Planting and Potting
Jujubes do best in full sun and prefer exposure to the sun all day. If a solitary tree, and/or a tree in a pot, position it such that it faces north and is free from surrounding shade-casting trees or structures. If planting several, have the row(s) in a east-west alignment facing north. Trees are traditionally spaced 4-5 m apart within the row, and 10 m between rows, but we’ll cover more intensive, space-saving ways of planting in future posts. Jujubes can grow to 10 m high by 6 m wide if let go, but keeping them pruned to a height of 3-5 m makes management and harvesting easier.
As mentioned here, jujubes are hardy trees that will tolerate a wide range of soils and pH. They do prefer a medium-textured, deep and well-drained soil, and may respond better in a slightly alkaline soil (∼ pH 8) than in a slightly acidic one (∼ pH 6).
We may supply potted, leafy trees in the future, but for now all our trees are delivered bare-rooted and in a dormant (leafless) state. They are best planted out in winter whilst dormant as this allows time for the soil to settle around and anchor the roots. By the time the warmer weather arrives, the roots are better placed to extract nutrients from the soil, and the tree is able to respond more quickly overall.
If planting trees in the ground, try and prepare your soil ahead of time. Dig a wide, deep hole that is able to accommodate the sprawling roots. And yes, the roots do sprawl! There is no neat root ball comprised of a deep tap root with a compact and abundant growth of secondary roots, as you may be familiar with from planting other trees! Nor is the rootstock of a roughly uniform diameter as you’d also be familiar with! Rather, the rootstock comprises a thick, twisting main root that branches into several slightly thicker roots, themselves twisted in unruly contortions in and about each other. This structure could be three times as long as it is wide — or more! Having said that, some rootstock are at the other extreme, being quite compact and more manageable. It’s best to be prepared for all scenarios.
(Unfortunately it’s the wrong time of year at time of writing to show photos of the rootstock, but we will post some around August when we are preparing bare-rooted stock for deliveries.)
Another reason for digging a wide, deep hole is to turn compacted clods into a large volume of friable soil. As the roots twist at all angles there is every chance, in positioning the tree such that the trunk is straight, that some of these roots may protrude out of the ground if the hole is not deep or wide enough. Some roots just refuse to stay where you want them as you manipulate other roots into place and position the trunk, and you’ll find a nice deep — and wide — hole with lots of looose soil to hand will give you both the room and the material to position and weigh them down gently and make them behave!
Of course the bigger and deeper the hole, the more loose the soil volume, and the more room for those roots to grow into. The two-year-old trees we supply will usually fit in a 30 cm wide pot of the same depth, though some gentle manipulation of the roots can be required to make them fit. Based on this, we’d suggest your hole be at least 50-60 cm wide and at least that much deep.
When backfilling, make sure the soil is packing firmly around and under the roots, and don’t leave air pockets which will dry out and kill the roots. But don’t be too firm and compact the soil either. Roots still need air, but they also need maximum surface area in contact with the soil so as to absorb as much water and nutrients as possible. Bear in mind that as the soil settles the tree will be lower in the ground than when first planted. Compensate for that by planting about 5-10 cm higher than ground level, within a mound of topsoil. This mound will gradually settle and sink with the tree until flush with the ground.
After planting give the soil around the tree a good soaking to remove air pockets and help pack the soil more tightly around the roots. Assess this area every day and re-water if it looks to be drying out. If the soil is a well-draining type you can afford to water every day or so if it makes you feel better, but be more sparing if the soil is a heavier clay. Go with your instincts if you have good knowledge of how well your soil holds or drains water. Just bear in mind that the tree is dormant and an excessively wet environment around the roots can harm it. At worst this could lead to rot or a build up of disease. At best the roots will struggle to grow and feed the plant come spring.
If planting in a pot, a pot 30 cm wide and deep is a good size based on the thickness and height of the trunk when the tree arrives (the pots in these pictures are 30 cm wide), but the root sprawl in some cases could justify a 40 cm pot as the first pot. Some trees put on a massive growth spurt and literally double in height, and these too would also benefit from that size from the outset. This can’t be known ahead of time though. But these trees are tough and if you think they’ve outgrown their pots, whatever the size, feel free to ‘pot up’ then and there (keep the water to them more than you otherwise would so the soil and tree can resettle), or simply wait until they’re dormant the following winter and repot then.
Jujubes are traditionally fertilsed with manure throughout Asia. If you intend to plant in the ground, and you’ve prepared the soil ahead of time, mix a good quantity of chicken manure through the dug up soil and leave it there to break down further until planting time. If planting in a pot, likewise mix chicken manure through the soil or potting mix first.
Apply a nitrogen feed when you see new leaves appear in spring, and apply a more balanced fertiliser or well-rotted compost when flowers begin to appear. A slow-release complete fertiliser tailored for fruiting trees and applied as per the label can ensure micronutrients are always available to the tree.
The ability to grow new trees from roots underground and some distance from the mother tree is known as suckering, and jujube rootstock is well-known for this. If left unchecked on a young tree, rootstock very close to the trunk can take over the graft completely. If left unchecked around older and established trees, suckers can grow to full-sized trees themselves.
Rootstock generally has smaller leaves and more numerous, nastier, thorns than the cultivars. Rootstock can fruit but the fruit is small.
You can control suckers in potted trees by simply cutting them off with secateurs. If your trees are in the ground, mow over any small emerging suckers, otherwise cut more established ones to ground level with secateurs or other tools. It’s best to keep control to ground level, as attempts to dig them out will create more from the root fragments invariably left behind.
Jujubes can sucker metres away, but there is some evidence to suggest that trees in the ground when well-watered within the drip line are less likely to send out distant suckers — if the water comes to them then they appear less likely to go to the water. Still, exercise care if intending to plant in a garden or lawn as you may create tensions with neighbours or discover suckers coming up in places you’d never have thought likely.
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