Planting the Tree

Program Contact: Tianna DuPont, Regional Specialist, Tree Fruit
(509) 663-8181 •

1treeplanterPlanting the Tree

Plant the tree out in the open. It cannot compete with mature trees for your attention, light, water and fertilizer. Remove and replace entire rows. Three 20-foot spaced rows can be replaced by four 16-foot spaced rows. This will allow you to rework the soil and irrigation system in the gap, and the new trees can be treated as a unit separate from the rest of the orchard.
Take good care of the trees once you take them out of nursery storage. Nurseries keep the trees cool and the roots moist. You should try to do the same until shortly before you plant them. Tree roots will dry in a few minutes if placed in the sun. Keep the unplanted trees’ roots moist in a water barrel, or under wet burlap before planting. Dry roots die, which leads to poor growth.

Trim broken or obviously damaged roots, but leave as much root as possible.

1dryrootsPlant trees into warm, moist soil. Tree roots benefit from oxygen, temperatures above 45°F and moderate moisture. You must make an effort not to put them into dry soil, followed by early irrigation, or cold, muddy soil. If you must water them in a planting hole, avoid firming the wet soil by pressing it with your feet soon after watering, wet soil compacts and turns to brick under pressure. Wait a day or three for the wet soil to drain, then firm it and finish refilling the hole.

If you rip the soil, which as previously discussed is the best option under almost every circumstance, you can plant trees by shovel, sometimes faster than by any method other than machine planting. Mark the desired tree spacing on a wire stretched between temporary posts you have placed to mark the row. The planting crew can start anywhere they wish along the marked portion of the row and plant two or three trees each, without getting into each others’ way. If you plant by shovel, you may be able to install much of the irrigation system prior to planting.

If you are unable to rip the soil before planting, dig a hole worthy of the tree. Dig the holes a very short time ahead of tree planting, so you will have moist soil going back into the hole.

If the hole is augured, widen the hole at least a shovel full in all directions. Just spade the surface soil into the deep augered hole until you have broken the steep sides all the way around. The tree is helped more by a wide hole than a deep one. You may have to wait until your tree is in place before you can finish the last few shovels full around the hole.

In difficult to auger soils, you may dig holes with a back-hoe.

If you are using new soil in the planting hole, first fill the hole with your orchard soil to within 6 inches of the level where you want to place the young tree roots. Then add a six-inch layer of moist new soil, then the tree (on a mound of new soil, all roots sloping down) then about 6 inches more moist new soil. Fill the remainder of the hole with orchard soil.

When you are finished, the soil level should be at least four to six inches higher than the general soil level around the tree. Otherwise, as the soil in the hole compacts when wetted, it will slump. If your soil is not mounded at planting, the young tree will spend its’ early years in a hole, prime for collar rot, root rot, and scion rooting. The graft union must be placed at least a hand-width (4-6 inches) above the soil mound so that it will be above the soil level when the planting hole soil is finished slumping. If the bud union comes in contact with the soil, “scion rooting” may occur, which will cause your tree to develop the vigor similar to a tree on “seedling” root.

Washington State University