Planting and Pruning

This is part II of backyard fruits for Chattanooga. The previous post covered research, purchasing, and site evaluation. Once you have chosen a plant with a good chance of success, it needs the best care you can provide.

Most area soils are an acidic clay. Planting holes can easily become plant tombs in these soils. The ideal time to plant most trees, vines, and perennials is the fall. Area soils are usually not frozen in winter so roots can get established before dealing with summer heat. Spring planting can also work.

One mistake to avoid is digging a planting hole when the clay is wet. If the dirt sticks to shovels and shoes, it’s better to wait for drier conditions. If it’s so dry that a shovel won’t cut into the ground, it is also not ideal. Planting holes dug with an auger often lead to disappointing results. Planting holes in clay can become like a clay pot that roots do not grow out of. If a planting hole is filled with great potting soil or compost, roots often do not grow into the surrounding clay. By digging a big diameter hole and mixing the dug clay with good soil or compost, roots will more likely expand as needed. Plant to encourage root spreading. Most plants should be planted at the depth that they were transplanted from.

The acidity of area soils is also a challenge. With the exception of blueberries, all other fruits prefer a soil less acidic. Lime and wood ash are means of adjusting soil to a higher (less acidic) ph. An issue with acidic soils is that fungal activity is higher in more acidic soils. While there are beneficial fungi, there are also many fungal diseases. With our area’s acidic soils and high humidity we have the ideal conditions for fungal diseases. Scab, anthracnose, and verticillium are common on plants in the Southeast.

The impact of these diseases can be reduced by good pruning and cleaning habits. These diseases overwinter in soil. Pruning to increase the distance between the soil and the leaves is good practice. Grapes can grow up to a six foot trellis line, then spread fruiting arms. Low branches out from the trunk of an apple can be pruned to keep leaves further from soil. Mulch can also reduce the number of disease spores that reach the leaves. Good pruning also means reducing crowding to allow air flow and sunlight. Leaves that get sunlight and air flow are less susceptible to disease. At the end of the season any diseased leaves should be removed so they don’t stay under the tree or vine.

We do have challenges growing fruit in this area. We also have some fruits and varieties that usually succeed here. I’ll cover and rate fruits from difficult to easy in the next posts.

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