Orchard Soil Preparation and Planting the Trees

We're going to be placing a number of fruit trees in a small area. But even though we're going to keep the trees small, the roots will be quite intensive and this will demand a healthy soil. The trees are going to be there for a while, and the roots will have needs that have to be met. A plant is only as good as its roots. Since you can't fix the soil after the trees are established, it's imperative that you start with the best conditions for growth. That'll keep the trees active, and an active tree is a healthy tree.

Drainage and Soil Structure.

Just like you, roots need to breathe and eat. They also need access to water to carry the nutrients. Drainage allows them to breathe and the soil structure allows them to drink in their nutrients.

The most important requirement is to keep the roots out of standing water. If the ground is low and collects water after a rain, pile a foot or two of good dirt there and plant the trees on top of the mound.

Soil structure is the porosity of the soil. An ideal soil has channels to carry water, is granular, loose, and friable. Ideally, you want a cross between cookie crumbs and a sponge. But you're stuck with what you have, so if it's necessary to improve the soil structure, do so before you plant the first tree. There's not much you can do later.

Fertility is important, but that is something that can be increased with composting and proper soil practices.

Planting the Trees

The most important thing here is to not bury the poor things, they aren't dead. When the trees come home from the nursery, they will have a funny-looking twist just above where the roots meet the trunk. This is a graft union, where the roots (that like your dirt) are grafted to the variety (that likes your climate.) That graft union needs to be at least a couple of inches above the ground. You can often see the line where the soil level was when the tree was grown in the nursery, and that's about where you should have your soil line. If it seems as if the tree might fall over with the next puff of wind that's probably about right.

If you're going to plant in existing dirt, work up the ground twice as wide as the roots but don't go very deep, you don't want the tree to settle. Chop up the sides to give the roots a way out of your nice hole, otherwise they'll just take the easy route and go around in circles. Make a mound of dirt in the middle and spread the roots out over that mound, backfill and you're done. Don't stake the tree, and don't add any fertilizer or magic grow sticks or compost or steer manure or water crystals or vitamins or Jinkela or potting soil or liquid sky blue potions or anything else, but you should water like mad for the first year. Mulch is good but keep it away from the trunk and make sure the water will go through it.

Take a deep breath, because we're now going to do something extremely drastic and it involves sharp objects.

NEXT: Establishing the Trees and Their Initial Pruning