A Quick Note on Planting Orchard Trees

I make a distinction between “orchard trees” and other trees. I consider all trees that are not clonally propagated and grafted to be more or less “wild.” All trees that have been kept by humans for centuries, and have come to rely on our care, I call orchard trees.

Examples of orchard trees include Apples, Pears, Plums, Apricots, Peaches, Cherries, Citrus, Figs, English Walnut, Almond, etc. Examples of wild fruit bearing trees are American Persimmons, American Plum, Autumn Olive, PawPaw and Black Walnut (which are beginning to be domesticated), Butternut, and Pecan (which is in early domestication). So the distinction is sometimes vague. Badgersett nursery’s hybrid Hazels defy definition! You must read the book!

One of the biggest differences between orchard trees and others is their seedling or sapling cost. When you buy an Apple seedling that has been grafted onto rootstock, you are buying something where much human labor has gone into it. These jobs are done by hand and carefully. Not so with wild trees, which pretty much are left to themselves. So, expect to pay $20-30 for an orchard tree seedling/sapling. I bought 100 Swamp White Oak seedlings for about the same cost. With this kind of investment, it makes sense to put much effort into planting the orchard tree.

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I did a big, broad hole at least as deep as the roots and at least three feet wide. I rank the soil so I can put it back the way it was. I also invert or bury and sod. The idea is to limit competition from grass around the tree.

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Very gently place clods or soil or crumble it around the roots. Gently press the soil around the roots, or better, apply water generously, but NEVER use your foot to stamp the soil. Keep the roots moist. As little as a minute in a dry breeze can damage roots. And try your best to keep the tree straight. This really takes two people to do well.

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Some folks recommend expensive and intensive soil amendments prior to planting. These may help when the tree is young, but even small trees have very extensive root systems that will quickly go beyond the small area of soil amendment, so the tree is going to have to deal with whatever soil you have anyway. I think it is far better to just put trees in good, well-drained, but ordinary soil and then implement a fertility program of mulching in the years going forward. Don’t put raw manure around trees. I think the best mulch is a combination or ramial wood chips and composted manure/straw. I also like the idea of planting perennial forbs around orchard trees. My orchard is small, so I can afford to plant them in sort of a haphazard manner, and also bother to tend perennials around them. This is also why I favor standard rootstock, which is hardier and makes a larger tree, but one you will need a ladder to pick. Standard and dwarf seedlings cost about the same, so I want to get the most fruit for my investment, and I don’t mow the place with a tractor, rather I garden perennials around the trees.

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