Fruit Tree Planting Guide for Queensland and Summer Rainfall Areas of Australia

When to plant

Unless there is a risk of winter frost damage, the optimal time to plant fruit trees in a summer rainfall climate is in autumn. This takes advantage of the normally good soil moisture from the summer wet season.  Take care, however, to monitor soil moisture closely through the normally hot and dry spring and early summer. Where a site is subject to heavy frosts it is better to plant in spring.

In mild climates trees can be planted all year round as long as adequate water is available.  Avoid planting trees when conditions are windy or hot and dry, and during the hottest part of the day.

If trees have to be stored while awaiting more favorable planting conditions, hold trees in a well-protected and shaded area, preferable not in contact with soil (place on plastic sheeting or concrete).  Maintain a careful watering program as trees can easily stressed and set back.

Planting Procedure

  •  Check soil texture and drainage

Tree roots need both moisture and oxygen for growth. Soil texture and drainage should be checked before planting. Sandy soils are porous and are usually well drained. On the other hand, clay soils have much smaller pores and retain water for long periods of time.

To test your planting location for soil drainage you will need to dig a hole about 40cm deep. Fill the hole with water and let it stand overnight. If the water has not drained by morning you have a drainage problem on your hands. If the test indicates poor soil drainage or the area is subject to high rainfall that leads to periods of waterlogging, it is best to plant the trees on a raised bed or mound. Waterlogging or “wet feet” is the major cause of root rot and is a serious problem that affects tree growth and survival.

Mound planting is especially helpful in improving growth and reducing root rot. Mounds can be made by adding good sandy/ loam landscape soil or by digging the top soil from the surrounding area and using it to form mound on the planting site. The mound should be at least 45-80cm high and 90cm in diameter.

Adding Gypsum (¼ of a bucket) per hole can help break up the clay and improve drainage but if the soil still drains poorly after adding gypsum then it is best to plant on a mound.  Adding gravel or crusher dust to the planting hole will not improve drainage.

In some groves installing a surface and/or subsurface drainage system may be a viable option to improve the drainage of the grove site prior to planting. Surface drainage involves contouring the surface of the ground or installing a spoon drain to create an artificial “creek” to direct water away from wet areas. Subsurface drainage using slotted ag pipe and gravel trenches requires an understanding of soil types and soil water movement and is best designed by a drainage professional.

  • One to two days before planting, thoroughly water the tree sites to a depth of 30 cm.
  • Dig a hole slightly deeper and wider than the pot/ bag.  Back fill with some of the topsoil and press down firmly so that the surface of the potting mixture is the same level as the soil surface.  If using a posthole digger or auger to dig the holes ensure that the sides of the hole are broken up to reduce any ‘polishing’ effects which may restrict later root growth.
  • A small amount (100g to 150g) of pelleted or composted manure or a teaspoon of slow release fertilizer may be added to the backfill soil in the hole.  However, do not place inorganic nitrogenous fertilizer or fresh manure into the hole, as these may burn the roots.
  • Before planting, water the tree well.
  • Cut the bag or tap the pot from the tree and inspect the roots. If the roots are matted around the edge of the root ball, make shallow, vertical knife cuts through the matted roots at 3 or 4 points around the circumference.  If the matting is less obvious, gently ruffle the edge of the root ball with the fingers to expose the potting mix.
  • Place the tree in the hole, ensuring that the roots at the bottom are well spread. Half-fill the hole with soil, gently pressing the soil into contact with the root ball. Complete the filling process and firm the soil down gently and leaving a slight basin around the tree to hold water. Water again.
  •  Mulch trees with a coarse mulch such as compost, bark, or  stubble to a depth of 10 to 15 cm. Try to keep the mulch away from the trunk to reduce the risk of trunk canker.
  •  Do not allow the root ball to dry out after planting. Irrigate or hand water 2-3 times per week for the first few weeks, particularly where conditions are dry.
  •  If planting in summer or sunburn is a risk, exposed trunks can be painted with white water-based paint to reduce the risk of sunburn and heat stress.
  •  If hares or rabbits are present it is advisable to place a tree guard around the trunk to protect the first 40cm bark from animal damage. Builder’s sisalation (laminated aluminium foil) can be formed into a cylinder, wrapped around the trunk and tied at each end. Alternatively plastic tree guards or trunk protection netting can be used.
  •  Most trees will need staking for the first three years after planting. If you are planting a row of trees running a single trellis wire at 900mm above the ground can be used as an alternative to using a heavy stake on each tree. With the trellis system a cheap bamboo stake (10-12mm diameter) is tied to the wire at 900mm and the tree is trunk secured to the stake in a couple of places.

This information is a general guide for small scale plantings only.  For larger commercial plantings it is recommended that advice is sought from a horticultural consultant and that  soil tests (structural, nutritional and pH) and deep ripping of the site is undertaken several months prior to planting.

Comments 20

  1. Hi,
    I have recently purchased several 2 metre high Manzanillos to be potted on our patio. We live in Brisbane and the plants will be in full sun most of the day. I just have a few questions. How often will I need to water them? And what type of soil should I repot them in? Thank you

  2. Hello I live at Samford and would love to plant apple and mandarin trees. Could you please advise the best variety as we dont have the cold stanthorpe climate. Many thanks kathi

    1. Post

      Yes you can grow subtropical trees in Toowoomba . Just as long as you protect the trees from frost when the trees are young. Kensington Pride Mangoes grow and fruit well in Toowoomba. Other trees including Longans, subtopical Apples, Blueberries, Macadamia, Avocado, dragon fruit, can all been grown reliably.

  3. hi I live in sapphire central QLD & want to plant mandarin / orange / lemon what is the best time to plant & I was thinking of putting the plants In a 1000 lt pod that has been cut in half would have good drainage when filled with soil

    1. Post

      Hi John,

      I would plant in Spring or Autumn when the weather is mild. A 500l litre container would be ample to grow a decent size citrus tree.

  4. ADMIN
    I live at Glasshouse Mountains QLD and we have red soil here, which drains well and no frosts, would I need to do anything to the soil before planting citrus


    1. Post

      Hi Nicki,
      Citrus should be good to plant without too much soil work. Maybe dig some manure and compost into the soil prior to planting.

  5. Hi I live in goombungee Qld and would like to plant some citrus and other fruit trees and plants. We often get a few sporadic nights of heavy frost over winter. I am a beginner gardener, we have a half acre property with no trees or plants at all yet. Our soil is also clay. I am wondering what would grow well in our area?

    Thank you Felicity

    1. Post

      Hi Felicity,
      Olives, Figs, Almonds, Pomegranates, Apples, Kiwiberry and Citrus would all be suitable for the Goombungee climate. Sounds like you will need to improve the soil by digging in gypsum, compost, manure etc and if you can I would add some sandy loam soil and plenty of organic matter and plant the trees on a decent raised garden bed

  6. Hi. I am wanting to plant a number of trees on a property at Kin Kin, Queensland. More so looking for oil varieties. Can you advise which varieties would better suit the climatic conditions of the area.

    1. Post

      The most reliable varieties for the Kin Kin area would be Arbequina and Arecuzzo. These both come into bearing very young… usually in the fist year after planting. They are mainly used for oil production but the fruit, even though small, can be used for table fruit. If you would like a variety with larger fruit, I suggest Manzanillo would worth a try.

  7. Hi. I am wanting to plant a number of trees on a property at Kin Kin, Queensland. More so looking for oil varieties. Can you advise which varieties would better suit the climatic conditions of the area.

    1. Post

      Hi Mike,

      In warmer climates like Kin Kin, I suggest that the best oil varieties to try would be Arbequina, Arecuzzo and Koroneiki.

  8. hello.. im a small farmer.. and am interested in planting about 30 olive trees to start..
    I live in Tamwor.. I have an idea if the most suitable olive tree for the area, and for pollination..
    being..manzillo, kalamata frantoio and leccino..
    I am mainly looking at table olives.. what would your recommendation be?
    Thankyou Susan

    1. Post

      Hi Susan,
      Manzanillo is a good selection for table fruit. I would plant Kolossus Kalamata rather than Kalamata as it is better suited to the colder climate. Frantoio and leccino would both grow well but they are mainly oil varieties. The fruit can still be pickled but it small to medium size.
      Other suitable table varieties that produce larger fruit include Hojiblanco, Californian QUeen and Barouni

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