March 3, 2018 9:50:09 PM
Mississippi State University Extension Agent Reid Nevins shares a saying: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second best time is now." And this month, Nevins adds, is a good time to take the first steps toward planting fruit-bearing trees and berry plants. The Extension Service and Lowndes County Master Gardeners offer support through a Master Gardeners Spring Gardening Seminar at 6 p.m. Thursday and a Fruit Tree Grafting Workshop at 2 p.m. March 16. Both programs are at the Extension Office at 485 Tom Rose Road in Columbus.
Most fruit trees and berry plants are labor intensive, and too many gardeners run into problems because they lack time to tend their fruit plants or aren't sure of the year-round maintenance required. There is pruning, fertilizing and spraying to be done; gardeners have to stay ahead of the work in order to reap the rewards, Nevins says. He shared some starting points to keep in mind.
■ Choose a cultivar/variety that fits your plan. The number of trees planted should reflect the amount of time and effort you'll be able to invest.
■ Choose a full-sun, well-drained site on preferably a north-facing slope to reduce the likelihood of losing blooms to an early spring freeze, by delaying the spring warm-up.
■ Fruit trees are often sold as bare-root, root ball or in some form of pot. When transplanting these into the ground, dig the hole twice the size of the root ball and as deep as the pot, often mixing a soil amendment with the backfill soil. Bare-root trees are cheaper, whereas potted plants generally cost more, but in many cases offer the best chance of survival.
■ With bare-root trees, it's sometimes necessary to leave a small crown of dirt in the bottom of the hole to support the roots and make sure the plant doesn't settle too deep.
"The Extension Service has numerous publications on managing fruit and berry plants at your fingertips, just by doing a search for what you're interested in at extension.msstate.edu," Nevins says.
More expertise will be available at the free Spring Gardening Seminar Thursday when MSU Extension fruit and nut tree specialist Eric Stafne presents Basics of Fruit Production at 6 p.m. The evening includes door prizes from local gardening centers.
On Friday, March 16, the Extension Service's Fruit Tree Grafting Workshop at 2 p.m. is limited to the first 25 who sign up. A fee of $15 is required for supplies. Each participant will take home a minimum of two fruit trees from the hands-on workshop. To register, or for more information, contact the Lowndes County Extension Office at 662-328-2111.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.