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Fruit Tree Care: Planting Fruit Trees

by Elmer on 03/08/2011
Digging a Hole

When it comes to planting fruit trees, we can never stress enough the importance of planning before you plant. This includes choosing the best spot for your new planting above the ground and below the ground. It is highly recommended that you contact your local utility department before digging to prevent damage to cables, pipes, and other underground structures.

Too often we encounter troubles because we act first and think later. That’s why, when planting an orchard or even a few trees in the back yard, it’s a good idea to take a step back and visualize how our efforts will look 10 years from now. Remember, the time difference between a vegetable garden and productive fruit trees can be years! It’s also well worth the wait, so, to start things off right, let’s avoid future problems by considering a few key things before planting.

I. The Planting Site

Have you chosen a place free of interference? Is it far enough from power lines, sewer lines, sidewalks, etc.? Visualize your tree 10 years from now in the location you’ve chosen, and ask yourself those questions.

If your tree could talk, it would ask for a well-drained, fertile location with plenty of sunlight. While a full day’s sun is great, trees can still thrive and produce on a half-day’s light; and most trees are forgiving of imperfect soil conditions. If your ground is a little heavy, consider using our Coco-Fiber Medium. Just drop the “brick” into 1 1/3 gallons of warm/hot water, 30 minutes before planting. When refilling the hole, work the coco-fiber into the soil and finish planting. This will give the root system air and allow for water absorption as the roots develop.

Questions to Ask Before Planting Planting Tips

II.  Digging the Hole

When digging the hole, a good rule of thumb is to remove a space nearly twice the width and depth of the roots. You don’t want the roots cramped or circled. The area you loosen is the area the roots will quickly grow into to anchor and sustain the tree’s top. This simple task helps determine both how good the foundation will be years later and how well the plant utilizes two much-needed ingredients: air and water.

Digging a Hole 1 Digging a Hole 2 Digging a Hole 3

III.  Planting the Tree

Coco-Fiber Brick in Water

The Soil

You know the soil you dug up first, right underneath the grass? When refilling your planting hole, it’s always best to place that soil in first. It’s usually more fertile, as well as more porous, and when placed down near the roots, it will help the tree grow better. The remaining soil (from the bottom of the dug hole) is heavier and works well when mixed with the Coco-Fiber Medium. From top to bottom, work the soil with your hands to avoid large clods that create air pockets.

Graft Placement

Mind the GraftWhen you refill your planting hole, hold the tree up a bit to allow loose soil to fall beneath, as well as around the sides of, the roots. Center its position so there is adequate space on all sides for the root system to grow out. If you are planting a dwarf or semi-dwarf apple tree, hold the bud union up above the refill line — this is the “bump” above the root system of the tree where the rootstock was grafted to the varietal top. If given the opportunity, grafted apple trees will self-root; if the variety self-roots, you’ll lose the size-restrictive nature of the rootstock. (Did you know the rootstock is responsible for the mature size of your tree, i.e. dwarf, semi-dwarf, standard? We don’t want to lose that sizing characteristic — it would definitely throw a rock in your long-term plan!)

Finishing Touches

Through the process, keep the tree straight (perpendicular) and, upon finishing, tamp the tree in with your foot to remove air spaces and seal it in. If the tree is planted on a slope, create a slight berm on the lower side to utilize water throughout the summer.  If it’s not pre-pruned before you plant it, be sure to prune your tree, and water it well.

Placing Tree in Planting Hole Finishing Touches (Pruning) Using Coco-Fiber Medium

Dear Gardening Friend,

There are few things in life that have the sustainability and bring the same satisfaction as growing a fruit tree. The years following will be spent measuring the tree’s progress and reaping its rewards. That’s a “10-year” vision — yep! I saw the future before I began; how about you?

– Elmer

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  1. Nancy Kopchala permalink

    I not only saw the end I planned the end.
    My motto “Plan your work and work your plan”

    • Meg permalink

      Nancy, that is a fantastic motto. :) I may have to borrow it sometime. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Debra Winright permalink

    I am going to plant a Japanese Weeping Cherry Tree within a week or so,should we remove the burlap bag that is around the root bottom before we plant it in the ground?

    • Brenda permalink

      Hi Debra! Yes, I would definitely recommend removing the burlap from the roots of your tree. Removing the burlap will give the roots the growing and breathing room they need. In addition, burlap is non-biodegradable.
      I hope this helps!

  3. Robert A. Forman permalink

    i Have been buying your trees for 40 plus years never had a problem.

    • Meg permalink

      That is so encouraging to hear, Robert. :) Thank you. Do/did you have any trees that were “favorites” of yours?

  4. Eric permalink

    Just got my order of trees from you guys. I’m in Zone 6. Do they need to be hardened off before planting or can I open the box and plant them right away? Forecast for next seven days has highs in the 40′s-50′s and lows in the 30′s to 20′s.

    • Meg permalink

      You can plant them asap, Eric! :) The trees are dormant, and this weather is perfect for transplanting. Which trees are you planting?

      • Eric permalink

        Great- it will be done tomorrow. I got two apples (semi dwarf) to replace a huge standard that keeled over this winter. I couldn’t resist so I had to get a peach and a cherry as well.

        • Meg permalink

          Excellent choices! You should get about the same size harvest on those semi-dwarfs as you got on your standard. :) Is your cherry tree sweet or a pie cherry? Be sure to plant that one in well-drained soil, cherry trees do NOT like standing water. ;)

  5. Susan Rogers permalink

    Can you give some quick general tips for spring pruning of fruit trees, other than eliminate crossed branches and open up the center for light and air? I have 7 semi-dwarfs from you: 3 apple and 1 each of pear, plum, peach, and cherry. Two apple trees are in their 3rd spring and the others were all planted last spring. Thank you.

  6. Joan Romano permalink

    I bought a cherry & a blueberry tree form you last year. The cherry tree I planted in the ground & the bluebrry I planted in an over size pot 24 inches circumference. When can I expect fruit on them?

    • Brenda permalink

      Hi Joan! Blueberries typically take 2-3 years to bear fruit, while cherry trees can take 4-7 years before they bear fruit. I hope they grow well for you!

  7. Angela permalink

    I ordered 2 semi-dwarf apple, 1 dwarf peach and one semi-dwarf cherry tree to arrive in a few weeks. I was wondering how close the apple trees need to be to eachother for cross polination. Also, how far apart should all the trees be from eachother? Thanks!

    • Brenda permalink

      Angela, the apple trees can be as far apart as one-quarter mile and still achieve pollination, but the furthest “ideal” distance would be within 50 feet of one another. The closest I would suggest is 15-18 feet between the fruit trees to allow for their spread at maturity. Happy Planting!

  8. Eric Kues permalink

    I just recieved 4 apple trees and two peach trees from Stark Bros. yesterday and they look great. The only problem is that yesterday we also got around two inches of rain and about an inch of snow. Now everything is just mud. How long can I wait to plant them, or is there a good way to plant them now?

    • Brenda permalink

      Eric, happy to hear you’re pleased with your new trees! The trees are dormant so they can be planted as long as you can dig and the temperature is above freezing. I would not recommend planting in holes that have standing water as this could lead to root rot. Your trees can be kept in the box in an unheated shed or garage for up to 2 weeks. Be sure to keep the roots moist. I hope this helps! :-)

      2012 Update: We now have a blog post about what to do if you can’t plant when your order arrives here. Check it out!

      • Eric Kues permalink

        That sounds good. I will plant them as soon as it dries up. Thanks alot.

  9. Hello! I bought 4 semi dwarf Honeycrisp apple trees, a GoldCot apricot and a Giant Hardy Asian Pear Tree a couple of months ago. Do I need to buy additional trees for cross pollination purposes?

  10. patrick permalink

    Tomorrow I am preparing my holes for planting in anticipation of the delivery of 10 of your finest apple and four each of your pear, peach,plum and cherry trees! Much research has gone into the selection for each “brand” of all species to ensure my family and myself will enjoy fresh fruit from early summer untill late fall… even winter. We are looking foward to our trees producing inthe next few years… and future orders.

    Thank you for this very informative site.

    • It sounds like you are well-prepared for planting and growing your own fruit trees, Patrick! We look forward to hearing about your progress with your new trees as they grow. :)

  11. zack collins permalink

    I have ordered a few apple trees for my yard here in kentucky. I plan on moving in a few years so I planned on planting them in old whiskey barrell halves in hopes f bringing tem along whenever I do move. I was wondering if you could give me any info on if they may need to be moved indoors during the winter months. I’m hoping they wouldn’t. Those are pretty big barrells. thanks

    • Those barrels can get very heavy once the soil and the weight of the tree all adds up! As long as the varieties you planted were suitable for your zone (and most apple trees are, for Kentucky), then you’re in luck, Zack — you won’t need to worry about moving them indoors for the winter. That method applies to trees that are not hardy enough for winter temperatures like Citrus, Figs, and Asian Persimmons, in certain areas. Bringing those indoors protects them from winter elements.

      Apple trees naturally tend to be more on the cold-hardy side, so, as long as you keep the soil in those barrels from drying out (frequent watering isn’t necessary, but dry soil leaves roots prone to cold injury), and add a layer of mulch over the top of the soil in the barrels, your apple trees should be set for winter!

  12. Leila permalink

    Hi there,

    We’re thinking about buying one of your semi dwarf HoneyCrisp trees. We’re new to gardening and have been doing some internet research to get ourselves somewhat ready for a purchase and planting. Would a crabapple be a good pollinator? Do you carry crabapples? Or would you recommend another tree? How much space between the two shoud we account for (these will be in our backyard, we have about 30′ to work with in the area we’d like them)?

    We are in Northeast Massachusetts. How long does shipping to our area take? Your site is great and very imformative!

    • Hi Leila! We have recommended pollinators listed for varieties that require one — check out our recommendations for the Honeycrisp™ apple tree here:

      A crabapple tree will surely work as a pollinator, too! We offer crabapple trees as well, and you can find those here:

      Our crabapples are available as semi-dwarf sized trees, and you were already interested in a semi-dwarf Honeycrisp™, so it’s useful to know these trees grow 12-15 feet tall and wide, so they will need 12-15 feet of space between planting holes. It sounds like the space available is just perfect for these apple trees!

      Since we’re already shipping to your location this spring (we begin shipping there around mid-March), when you place your order, you will see an estimated ship date so you know when to expect the order. Also, if you provide your email address, we will send you an email when your order ships with tracking information to follow it in transit to you. :)

  13. James permalink

    I purchased a cherry tree last fall and planted it. This spring it is producing leaves nicely. The problem is, we are moving and I would like to take the tree with me. It is only across town so the zone isn’t different. What is the best way of moving the tree.

    • The best time to move the tree would be when it’s dormant, which happens after it loses all of its leaves in the late fall/winter/early spring before it leafs out again. I’m not sure when you intend to move, or how likely it is that you can wait for the tree to go dormant before trying to transplant it, but the dormant state helps to reduce transplant shock as much as possible.

      As for getting your cherry tree from one location to another, the important thing is to keep as much of the root system intact as possible. The most essential roots are the fine, hairlike, feeder roots that are easily damaged or lost when things are disturbed. You can probably put it in a tub, or something large enough for the full root system to sit in for the trip to its new home – and plant as soon as possible!

  14. terry copley permalink

    What is a safe distance to plant apple trees near black walnut trees? I have a fence row with several small to very large black walnut trees.

    • Since the root system of the black walnut tree is where the toxin that affects neighboring plants and trees resides, it’s best to plant outside of the root zone of the black walnut tree. Mature trees can be very tall, and their root system, on average, can have about a 100-foot diameter, so 50-60 feet on either side of the trunk should be a safe distance to plant other trees. This should also help to avoid some shading issues that may be caused by the much-taller black walnut trees as the young apple trees mature.

      There are also handy videos on planting near black walnut trees, like this one from the Oklahoma State experts:

  15. Doug permalink

    Do you recommend staking fruit trees?

    • Yes, staking is a good idea while new trees become established, especially in areas where things tend to get windy. Tree stakes are usually simple to install and the benefits are worth it!

  16. Jeff permalink

    I am thinking of purchasing the Plumcot and the Starking delicious. Will those two cross pollinate successfully or will I need to purchase another plum variety?

    • You got it, Jeff! A plumcot will be able to cross pollinate with a Japanese plum like Starking® Delicious™ :)

  17. Alyson permalink

    Hello, I ordered an Asian persimmon, and I have heavy clay soil. Would it be better to plant the tree in an area where it would get sunlight all day, but which is flat, (which means if we get heavy rain will temporarily be soggy) or would it be better to sacrifice half a day of sun to plant it in a location with some slope which will allow for better drainage?

    • That sounds like a “rock and a hard place” conundrum, Alyson! I will always lean toward a well-drained soil myself, because the water-logged root issues far outweigh the issues with less-than-full sunlight. 6-8 hours daily is best for good quality fruit and production, but if your tree is struggling with “wet feet” and related water molds and fungi, it’s probably not going to be encouraged to bear fruit at all. If you have any other options, like planting in a container or choosing a different location all together, I would recommend exploring them!

      It’s far better to start off as close to “ideal conditions” as possible than it is to have challenges from the beginning. :)

  18. Gary permalink

    I read from internet, a lot of people suggested to soak bare root tree overnight before plant it. However you recommended that just do 1hr or 2 hr soaking. What should I follow for the bare root tree bought from you.

    • When you receive your bare-root plants and trees from Stark Bro’s, the planting instructions recommend soaking the roots for 24 hours max. Soaking the roots for 1-2 hours is sufficient if you are ready to plant that same day. :) Whatever works best for you and also avoids risk of “forgetting” about the soaking trees.

  19. June D. Johnson permalink

    Our little mtn. community of 1100 has been hit extremely hard by the economy. Our
    5 local churches are feeding approx. 150 people each week. We are beginning a series of community gardens – the first of which is an apple and cherry orchard of 20 trees – with local bee keepers placeing hives amidst the trees. For apple trees we have selected Granny Smiths (for cooking) and Honeycrisps (for munching). We have selected North Star and Montmorency cherry trees. Over the summer we will be building trellises for Concord and Muscadine grapes. We also have tomato, pumpkin, and potatoe fields available from former gardeners who are no longer able to tend their fields. Very few of us are expert gardeners and are dependent on “experts” to advise us. Please review, comment, and advise re. our selections and possible pitfalls.

    • Hi June! It is wonderful what you’re all getting together and doing for your community. Your selections sound great.

      If I had to make one suggestion, I would recommend that you select one more apple tree for pollination. I only mention this because Honeycrisp tends to bloom early and Granny Smith blooms later. They should pollinate one another, but it’s always better to aim for the optimum so that you get regular fruit production down the road.

      A good choice is a Golden Delicious Apple tree, since it’s self-pollinating and also a good all-around pollinator for other apple trees. Its fruit is good for fresh-eating and baking — a pleasant apple when picked ripe and fresh, compared to their underripe representation in grocery stores!

      I wish you and your community well in your growing endeavors! I just know it will bring everyone closer and teach important lessons about growing your own food — a piece of knowledge that is especially important to pass on to new generations.

  20. Judy Burns permalink

    I ordered 4 semi-dwarf apple trees, 2 standard peach trees, and 1 sweet cherry tree from Stark Brothers. Can’t wait to put them into the ground! I am concerned about the cherry tree though. How far does it need to be planted from the other fruit trees and my vegetable garden? Someone said that its root system contained cyanide. Is this true? Any advice? Thanks for a great website!

  21. Good post! Considering how the trees will look when fully matured is a wise thing to consider before you plant your trees.

  22. brandy permalink

    I have a couple questions. I have a sloped yard. I have desperately wanted fruit trees and and blueberry bushes. Would planting these be wise to do on my hillside? Would it help with the run off or would that be too much water for them? Thanks!

    • Sarah permalink

      As long as the slope isn’t incredibly steep, planting along a slope is actually a better place for plants and trees than, say, the “valley” at the bottom of the slope — which is where all the water ends up after a heavy rain. There could be drainage issues at the bottom of a slope as well as “frost pockets” during colder times of year.

      When planting on a slope, you should consider creating a berm on the more-sloped side of what you plant, so that the soil is less likely to wash away with the water (erosion). As the plants and trees become established, they will be a help to reduce soil erosion there.

      We have a blog post that demonstrates planting on a slope and what a berm looks like here:

      I hope this helps! :)

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