Your trees should ideally be planted out as soon as possible. If however, the ground is waterlogged or frozen or any necessary preparation work hasn’t been carried out then they should be heeled in until it is ready.
When planting, trees should be kept in a bag right up to the last minute to prevent the roots from drying out. This is especially important on windy days where the small root hairs will dry out very quickly, which can be fatal for the tree.
Dig a hole slightly larger than the roots. The roots should fit into the hole without being bent around or scrunched up.
The hole must be dug with a spade, not with a digger as the bucket of the digger can ‘glaze’ the hole, preventing possible root penetration.
Before the tree is planted, knock a stake into the ground to support the tree. The stake should be between 3-4’’ diameter, knocked into the ground at least 18 inches, and planted on the windward side of the tree. This way the prevailing winds will blow the tree away from the stake preventing any rubbing.
The tree must be planted to the same depth as it was grown in the nursery. There is usually a distinct change of colour just above the roots, about 3-4 inches below the graft union.
It is of upmost importance that the graft union is kept clear of soil and mulch in order to prevent the stem rotting or the scion taking root.
Firm the soil around the roots with your boots to press out any potential air pockets.
Again, check that the graft union is well clear of the soil.
The ground around the roots must be kept clear of any grass or weed growth. This is vitally important as any competition in the root zone will hugely slow down the rate at which the tree establishes and bears fruit.
This can be done by using a mulch mat or old carpet (not foam backed), which should be pegged down to prevent it blowing away.
Another option is to use some newspaper or cardboard and cover with compost or rotted manure.
Another important function of the mulch is that it retains soil moisture. Reducing the amount of irrigation required in dry times.
See the rootstock guide for info on how long the trees need mulching for.
Next, tie the tree to the stake using a soft flexible tree tie that can be adjusted over time as the trunk girth expands.
This should be done about 3-4 foot above ground and any remaining stake above the tie should be removed to prevent any rubbing.
The most effective (and most expensive) way to protect the trees from rabbits is to rabbit proof the whole orchard.
The next best method is to use rabbit netting stapled to the stake. This should be 2ft high, made into a circle of around 50cm diameter and pegged into the ground.
This method allows for easy access to the base of the tree for any maintenance that may be required.
Spiral guards are the cheapest method of rabbit proofing a tree. They must be checked regularly to remove any growth from inside the guard, and also to remove any debris that may build up inside, potentially causing the trunk to rot.