Planting considerations for a dry year

Variability in tree growth due to issues at planting.

Variability in tree growth due to issues at planting.

Should a grower bin his trees into cold storage and wait until rain or proceed to plant in this dry spell? This was a question received by email regarding planting of almond trees for 2014.

The concern is based on the point that most irrigation systems are not installed prior to planting due to interference with the planting crews. This prevents the ability to pre-irrigate to increase soil moisture at planting. Another concern is the speed of tree planting versus the speed of tanking trees, in which trees are often planted much faster than they can be tanked.

Although sometimes necessary, placing trees into bins and then into cold storage should be avoided if possible. Once trees are in bins, they begin root development, which is then disturbed upon removal and planting. This stunts the tree’s growth.

Trees should be planted as soon as possible when delivered from the nursery. This reduces the chance that any type of issues may occur (i.e. frozen bare roots, dry-out, etc). Trees should be kept moist, out of direct sunlight, and not laid out to far in advance of the planting crews. These steps help reduce dry-out, which can be an issue on peach-almond and complex hybrid rootstocks.

After planting of bare roots, the trees need to be tanked to settle the air pockets and provide a bit of moisture. Without the application of 3+ gallon of water around the base of the tree, air pockets that form from the planting process will inhibit the formation of roots, leading to poor growth. This is a time intensive process, but very critical especially when planting into heavy or dry soils. Tanking should still occur with potted trees, although the hole that is dug is often not as extensive and therefore the water amount may be reduced. Personally, I have seen several orchards start off with a lot of growth variability due to the omission of this step.

Once the trees are planted and tanked, the irrigation system should be installed as soon as possible. The time frame of installation is short:  initial tanking will provide about 1-2 weeks of water after leaf out. At this point, trees will need to be irrigated with the installed system or re-tanked (unless we have rain).

To determine water needs, soil moisture needs to be checked around the newly planted tree – not several feet from a tree – as the developing root system is initially quite small. Irrigation of young trees is often best achieved by frequent, short duration applications of water. Preventing over- and under-irrigation is a balancing act, but moderate levels of water stress will slow and high levels will stop the growth and development of a young tree.

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12 thoughts on “Planting considerations for a dry year


    1. Dear Stan,
      Even though almond trees are responsive to water, they are very tolerant to dry conditions. In a trial near Arbuckle, almond trees survived on as little as 7.6 inches of rainfall – without any application of anti-transpirants, crop reducing chemicals, surround, etc. Crop production dropped, and it took two years at full irrigation to bring them back into production, but the trees lived, none-the-less. If the trees are stressed early in the season and consistently through the season, the crop load will reduce naturally (weak bloom, “June drop”). The best thing to do is to spread the water out evenly across the season – in other words, you only have 5% of ETc, irrigate at 5% for the whole season. Even though nuts do respire and use water, spending money to spray some type of product on the tree to drop the nuts will probably not be the difference between life or death of the tree.

      I will be posting more on this as the season approaches. We have learned a lot on managing trees in a dry year, but there are still a lot of gaps in the data.


  2. Hi David, just planted my Independence on Viking Friday afternoon and finished tanking in with about 5 gal per tree Sunday evening. Surprisingly Soil had a little moister when we planted. Thanks for the updates, they are very helpful.

      1. David,

        I plan to machine plant my trees verses hand planting. I cannot pre-irrigate before and I am concerned about planting trees in dry ground. I will be hooking up the drip irrigation immediately after planting to water the young trees. Further I am installing dual drip lines with 35″ spacing between emitters so the emitters will not be lined up with the planted trees perfectly. Any considerations or steps I should do? Thank you David.

        1. Darrick,
          I would plan for the added expense of tanking in your trees. The applied water will help settle the soil and provide moisture within the developing root system. By doing this, you won’t have to worry about the emitters lining up on the tree or planting the trees in dry soil as water will be immediately applied.

          The value of tanking in trees is always under-appreciated until the problems occur.


  3. I’m in the processing of developingmy almond orchard this year. Last year, I had the ground deep ripped and disced. Last week, I’m having ats planted to provide organic material the soil. In May, afte thhe oats are harvesting I’m planning on planting my potted almond trees. Could you provide guidance on my timeline and approach.
    Many Thanks,

    1. Jim,
      Once the tree rows are laid out, berms pulled, and the orchard strawed, the planting crew can begin planting. Make sure the trees were irrigated prior to planting. After irrigation, apply a light tanking of water to help settle the trees. Install the irrigation system – this is critical to have almost done or nearly completed when doing a summer planting. Plan to apply frequent irrigations of short durations in order to keep the rootball moist, but not wet. Be very careful with water management, creating saturated soil around the potted tree will prevent roots from moving into the soil. The interface between the potting mix and soil is somewhat tricky with water management – you need just enough water to break the surface tension from the soil-potting mix interface, but not too much that you over-saturate the soil. This takes a lot of checking. There is a good chance that your trees will not grow much during the summer, but keep them irrigated depending upon need as the tree is developing a root system. They usually gain growth int he fall once it cools. If you have any more questions – feel free to give me a call at the office – 209-385-7403.
      Wish you the best of luck int he new year,

      1. Thanks so much David for your kind words and guidance on your approach to my idea of planting my orchard in May.
        Appreciate it,

  4. I work as a pest scout in Israel in quite a few almond orchards. A friend called me now to ask what should one do as he has quite a lot of trees that have been infected with Monolinia in a newly planted orchard. My advice to him was to immediately cut off and collect the affected branches. and then to spray the entire orchard. The strange thing is that we have hardly had spring rains although there has been heavy dew. I hope I have clarified the situation.

    1. Charlie,
      It could be Monilinia/Brown Rot. There are a lot of other things that cause similar symptoms. Fortunately, it is hard to diagnose it without seeing the issue.

      Sorry I am not much help!

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