‘Tis the season to plant fruit and nut trees in North Central Texas. January through March is an optimal time to plant new trees and to transplant established ones. Since the trees are in their winter dormancy, the process is less stressful for them, and they can adapt more readily to their new home.
While many varieties of fruit and nut trees can be grown in our eco-region, some of the more successful large-fruit crops include figs, peaches, plums, and pomegranates. Blackberries and grapes are some of the easiest small-fruit crops to grow here. For nut crops, you can’t go wrong with a pecan—our Texas state tree. Mature pecans are quite large; the height can range from 60 to 100 feet or more, so plan their new home accordingly.
A plentiful selection of fruit and nut trees should be currently available at area nurseries. You will find them in one of three forms: bare-rooted (no soil, usually packed in moist peat moss), balled-and-burlapped (ball of soil around roots), or container-grown (soil and roots in a nursery pot). When purchasing a container-grown tree, check to ensure the roots are not girdled (tightly circling the trunk or other main roots) in the pot.
Fruit and nut trees need at least six hours of sun for quality production, so choose a sunny spot with good drainage. The best practice is to select varieties that thrive in native soil. A common planting mistake is to dig the hole too deep; a good rule of thumb is to dig the hole twice as wide as the root ball but at an equal depth, so the root flare (where the main roots meet the trunk) is not smothered and the root system has space to stretch and grow. If you’re planting a container-grown tree, gently separate the roots and remove any excess soil covering the top of the root ball. Backfill the hole’s interior circumference with native soil, and water well. Continue to water regularly as the new planting establishes itself in the new location. A handy tree-planting guide is available on the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension website at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind/landscape/planting-a-tree/ .
If you’re adding several new plantings, north-to-south rows allow for the best air movement and light exposure. Place larger trees in the northern-most position to prevent shading of the smaller crops. Weed (and grass) removal is key, especially for newly planted and transplanted trees, to help eliminate competition for water and nutrients. Keep the soil surface free of weeds and grass in a circumference area at least as wide as the tree canopy (width of limb spread). Mulching helps retain moisture and repress weeds, but take care to leave the trunk and its root flare exposed.
It’s also a good time to prune established fruit and nut crops in your landscape. Remove select vertical shoots from peach and plum trees to encourage horizontal branching, but always maintain the central leader as the highest point. Just above bud growth, make a slightly angled cut (45 degrees) with a sharp, clean implement. Always leave a branch facing southward to help train against the prevailing south/southwest winds. After grapevines reach their second year of growth, cut back canes by approximately 75% to remove dead wood, encourage new fruit-producing growth, and train sturdy scaffolding.
Some fruit and nut cultivars are self-fruiting; others require cross-pollination. Chilling hours (the amount of time needed before dormant buds set new fruit) also vary. Everything you need to know about the best varieties for our area can be found on the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service website at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/fruit-nut/ .
If you have questions about fruit and nut plantings or any other horticulture-related question, please contact the Denton County Master Gardner Help Desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 940.349.2892; it’s free of charge, and it’s our pleasure to assist you.