WHERE TO PLANT
Apple trees and crabapples in general prefer full sunlight to allow for rapid growth, dense crowning, and maximum volume of fruit density. However, if full sunlight is not possible, crabapples selections will often see more growth/cropping than many common apple trees in lightly shaded or sparse wooded areas. Wooded areas can also be cut back to shrub level for full sunlight and are ideal for successful whitetail plantings.
HOLE PREPARATION FOR ROOTS
Holes should be dug to allow sufficient room for root mass dispersal. Typically a hole ~18 x 18 inches will do (more or less depending on the specific tree/tap root length in hand). We have found that holes that are very hard to get past a deeper rocky layer that need several more inches to get the long central tap root down in can just be done simply by making a small bar hole in the bottom of the already dug hole. As a result, the last 6-inches or so of tap root can be pushed into this hole and the proper depth can be obtained (around ground level with bud union). The tap root in this rocky clay layer will sprout heavilly and help to ancore the tree quickly during the first season.
It is not recommended for wildlife plantings to backfill holes with organic soils/compost (especially areas without rodent control monitoring). Moles and especially voles in northern most states will find the soft orgainc soils attractive to burrowing, especially in the winter months and will quickly eat dense root systems. Voles in northern most states have been seen to eat off even large tap root systems (up to a couple inches in diameter) when not planted properly. A common sign is typically a slight to significant lean when ground thaws in spring. If additional soil is needed after removing larger volumes of rock, the nearby natural native loam (A-horizon) can quickly be dug and used to top off holes. When backfilling, commercial fertilizes of any kind should not be added directly inside holes.
Place the root system in the hole and spread roots naturally outward from the taproot. Slowly backfill in layers until the rootstock's bud union is only an inch or so above the ground. Strongly tamp (typically with your boot and entire body weight) down the soil to remove air pockets and to prevent major settling while watering so that additional soil does not have to be added. This also firms up the soil to discourage moles/voles from burrowig into the newly disturbed soil.
Watering trees should be done right after planting. A 5-gallon bucket of water should be poured around the base of the tree and allowed to seep slowly into the ground. Trees can be watered weekly or byweekly during the first year (especially during summer dry periods) if your time, location, and water sources allow. However, our trees are established on hardy root stocks with strong amounts of fiber roots resulting in high successful plantings for more remote areas/ sportsmen clubs where initial watering or afterwards may not be possible. The most important thing is getting the plantings in the ground early in the spring to take advantage of colder rainy periods before summer. We have many calls each year concerning watering and its importance during panting and afterwards. We have had many very positive calls from larger whitetail plantings (50-100+ trees) stating a 100% success in establisment and good growth the first few months right after a planting that was done with no watering. These plantings were done in the early spring rainy period (typically April for most states).
Fertilizer should never be mixed and added to the hole during the original planting. A good quality commercial fertilizer containing nitrogen is typiclly recommeded such as 10-10-10. Approximately 1-pound can be used around these larger crab/apple trees right after the initial watering. In general, two large handfulls can be spead on a ~2-foot radius around the tree and away from any contact with the tree trunk to prevent any possible trunk burning. In some planting directions outside this company there is a recommendation to not fertilize trees during the first year or for the long term. Not fertilizing is not recommended for these larger trees with large root systems. The initial fertilization during planting will provide for a strong deep root system to quickly develope.
In areas where the terrain has higher slopes and heavy rains may wash away the majority of fertilizer, introduction below the surface level can also be done. A steel bar can be used to make ~2-inch diameter holes, ~1.5-foot deep, on the upland slope of the tree planting. Make sure to make the bar holes outside of the newly established tree hole so that the roots are not burned (typically ~2-2.5 feet above). Two staggered holes are typically sufficient and are filled with fertilizer. Rainfall will slowly seep the nutrients down to the tree roots through the soil elliminating runoff. In areas where high populations of moles/voles are present, leave room at the top of the holes and fill with gravel so they are not used for winter tunneling to root systems.
WHITETAIL BROWSING & RODENT PROTECTION
Initial protection from whitetail browsing is needed in most areas until trees begin to mature. Minor browsing on newly established apple trees can set growth pattens back for many years. Fencing around individual trees or around entire larger patches is highly recommended in comparison to soaps/sprays. Keep in mind a 5-foot in diameter fence around a tree prevents larger whitetails from leaning in a lot more than a 3-4 foot in diameter fence. The amount and size of fencing is also dependant on the frequency of whitetails to your area.
Rodents can also be a problem with the first few feet of tree trunk during the winter months or areas where grass/herbaceous growth is not maintained. Several measures can be taken to ensure protection. The most common method is conventional plastic tree wrap around the trunk. Plastic tree wraps are cost effective, quick, and are sufficient in most locations. If you are still finding rodent damage on the trunk or root system from conventional tree wraps, a second more permanent method is to establish a 24-inch tall x ~8-inch in diameter fence (typically around 1/2 to 3/4 inch screen holes) around the base of the tree. This type of fencing is common at most hardware stores at a 24 - 30 inch height. The fence is installed several inches into the ground and held in place by at least two wooden stakes. A wire is slipped through the fence and around each stake so that the fence does not ride up. Additionally in high rodent areas several inches of gravel can be placed inside the screen and around the base of the tree (~1.5-foot diameter / approximaely a 5-gallon bucket full). This second method ensures long term protection from burrowing rodents through the ground or snow.
TRIMMING TREES / CRAB & APPLE TREE SIZE
Our trees are typically shipped in 6-foot long boxes. Our crabapple trees are commonly well over 6-foot tall and are trimmed to the box height. After the first year or two, trees showing long limb growth can be trimmed back (typically 1/3 to 1/2) to allow for additional branching to establish on these limbs. However, if location and time is a factor, trimming and maintanence is not a necessity when planting these varieties of crabapples and apples for wildlife and mature trees will become established. It is more important for the trees to quickly grow and become established above any potential whitetail browse line. Our whitetail apple tree varieties (as compared to our crabs) typically produce a sturdy tree for planting that can range from 5-6 feet depending on variety.
If purchasing our commercial apple trees for your own orchard, you can follow standard trimming/layering practices. Commercial type apple trees may range from a strong whip up to a feathered (good developing limb structure) and typically depends on variety and rootstock. Our orchard trees typically produce a nice sturdy tree for planting that can range from 5-6 feet depending on variety with our typical dense fibrous root system.