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Should I Replant a Fruit Tree in the Spot Where the Previous One Died?

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A common statement I hear when I ask folks where they are putting a fruit tree is, “I want to put it where the one that died was.” This always gives me a shutter for a couple of reasons. The most important reason is that some plants just don’t do well where their close kin have been planted recently. This is known as “specific replant disease” and it affects apples, roses, peaches, cherries, pears, plums, and a number of other crops in the rose family.

Specific Replant Disease

While scientists have not yet proven what causes the problem, we do know that treating the soil with broad-spectrum pesticides clear up the problem, making it very likely that bacteria, fungus, or other microbes cause the problem. But this is not guaranteed because the chemicals used to treat the problem may also affect toxins in the soil. For a problem that has been observed for so long we really don’t know much about it. What we do know is that it can be controlled by how we replant susceptible species. The rule of thumb with specific replant disease is to not plant something that is similar to what you just removed. An example of this is the apricot tree I am removing in my back yard. I should not plant another apricot there. I also do not want to plant cherry, plum, peach, almond, or any other stone fruit. I could safely plant apple, pear, serviceberry, or quince without a problem. I could also plant any plant that is not in the rose family.

Remember to Design for Replacements

This means that elderberries, gooseberries or currants, grapes, or garden vegetables would be perfectly safe and would suffer no problems from whatever is going on in the soil. A perennial or wildflower garden would also be a safe bet, as would a number of other things. The time given before you can plant a similar tree depends on which expert you are listening to, but you really should expect at least a decade. In my own garden I have plans to rotate my peaches around the yard. Since they have the shortest life of all my rose family plants I know they will need to be replaced every 10 to 20 years. All of my peaches will be planted with the intent of something else replacing them. I am also planning ahead for where new trees will go to replace any old ones, as well as working on a list of plants to serve as replacements for each area. I will not decide what I am actually planting until the time comes to do the work. My tastes and needs may change between now and then.

I should note the chemicals used by professionals to treat this problem require extra training and licensing and are not available for sale to the public, making this just one more task that shows maintenance and design are really one and the same thing. You can’t just replace something with the same thing and expect everything to be ok. Remember to design for replacements both early on and later as things age and mature.


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