Everyone has their own way of doing things. That also holds true in Filbert farming. This is the way we start new orchards at Birkemeier Farms.
Prepare your field to grass seed level. Doesn’t have to be perfect, but this is a good time to get it leveled. Also a good time to have your soil tested for ph and nutrient levels and add amenities as needed.
You will need to decide what you want for spacing of both the trees in the rows and the aisle width of the rows. Many people have moved from the traditional 20′ X 20′ to 18′ X 18′ to accommodate the smaller stature of the new variety filbert trees. Others are choosing to plant an “interplant” or temporary tree that will need to be removed in 8 to 12 years. This is called double density planting and is typically 9′ X 18′ or 10′ X 20′ in the field. This costs more up front, but gives you a return sooner. Others are being creative with spacing. Weigh your choice on your specific circumstances. Better soil will produce a larger tree sooner, so less time for the interplant to produce.
Stake out your field. Today there are several people/companies that do GPS scribing to mark fields. It is precise and time efficient, but the field must be pretty solid for the tractor. If you wait too late in the fall to get your field marked, it can get too muddy for you.
Once you have your field scribed, we like to mark our pollinizer tree spaces first. If you use 3 or 4 different colored flags – one for each variety of pollinizer you are planting – (use the color codes your nurseryman uses to avoid variety confusion) you can easily see your pollinizer pattern. The pattern depends upon the percentage of pollinizers you choose to plant. Pollinizers are planted in permanent spaces only – and the percentage is figured on permanent spaces only. It is good to alternate them by rows, on a diagonal or some other pattern that spreads each variety throughout the orchard. A typical 8% pollinizer planting is every 3rd permanent tree, every 4th row. (or 1 out of each 12 permanent trees).
Once you have everything marked, it is time to plant. Birkemeier Nursery begins distributing potted trees as soon as filbert harvest is over, the first part of November. You can plant as soon as there is enough soil moisture to keep the rootball moist. For bare-root trees, we like to wait until mid November before digging. Trees are usually available beginning the first of December. Seasons will vary.
You can plant with a nice sharp planting shovel or dig your holes with a 6″ or 8″ auger (12″ for bare-root with a larger root ball). If you use an auger, be sure to minimize the “sealing” of the sides of the hole. In heavy soil you can almost form a clay pot with a slick hole side. Some people attach a bolt or similar to the side of the auger blade to tear up the sides. Your filbert tree should be planted NO deeper than it was in the nursery or the pot. Planting too deep can cause the tree to die. You can see a color difference on the trunk – yellow has been underground – brown is exposed to air. When filling around the tree, loosely shovel the dirt back into the hole and tap it around the roots with the end of the shovel handle or your toe. DO NOT stomp it in. Toss a bit of loose dirt on the top of the pot to cover. Filbert roots like air – they can smother if planted too deep. Ideally all planting should be finished by February for the trees to do their best. Roots grow most of the winter, allowing the tree to be ready to wake up come spring.
It is very important to top your tree. We like to do it at the end of each planting day to prevent tipping if the wind comes up. Decide on a heading height, mark it on your pants and walk through your new planting snipping off the tops. Our preference of heading height is 32″. People generally choose between 32″ and 36″. Any side branching needs to be cut off also. You are left with a single whip. Remember, the fewer growing points you have, the more the tree will grow.
The trees need to have sun protection (or snow protection) the first year. It is important to either paint the stem (lower 18″) white (cheap latex paint), or use a tree collar. The bark is very tender and there is no shade from the top the first year, so they can get sunburned. We usually strip the leaves/buds off the lower 18″ of the tree to reduce the number of growing points.
Greenhouse trees often need to be staked as they are not as stiff as trees grown outside. We like 5′ tall 3/8″ bamboo. We use a BJA Tape Binder (TB-S) to tie them to the stake. Tie them at the very top as well as in the middle so the wind won’t break it off. The 5′ stake seems to discourage birds from landing on the tree.
The last step in your orchard is mulch. While the ground is still plenty moist (at least by the end of April) put a big scoop shovel (approximately 5 gallons) or more of mulch around each tree. We like to flatten it out to a 3′ circle about 3″ deep. Pull it away from the trunk by hand so the material won’t burn if it comes out of the pile too hot. We use aged horse manure. Aged sawdust or something similar works well too. Avoid materials that contain tannins (cedar, juniper, etc) and straw or similar that provides habitat for voles. Dark colors absorb the heat from the sun better for early root growth. Mulch helps retain moisture and inhibits weed growth.
Be very conservative with the herbicides contacting the trunk of the young trees. It can cause damage, especially in July and August when the tree is rapidly growing. Avoid herbicide spraying in hot weather as it intensifies the burning effect. We use Rely at 1% with limited penetrants. Consult your field rep. for advice.
Watch out for deer browsing, critter teething and beaver munching. Good Luck and Enjoy!