such as Round-up. It is critical that this be done if the tree is to perform well.

Consider spreading two to three inches of mulch over the entire area to help control the weeds and grass.

If purchasing bare-rooted trees select mid-size fruit trees; they are cheaper and grow better than the larger trees. It is far easier to cut to 4 ft. trees back to 18 to 24 inches, than to prune 5 to 6 ft. trees. Such strong cutback is necessary to put the top in balance with a reduced root system. Bare-rooted pecans usually come in the 4 to 6 ft. range. Rule of thumb for bare-root plants is to cut them back by 50 percent. The trees should have healthy white roots with no brown streaks.

A container-grown fruit tree won’t suffer any root loss during the transplanting but should be shaped at the time of planting to help it develop the scaffold branching it will need to hold its full load of fruit. In other words, the center should be opened up to allow the sun to reach all the branches. With proper care, it is highly possible for your fruit tree to fruit the second year after planting.

Looking for the best fruit trees adapted to the Ellis County area?

For apples try Gala, Imperial Gala, Royal Gala, Mollie’s Delicious, Fuji, Pink Lady, Mutsu (Crispin). Apples are susceptible to cotton root rot so if you have experienced it in your soil, you will have difficulty growing apples. For peaches try (starting from early to late ripening) Sentinel, Ranger, Harvester, Redglobe, Majestic, Denman, Loring, Dixiland, Redskin. For pears try European Hybrids- Kieffer, Orient, Moonglow, Magness; Asian Varieties- Shinko, Shin Li. For plums try Morris, Methley, Ozark Premiere, Bruce, and Santa Rosa. For pecans try Sioux, Pawnee, Desirable, Choctaw, Kiowa, Caddo, Lakota, Nacono, Wichita.

Select and plant your fruit and nut trees now while the nurseries have a good selection. Complete the bare-root planting of trees this month for best results. An excellent source for bare-rooted trees and other woody stock is Womack Nursery in De Leon, TX, (254-893-6497); their email is womacknursery.com. Container grown stock can easily be found at your local nurseries.

For more information on the proper pruning and the care of fruit and nut trees, check http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/fruit-nut for a wealth of information with helpful pictures.