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It’s nitty-gritty time! Time to get on the end of a shovel, dig a hole, and plant your fruit tree.

Let’s assume you’ve already chosen the right site for your trees (we explain how to plan your orchard in this blog).

You might even have done some earlier soil preparation, like planting a green manure crop or digging in some compost or manure. You may have deep-ripped the site.

If you planted a green manure crop, ideally you will have dug it back into the soil a week or two before you plan to plant your trees.

If not, it’s best to just cut and drop the plants on the surface of the ground, rather than dig in the green manure immediately prior to planting your tree. The green manure can start to decompose quickly in the ground which can create quite a bit of heat. This is not good for your young tree’s roots. 

Don’t worry if you haven’t done any soil prep at all – it’s best to get the tree in the ground ASAP, and then work on the soil later.

Preparing the hole where the fruit tree will be planted
Preparing the hole where the fruit tree will be planted

Before you plant your tree

It’s great if you can dip the tree’s roots in an inoculant of some sort before you plant it. Dr Christine Jones recommends using a biostimulant such as worm juice.

This helps to populate the roots with lots of good microbes (e.g., bacteria and fungi). These microbes will help the tree get its nutrition as it grows.

A biostimulant also helps to kickstart important relationships between the roots of your fruit tree and other plants in the soil, which are essential to good health.

Hugh stirring a lovely inoculant brew to dip fruit trees in before they're planted.
Hugh stirring a lovely inoculant brew to dip fruit trees in before they’re planted

We often use compost tea as our biostimulant of choice. It’s also possible to buy ready-made inoculants, but they’re quite expensive and usually come in industrial quantities. Compost extract (compost soaked in water) or worm tea are fantastic low-cost alternatives.

Next, dig a hole…

If you’ve done some soil preparation before you plant, the hole only needs to be big enough to accommodate the roots of your tree.

It’s completely fine to prune the roots back a bit to fit the hole, or to remove any damaged roots.

The hole should be deep enough that when the tree is planted it will be at the level it was in the nursery. This is often not as deep as you might imagine. If you look carefully at your tree there will usually be a visible line on the trunk where the bark changes colour.

A tree in the hole waiting to plant
A tree in the hole waiting to be planted

Planting the tree

Once you’ve dug the hole, add any amendments that you’re using, and mix a bit of soil back in.

Now position the tree in the hole so it’s upright, and hold it while you back-fill a few shovels of soil over the roots. Make sure the soil fills the gaps between the roots, and then carefully but firmly tamp the soil down around the roots. Now finish back-filling the hole.

If drainage is an issue, mound the soil up a bit and plant into this. This ensures that any heavy rainfall will be able to drain away from the roots, especially if you’re planting your tree in heavy clay. 

In most situations, you don’t need to water the tree after planting, unless you’re experiencing very dry soil conditions when you plant.

Do fruit trees need stakes?

We often see fruit trees tied to elaborate staking arrangements. We’ve planted thousands of fruit trees over the years, and have never staked them.

The trick is to plant them the right way, so they’re firmly embedded in the soil. There’s no need for stakes at all, your tree should be totally self-supporting.

And finally, prune your tree!

A freshly planted (and pruned) cherry tree
A freshly planted (and pruned) cherry tree

Planting is a pretty simple process. There are a few extra things to consider if you haven’t done any prior soil preparation or are planting into difficult soils. Heavy clay soil, very sandy soil, and weedy areas all pose their own challenges.

New fruit trees are a great investment in your garden and your future food security. They will inevitably be the beginning of a journey of exploration as you get to know your new tree.

Over time, you’ll learn how the tree performs in the location you’ve chosen and your climate. And of course, the level of care you give it will be key!

Happy planting!

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