Planting and basic care to get your trees and bushes established
When you receive your order, open the box right away and inspect your trees or bushes (we'll just say trees from here in, but the same applies to any dormant bare root perennials) and just ensure they've arrived to good shape. Contact us if you have any concerns, we're careful when we pack and the post office is usually great. We keep our trees in cold storage until the day they're shipped to ensure they're kept dormant, and then the post office can take up to a week to deliver. After a week in the mail it's possible some buds have started to wake up and grow. This is totally fine, some of the bushes especially like to break dormancy fast. Take your trees out of the box and set them in cool sheltered place like a garage or shed until you're ready to plant, which you should plan to do right away. If you aren't able to plant them in their permanent location within a day or two, then temporarily heel the trees into a garden space until you're ready. The sawdust we pack them in can be recycled as mulch, we use some aged hardwood sawdust just to keep the roots damp. On that note, roots need to damp so while you're planting it's important to keep them in the sawdust or something similar. There's a common technique where you soak the roots in a pail of water for some period of time before planting to get them as hydrated as possible, this is probably helpful but if you water well after planting it's kind of the same thing.
Dig a hole that's wider than you need just to break up the soil and make it easy for the roots to get established. Square holes are said to have some benefit, but the idea is to avoid digging a perfectly smooth round hole where the roots might start to circle like they would in a pot. Go wider than you go deep, and in most cases you should try and use the conventional advice to plant the tree at the same soil level it was grown at the nursery. Plan to plant with the roots just below the soil and then come back and add some mulch. Spread the roots out in the hole to help them get a good start. There's some debate over amending soil or not, and my opinion is amending the soil is probably a good thing, but it depends on your soil. Here around the nursery we have very sandy soil, and adding some heavy garden soil or compost when you plant can help retain moisture and give trees a better early start. If you have heavy clay soil, there's a technique where you can build up the soil into as small hill and plant the tree into the center, the idea is to improve drainage. We use that technique for planting here just because our soil is pure sand with a skim of topsoil, so I'll dump a wheel barrow of garden soil and plant berry bushes into it. Get creative with your landscaping, there are no rules, maybe watch a youtube video for ideas.
Mulch is great it saves on watering and keeps the soil cooler. Mulch can be any organic material, wood chips, leaves, grass, straw, small twigs.. often there's something around to use. Go a few inches deep and plan to top it up in the fall. Don't volcano mulch up the trunk, keep it back a bit from touching the trunk. If you're planting somewhere with aggressive grass or weeds it's good to try and remove it from the planting area around the tree and the mulch can help keep it at bay. We'll often remove the sod and flip it over around the tree and make a small berm that can help retain extra water. As your mulch breaks down it becomes compost and feeds the soil. Partially composted wood chips are great mulch.
Caging, tree wraps can be a good precaution. Deer and rabbits are on a mission to eat your apple tree. Ask me how I know. I swear rabbits nibble everything they hop past and find the tastiest apple trees, and then go tell their friends. Often you're fine through the summer and fall, and then the most animal browsing happens towards the end of winter. Over the years I've learned that some wire caging is important when fruit trees are small. Hardware cloth can work well for small trees, and so can the spiral plastic tree protectors. For larger trees with heavy deer pressure stucco wire works well. When the trees are older, the bark is thicker and the branches are above browse line then it's not needed as much. Something to protect small fruit trees in particular from nature's unscheduled pruning can be a good consideration, but what you'll need also just depends on your site.
Stakes are not required for small trees - except for the case where you're using them to help support some caging.
Water right away when you plant, it helps settle the soil around the roots and gets things off to a good start. For the first year plan to water every week if there hasn't been any rain, especially it the weather is hot. Something like an inch of water per week is often recommended, if you live in an area with lots of rainfall then maybe that's all your tree needs. We've had some very hot and dry summers here in the past few years and when it's regular watering is needed to keep the soil from drying out. You can feel the soil an inch or two below the mulch and it should feel damp, if it doesn't then it's a good idea to water and maybe think about more mulch. Another indicator I like to use are when it's hot out and the leaves on my vegetables start to droop, that's a hint that everything probably needs some watering. Very water stressed trees will have their leaves turn brown and can defoliate, don't let it go that far for sure, they need some extra care in the beginning until they're established.
If you're field planting somewhere out of the way it can be good to use natural features in the landscape to provide some shade and shelter to the young trees. I'll plant small spruce or pine on the north side of a log or stump and find debris in the area for mulch.
There's much more to say about taking care of trees, and many more planting methods that may involve preparing the site and working the soil for things like shelter belts, hardwood cuttings, polycultures, fun things like supports and trellises for vines and espalier training, and all the various landscaping techniques. I recommend reading more in gardening books and online forums and there are a million gardening videos on Youtube.