6 Steps to Prepare Your Soil for Planting Fruit Trees
After you have selected your site for planting (see this article for more information on site selection factors), you will need to prepare your soil for planting fruit trees. There are 6 easy steps you can follow in order to prepare your soil well. However keep in mind that if you are only planting a couple of trees, not all these steps will be necessary. For example, you may not need to do an expensive soil test if you are planting a couple of trees.
1. Clear Large Rocks and Weeds
- If you see large rocks where the trees will be planted, clear them from the site.
- When you see perennial weeds, you should clear them as well so that they don’t deter the growth of the trees.
2. Test the Soil
- First, test for soil drainage, pH and lime index since most fruit trees need a well-draining loamy soil with a pH of 6.0-6.5 to grow well.
- In order to test the soil drainage, dig a hole about 12 inches deep and 8 to 12 inches wide. Then, fill with water and wait for it to drain. After 12 hours, refill it and time how long it takes for the water to drain. If the soil drains well, all the water should be gone in 2 to 3 hours.
- Secondly, test for nematodes. Nematodes are microscopic roundworms that can help the soil by decomposing organic matter. However some nematodes can also cause damage to the roots, resulting in poor growth in the trees and gradual decline in yields. Therefore it’s a good idea to test for nematodes before planting. See here for more information.
- Although there are inexpensive DIY soil tests, there are also many labs and educational institutions, such as those at Cornell University, which offer extensive soil health tests. However for a backyard grower, these additional tests aren’t necessary.
3. Adjust the Soil
- After you get the test results, you can adjust the pH and fertility of the soil.
- Although the ideal pH range varies depending on the fruit tree (see this article for the ranges of each fruit tree), fruit trees can still grow if the pH is slightly higher or lower than that range. If the soil is too acidic then you can easily correct this by adding lime. However, for alkaline soils, you can correct by adding elemental sulfur, iron sulfate or aluminum sulfate.
- As for increasing soil fertility, you can add organic matter which can also help improve moisture and nutrient retention in sandy soils and drainage in clay soils.
- However, adding organic matter to the soil is optional and often not needed. In fact, never add fertilizer to the roots of the tree since this will damage it. You may apply nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
4. Till the Soil
- When you till the soil, the nutrients become integrated into the soil and the soil becomes less compact. This breaks up the hardened layers which allows for the roots to grow more easily. You will only need to till the area that the tree will grow on, perhaps a row 4 feet by 4 feet.
5. Hill Up the Surface Soil
- By creating beds for the trees and putting the surface soil from the corridors onto the beds, there is more surface soil for the roots to explore.
- Additionally excess rain water can run off and the site won’t become waterlogged.
6. Add Mulch
- When you add straw or wood chips around the tree, this will help retain soil moisture and control the weeds.
- When you spread the mulch, be sure to spread to the end of the tree canopy since this is where the feeder roots will be. However keep the mulch approximately 6 inches away from the tree trunk so that the wood doesn’t rot.
- If using straw, be sure to add mouse guards. Since mice love to burrow and create nests in the straw, this will help protect the tree.