Planting Instructions



We are often asked for a brief guide to planting container grown fruit trees. For bare root trees bought elsewhere, the advice might be slightly different. In all these matters it is best to use common sense. The two principle factors are to understand that planting loosens the soil and it must be replaced firmly without damaging roots. The second is that the soil must be capable of allowing new root growth to travel through it. A third might be that a new tree needs to stay upright while it anchors itself to the ground. A tree that leans when young will tilt further as the weight increases with growth and fruiting. Planting distances between trees/bushes/cordons, etc. will vary with rootstock, soil type and the individual plans for trees. It is not always helpful to lay down precise distances and the best advice we can give is to stand back and imagine the fully grown specimen. The canopy envisaged will determine the distance for standard trees and bushes. Consider also the need to get a lawn mower between and under the trees/bushes. For restricted forms, dwarf bushes, espaliers, cordons and the like, close planting is possible, but root competition may require a re-assessment of the appropriate rootstock.



Dig a hole about 18 inches (50cm) in diameter (or preferably more) and 18 inches deep. Unless you know the soil to be free draining, do not dig the hole before being ready to plant. If it rains heavily, or water seeps through the soil, the hole will fill with water on heavy soils and it will be impossible to plant the tree without trapping water in the loosened soil. Wet soil is also difficult to compact satisfactorily. Waterlogged soil can cause the roots to rot and the consequent lack of aeration will slow down root development. The aim is to have the tree planted in loose but compact soil that will ease the travelling of root growth and will trap small air pockets rather than trap water pockets.

Unless you know your soil to be deficient in some particular nutrient(s) you can assume that the soil will yield up the necessary minerals needed for healthy growth of the tree, without any additions to the soil itself. Any deficiencies found in the future can be treated with top dressings, so you should not be unduly concerned. Where the soil is light, dry and lacking humus/fibre or has been intensively cultivated, it will be beneficial to mix some of the soil with broken down, mature garden compost or well rotted manure. Do not mix the soil more than 50:50 with such composts and avoid using more than a sprinkling of such additives as bonemeal/blood,fish and bone. Do not use fresh manure except at very low levels. Too much kindness with such materials can lead to root scorch from high salt concentrations and later health problems for the tree arising from excess fertility. It is better to add top dressings of fertilizing materials, as the need arises, later. The main purpose of mixing composts with the soil is to help the soil become looser and more friable, particularly in clay soils which can tend to settle back to impermeability, and in light soils, which do not retain moisture without the addition of organic/fibrous material.

Having dug the soil and mixed in any composted/nutritional material, add some soil to the base of the hole and tread it down lightly so that the tree, when tapped out of the pot, and placed in the hole will have the top of the tree compost an inch or two below ground level.

Remove the tree from its pot, leaving the shape of the compost and roots as undisturbed as possible. Do not tease out the roots, as advised by some books. This advice applies only to badly pot bound plants and our trees are not pot bound. Teasing/loosening the roots will only damage the soft fibrous root system and set the tree back by several months. Place the tree, intact, into the hole, adjusting the height of the hole base as necessary. Then return the soil to the hole being careful to hold the tree vertical. Compact the soil by treading on it lightly, but avoid significant pressure on the tree root system – ie within 4-5 inches of the stem. The final soil level can be 1-2 inches above the height of the compost in the pot but not more, or the graft union will be in danger of rotting from too close a proximity to the humid soil and water splash. Having compacted the soil all round, water the tree well if the tree is still in leaf. If planted in winter and the tree is dormant, there will be no need to water. If you believe the soil is not as fertile as you would wish then apply a liquid feed of fertilizer, when the tree is in growth. Applying fertilizer when the tree is dormant will not achieve anything. Too much fertility can cause health problems for fruit trees.

Staking or support is necessary in the early life of a fruit tree. In some cases/situations/rootstocks it may be necessary for many years. The prime need is to stop the young tree from rocking in the wind, where the wavering tree base would open up a void where water could settle in, freeze and cause subsoil bark damage, or where pests could enter and shelter. The constant rocking motion can also seriously disturb and damage the principal roots. Maintaining the correct upright position is vital for the long term future of the tree. Be sure to avoid the roots when driving in a stake close to the young tree. Also give serious consideration to using a tree guard – either a spiral guard or a guard tube. It takes only one rabbit/deer/vole/strimmer, on one visit, to kill a tree.

Unless the tree surround is kept weed/grass-free by hand, it will significantly speed the growth and development of the young tree if weeds/grass are mulched out – either by mat or with compost/decayed grass cuttings. The tree benefits by the retention of moisture over the dryer months and the lack of competition from weeds/grass. After a couple of years the benefit is minor and grass/weeds can be allowed to grow. Do not put too thick a mulch around – just enough to exclude light. An over-thick mulch can provide a cover for voles which will chew around the tree base and may even kill the tree. Do not ignore this advice if planting in open fields. It is a regular and catastrophic occurence.

If you are uncertain about any aspect of planting, you are welcome to contact us.