When you are ready to plant your new fruit trees, it is important to consider if they will need support to help them grow, and protection from harmful animals.
1. Supporting the tree
1.1 Tree stakes
Fruit trees on dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstocks (in other words, with an expected mature height of less than 3m) will usually need permanent or semi-permanent support. The best method is a tree stake, planted vertically beside the tree.
If you are training the tree as a traditional 'open-centre' or 'bush', a fairly short stake is sufficient, e.g. 1.65m x 75mm, which can be banged vertically into the ground before planting, leaving about 1m above ground.
If you are training the tree in any of the 'centre leader' forms, such as a 'spindlebush' you will need a taller stake, e.g. 2.4m, which can support the leader to a greater height.
You can then tie the tree to the stake with a tree tie, usually made of rubber.
Trees on more vigorous rootstocks may benefit from a temporary stake if planted as 2-year trees (but probably won't need support if planted as 1-year maiden whips). In this case a short stake planted either vertically or at 45 degrees is the best choice. The purpose is primarily to fix the rootball so that it can establish, so there is no need to support the tree above about 1m, and ideally the upper part of the tree should be free to bend in the wind.
1.2 Bamboo canes
1-year old vigorous and semi-vigorous fruit trees don't usually need support, but at this young age you will sometimes find that the main stem is still growing at an angle from the graft union. Whilst this will right itself over time, a bamboo cane planted close to the tree can be useful to help straighten the stem.
1.3 Trellis for trained trees
If you wish to grow trained trees (fans, espaliers, cordons) but don't have a suitable south-facing wall or fence, you can construct a trellis with tree stakes. Use large 2.4m x 75mm stakes (i.e. 8ft x 3') as the main framework. These can be planted approximately 6m-8m apart (or further if you brace them). This will allow 2 large trained trees to be planted between them, allowing 3.5m spread per tree. The wires can be supported by a tall heavy-duty bamboo cane placed at the centre point.
2. Protecting the tree
If you have rabbits or deer in the vicinity, or are in a very exposed location, then it is important to protect the tree as soon as it has been planted. However note that many tree protection accessories are also designed to provide a microclimate for the young tree, which is very helpful for forestry tree plantings, but completely unsuitable for fruit trees.
2.1 Spiral guards
Rabbits are very fond of young fruit trees, and will strip the bark from the base of the tree, thereby killing it. Spiral guards provide simple low-cost protection against them. However, make sure you remove the guards as soon as you can because they may create an unhealthy microclimate around the graft union in the longer term.
2.2 Tree shelters
These are often used in forestry planting, to provide a warm sheltered microclimate around the tree to encourage growth. However they are generally not suitable for fruit trees, because they prevent the development of the lower framework branches which are important for most productive tree forms, and the lack of air movement encourages fungal infections to which fruit trees are susceptible. They can be used as a last resort for 1-year bare-root maiden trees on vigorous rootstocks, when planted in exposed situations - but make sure you allow air movement by perforating the tube if necessary, and remove them after a year or so.
2.3 Tree guards
Whereas tree shelters are designed to provide a beneficial microclimate for a young tree, the purpose of a tree guard is primarily protection against larger animals. Deer are a major threat to all young trees, as they will strip the young bark at any time of the year. If the trees are being planted in areas with livestock they will also need protection. Cattle tend to be fairly uninterested but can cause damage by walking into young trees. Sheep and particularly goats do like to see young trees on their menu.
Tree guards are usually made of fabric or wire mesh, so the stem of the tree is clearly visible - but fully protected.
As a general rule it is best to use the lowest height that will achieve the protection you need, to prevent the guard restricting the growth of new shoots from the main stem. A height of 1.2m - 1.4m is sufficient for most of the smaller species of deer. 1.8m (the height of an average man) will be needed for larger deer species.
3. Where to buy
We do not sell tree accessories, but we can advise on products that will help support or protect your trees. Many of the products described here are available from specialist tree accessory suppliers such as Green-Tech - you can order online or by phone.