How to Plant a Fruit Tree or Berry Bush

Easy Instructions for Successful Fruit Tree Planting

  1. Dig the hole – Remove the plant carefully from the pot and set it next to the hole.  When digging, the initial hole should be nearly twice as big as the root ball itself.  Put most of the dirt you are removing in a wheelbarrow or the pot it came in. 
  2. Place the plant – Set the root ball in the hole.  The top of the root ball should be flush or 2-4” higher than the soil level (especially for sandy soils). 
    1. Do NOT let it go lower that the soil level. Remember, the plant will settle into the hole, so it’s always better to plant it a little high.
    2. Backfill the hole with the native soil.
    3. Do NOT put fertilizer or compost into the hole.  Doing so will cause the roots of the plant to want to stay inside the hole instead of venturing out and establishing a wider root system.  Amendments should be applied to the top of the soil only.
  3. Compost – Apply a 1” layer of organic compost to the top of the soil.  Keep all top dressing away from the truck / stem of the plant.  The width of the ring should be twice the width of the canopy of leaves.
    1. Soft stem plants:  Use a compost that is plant and bacteria based.
    2. Hard-stemmed bushes / trees:  Use a mushroom or fungal based compost, when possible.
  4. Manure – Apply a ½ – 1” layer of composted manure (Do not apply fresh because it may burn your plant).
  5. Weed Barrier – Apply a layer of cardboard (remove all tape and staples) to suppress weeds and retain moisture.  Use a pitch fork to poke holes in it for water penetration.  If using newspaper, use at least 6 sheets of newspaper, otherwise it will decompose too quickly and the weeds will come through. 
  6. Mulch – Use a good quality or wood chips as your top dressing (4” deep)
    1. Wood chips:  Better for woody stemmed and/or mature plants.  Benefit is that it takes longer to break down and provides a cleaner look.  Drawback is that for annual vegetables it can tie up nitrogen when it initially breaks down.  It will often la
    2. Straw or grass clippings:  Better for annual flowers and annual vegetables.  Benefit is that is breaks down faster and helps heal the soil quickly.  Drawback is that is needs to be reapplied annually.
    3. IMPORTANT NOTE: Never use colored or dyed wood chips. This is not only bad for the soil and microorganisms, but will also end up in the fruit that you eat.
  7. Watering – Water well the first time, using a probiotic spray (like BioAg by SCD Probiotics).
    1. After the initial watering, always use the finger / soil test to determine when the plant needs to be watered.  In general, most plants like to dry out between watering.
    2. Put your finger into the soil at the base of the tree down to the biggest knuckle.  If the soil is moist, do not water.  If it is dry, then consider watering.
    3. Plants like to be watered less frequently with a deep watering.
    4. After the first year, with proper mulch application, you should rarely need to water.  Once established, let the tree roots do their job and only water during drought times or when the trees look overly stressed. 
how to plant a fruit tree

REMINDER:  Fertilization in subtropic and tropical climates is best done in February, June, and September on fruit trees and berry bushes.  In cooler climates, it should be done in March / April (just before flowers emerge) and again in June just before fruit set. After the first year, fertilization is best applied as a quality compost or manure.  Chemical fertilizers are unnecessary and do not help the soil in the long run.

For additional benefit you can also apply a compost tea or late spring foliar spray during the same months listed above


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