Planting Fruit & Nut Trees

  1. Keep the root ball moist, but not soggy, until you are ready to plant.
  2. Choose a well drained location, fruit trees do not like “wet feet”.
  3. Most fruit trees prefer full sun. Choose a location with a minimum of 6 – 8 hours of sun, more is better.
  4. Measure the height of the root ball (not the container, but the top of the soil) or the depth of the roots of a bare root tree.
  5. Dig the new hole. The center should be 1” – 2” shallower than height of the root ball, and at least 2x the width. The hole should not have steep sides.  It should be a wide “bowl”; shallow at the outer edges, and deepest in the center (but not exceeding the height you measured before).  Think “wok”, not “stew pot”.
  6. After you have dug the “bowl”, set the tree into the center and check for depth.
    1. Containers – Make sure the top of the root ball will sit 1” – 2” above the native soil line. This is most easily done by laying the spade handle across the hole and checking to make sure the top of the root ball is sitting an inch or two above grade.
    2. Bare Root – Locate the root flare – the point where the trunk ends and the roots begin. Then locate the previous planting depth.  This is generally an area of discolored bark on the trunk, where the trunk was in the ground in the nursery.  You may safely set the finished depth of the tree anywhere between these two points.  The graft should be a minimum of 2” above the finished soil line.  Lay the spade handle across the hole and use it to help you locate the finished soil line.  Adjust the soil level in the bottom of the hole, if necessary.
  7. After you have verified the depth of the “bowl”, use a spading fork to pierce the soil on the bottom and sides.  Do this by sticking the tines into the soil 6” or more and just rocking the handle a bit.  This opens up the soil without loosening it enough to cause settling.
  8. Position the tree in the hole.
    1. Containers – Remove the tree from the nursery container and set it in the center.
    2. Bare root – Use some of the removed soil to make a “cone” in the center of the hole.  Do not use potting soil, compost, or any organic matter to build this cone.  Pat the cone well to tamp it and eliminate air pockets.  Check the height of the cone to make sure your chosen finished depth will be met. Remove the tree from the pre-soak and set it into the center bottom of the bowl.  Set the root ball over the cone and arrange the roots evenly around the diameter of the cone.
  9. Check for straightness and your preferred positioning.
  10. Back-fill using the native soil you removed from the hole until ½ of the hole is filled.  Tamp, but do not pack hard. Do not amend it with compost or fertilizers at this time.
  11. Water the tree at this halfway point by filling the hole to the top and allowing it to drain completely.  This will help drive out air pockets, settle the soil around the roots, and thoroughly saturate the ground under the root ball.
  12. After the water has drained backfill with the remaining soil.  You may use some extra soil to form a “moat” or “tree well” to hold water for the first few months.  This is helpful, but not an absolute necessity. After planting, water the hole and allow it to drain several times.
  13. All fruit trees should be mulched. Apply ½” – 1” of compost followed by organic mulch such as native mulch, aged pine bark, pine straw, or tree leaves.  Do not exceed 3” – 4” total coverage,, including the compost, unless you are using tree leaves.  Tree leaves can be spread out 8”-12” deep.  They will compact to 2”-3” in a few weeks.  Keep mulch back 3” – 4” from the trunk.  The mulch ring should be as wide as possible.  It is best to mulch the entire drip line, but a 4’-6’ ring around the tree will suffice.
  14. Do not fertilize until the tree has begun putting on vigorous new growth.  This will generally be mid-summer of the first year, but fertilizing can be delayed until the beginning of the second year if desired.