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Planting Fruit Trees in clay laden soil — The Grow Network Community
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Planting Fruit Trees in clay laden soil

JohnJohn Posts: 167 ✭✭✭
edited October 2020 in Fruit

Have been looking at some land for a homestead and have been encountering lots of places in North Western Minnesota (a possible homestead locale) and have found a number of desirable sites, but the soil is heavily laden with clay. Fruit trees don't usually do very well in such soil, and I very much want to plant fruit trees as I have past experience and success growing them in my own backyard. Someone suggested that trenching out a wide and fairly deep area and replacing the clay with good soil might work for the fruit trees. Anybody ever done this? Heard of it? Have thoughts? Thanks for any info you can share. Looking to plant apple, pear, plum and cherry trees which are the varieties I've had experience and success with. Thanks! John :)


  • blevinandwombablevinandwomba Central PaPosts: 771 ✭✭✭✭

    Maybe it depends on the kind of clay you're talking about. I think just about everywhere I've lived I'v had clay soil, and yet I've had fruit trees or seen others, or wild ones.

    Does the land support other trees?

  • LaurieLovesLearningLaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 4,080 admin

    @John @blevinandwomba has made a good point worth investigating.

    I would suggest that yes, your idea could work. You certainly would need to do your research. You would need to know at a minimum, how wide each tree can grow. The outside of the tree marks the dripline, where the tree gathers most of its nutrients. Once those roots hit the clay, though, they will stop growing and can stunt growth. You would, in that case, be wise to make your trench much wider than the dripline. You also need to research how deep the hole should be.

    When I worked at a tree nursery, they would tell people what to fill the hole with. You want lots of nutrients for that tree to draw on, but nothing that will burn the roots.

    Depending on what the clay is like too, will you just be making a pocket where water will pool & drown your tree? Just a thought.

    You would do well to ask around to see what soil others have & have done in a similar situation.

  • JodieDownUnderJodieDownUnder Moderator Mid North Coast AustraliaPosts: 897 admin

    John, interesting conundrum. Checking out what tree's do grow there and what other community members have done. I live in an area that is only good for growing trees. Poor soil, either hard rock or clay but grows the most magnificent eucalyptus trees, towering overhead and associated ecosystems. I have basically a citrus orchard to supplement my house. Too humid and wet for stone fruit. I always dig the hole 3 times bigger than it needs to be, dig it square, not round, helps with the roots. I water it well, let it soak in, walk away. Then I add 3 handfuls of gypsum, 2 of Ag lime, about 1 bucket(10lt) of compost and a few handfuls of blood & bone. Mix that all together. Have some more straight gypsum on hand. I dust the hole with say 2 handfuls of gypsum, then add some of the mix. Place tree on top and backfill with what came out of the hole. Place the rest of the mix on the top and water in. Once tree is established, I make little oval garden beds around the tree to grow my herbs in. The tree's really seem to do well, love their companion plants, appreciate being fed from underneath and on top. Gypsum is a clay breaker, I always have it on hand and adding compost, well it's good for everything!

  • Megan VenturellaMegan Venturella Posts: 422 ✭✭✭✭

    It feels so gross to be the one mentioning this, but in one of the videos from the last summit they address that problem by suggesting you dig a big hole and put a portable outhouse on it. When it’s full, fill it back in, plant a tree, and move the outhouse to the next spot. At least you could do it with a free resource we all have plenty of! LOL

  • frogvalleyfrogvalley Posts: 635 ✭✭✭✭
    edited August 2020

    @John Have you thought about espalier columnar fruit trees? I started mine this spring and they are doing great! I have clay soil, but built a raised bed and put them in about 1 1/2 to 2 feet apart. I'll never growth the large trees again.

  • Bryce LangebartelsBryce Langebartels Posts: 47 ✭✭✭

    @jodienancarrow really great ideas! I love the companion planting you do. I'm hoping to plant fruit trees this year and have somewhat clay soil as well. I have a flock of chickens and ducks working the ground and fertilizing it for me right now. I also put wood chips on it periodically and let them spread it around.

    @Megan Venturella gross indeed, but intriguing. I've seen some homesteaders who compost all their human excrement and use it for growing all kinds of things.

  • JodieDownUnderJodieDownUnder Moderator Mid North Coast AustraliaPosts: 897 admin

    Thanks @Bryce Langebartels it only came about because I was running out of space in the veggie garden. So now I have comfrey, nasturtium, feverfew, dandelion, mint, thyme etc growing around the base of the citrus trees. I use the teardrop shape because it's conducive to my zero turn ride on mower and I'm not doing wheelies all over the place!

  • Bryce LangebartelsBryce Langebartels Posts: 47 ✭✭✭

    That's great @jodienancarrow ! Way to use the space well and design it to be efficient!

  • nicksamanda11nicksamanda11 Posts: 240 ✭✭✭

    We catch rats running around our house and garden and then bury them 3 feet deep and plant stuff on top of them. It's pretty cool.

  • seeker.nancy - Central Texasseeker.nancy - Central Texas Posts: 803 ✭✭✭✭

    One thing I have learned about growing perennials in clay is that I need to water BEYOND the drip line. Most plants cannot penetrate the dry clay so they end up being root bound and eventually dying. We have flooding a few weeks a year and drought the rest. That means the surrounding soil is leaching moisture away from my plant's roots. I just realized this year that was what was happening to a few of my plants. The clay here is really a rich mineral type that if given the chance, it can grow stuff like crazy.

  • LaurieLovesLearningLaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 4,080 admin

    @seeker.nancy - Central Texas That is fascinating. What an interesting discovery.

  • JohnJohn Posts: 167 ✭✭✭

    Thanks everyone! I'll take the shared information to heart and do research and look forward to an orchard in my future. You are all awesome! :) John. :)

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