Planting apple trees

ich_bin_nathanAugust 20, 2007

Hi everyone,

I live in pure sand and I have some apple trees/crab apple trees to plant. However I have to dig huge holes and amend the soil. So I normally amend to about 4 feet down or so. Now here is my question-Because I live in soil that drains so quickly, should I plant my trees really deep? I was thinking that I should take the entire tree and just plant it like 2 feet underground. [The tree is quite tall] So it would still have a trunk showing and the branches wouldnt be like touching the ground or anything, but hopefully it would be able to survive our dry site. Does this sound like a good idea? Do any of you have any suggestions? I will also add bone meal to the hole so it gets good roots, but what else should I do for my trees? Any advice is appreciated.

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From everything I have learned about planting trees, planting them deeply is a bad idea. Trees should be planted at the level which they grew out of the soil by nature. Also, the latest trend in tree planting is not to ammend the soil in the hole, but to let the tree reach out into the native (new) soil it is to grow in, otherwise the tree is so happy in the small space you provided for it that it does not make itself at home in the new soil and reach out for nutrients and water in its new home. This is detrimental to forming a healthy root system. It is good to provide good fertilizer at planting time and as the tree grows, make sure to give it plentiful water, and water deeply and less often than shallow and often. I would think that a good layer of mulch would be a good idea also. Good luck...Helen.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2007 at 9:41PM
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Planting it that deep will either kill it or possibly (though a bit unlikely) cause it to grow suckers at the proper depth for that tree. So why don't you just plant it at the proper depth to begin with?

With very sandy soil, I think it's fine to amend the soil some with compost. But wider is generally better than deeper. Yeah, and mulch--mulch very well. Maybe leftwood will post here, too, he's kind of our resident tree expert.

Here is a link that might be useful: Planting and Transplanting Trees and Shrubs

    Bookmark   August 21, 2007 at 9:41AM
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Well thanks a lot everyone. Oops! Guess I planted the other tree wrong. Ah well- I can always do better this time. But thank you all very much. I will plant it at the right level this time. As for amending the soil, I used black sand-which is like the top soil in our area-so I think that the transition will wont be that terrible.

And just so I get this right-
I need to plant it at the level its already at in the pot? Right?

Someone once showed me how to plant trees-and these were all tips they had given me because I had never planted before. But I will go with your advice and try that-I am so glad I delayed planting to ask. Whew


    Bookmark   August 21, 2007 at 10:48AM
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sjmarq(z4 MN)

It may be planted incorrectly in the pot too so you can't even go by that. You need to look for the flare where the trunk widens and the main roots are flaring out. That is how deep to plant - a portion of that flare needs to be above ground/visible. Many trees vital roots run very close to the surface and so the recommendation to plant wide not deep is good. Trees planted too deep will be stressed and eventually die. Dig up the one you put too deep and fix it - if it's still alive it's not too late to do it right.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2007 at 10:09AM
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leftwood(z4a MN)

Yes, if you've planted one deeply already, dig it up and replant correctly. The root flare concept is the best thing to use, but sometimes it can be hard to grasp until someone actually shows you. From the top, go down to where the first root emerges from the stem, and plant so this is an inch or less under the surface.

If the already planted tree has had time to grow new roots, this aforementioned first root cannot be one of these new growths. It must be one that was already there when you were originally planting the tree. Consequently this may mean that replanting correctly will expose new growths to the air. They will die and that's ok, no, that's good.

Besides all the other bad things that happen when a tree is planted too deep, there are "anatomical" reasons too. The way a tree trunk or branches grow (and their anatomy) is different than that of roots, and they have adapted to their specific uses and conditions. A tree trunk planted underground is, as they say, a fish out of water, and more susceptible to rots and diseases. It needs to breath. This is also the reason why it is recommended not to mulch right up and over the tree trunk above ground. Keep it pulled away from directly contacting the trunk. Your mulch pattern should not be a mound, rather, a small holed doughnut, with the tree in the center.

I agree with Leaves about ammending sand - not a bad thing. But still, don't mix more thanabout a quarter by volume of new material. As you have eluded to, the transition between ammended and native soil is the important factor. Make sure it is as undetectible as possible.

And for all of you with clay soils, this means compaction transition also. If your clay soil is hard, and you plant in loose, unammended soil, without compaction transition, it's a bad thing.
(1) When digging the final edges of your hole, you should be standing inside the hole. Digging from outside the hole accentuates the sharp defining soil edge between the loose soil and the native, more compacted soil.

This concept can be easily explained: take one shovel full of soil from a similar dense soil. Now look at the depression you just made. The edge cut by the shovel is sharply define, while the far side is loosely defined. In addition, to get the shovel full of dirt out, you applied pressure to that sharply defined side of the hole and compacted it even more!

(2) After you finish planting, and before you water, get your digging fork out. (A shovel will not work for this step, but in a pinch, a crowbar would.) Standing outside of the loose soil, in a concencentric circle about 4-8 inches outside of the hole you dug, put the fork in the undug soil and loosen it. Just put the fork in, lean back and loosen the soil, just once, and take the fork out. Insert again, adjacently, making a circle around the planted tree. Remember, you're not looking for a big change in compaction here. What you want is a better transition between your newly loose soil and the dense native soil.

The main reason why it is recommended not to dig deeper than the ball or pot you are planting:
Loose soil means unstable soil, until it settles. During this time a tree planted on unsettled soil easily tilts before you realize it, especially after a heavy rain and/or wind. A stable bottom is the way to go. The other reason has to do with drainage properties, that are of no concern in sandy soil.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2007 at 5:44PM
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julie_mn(z4 MN Henn)

Drainage in the winter in sandy soil is just as bad as drainage in clay in the winter....
I learned the hard way....

    Bookmark   August 23, 2007 at 12:00AM
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What rootstock is on the tree? Most people don't realize how important the rootstock is to the life of the tree. How deeply you plant apple trees depends entirely on what kind of root stock has been used. If you bought your trees from a good nursery here in MN, then the trees probably have a rootstock that is hardy. If it is a dwarf then it is probably on M106 or maybe M26 - that's what usually shows up in the nurseries here. If it has not been grafted and is on its own rootstock it is called a seedling and seedlings must planted 3" below where they stood in the pot. If they are on a rootstock, and they probably are look for the graft knob, they should be planted so that knob is 3" above the soil line. If you plant deeper than that, then the rootstock starts sending up shoots around the base of the tree.

Most commercial orchards don't dig a big hole and usually don't amend the hole with anything. The only thing I might suggest is applying a little nitrogen once a year in the fall after the ground is frozen  never during the summer  and not when you first plant it. I havenÂt applied any since I planted our orchard 10 years ago, but I donÂt have sand. The nitrogen will run through your sand fairly fast

    Bookmark   August 23, 2007 at 5:43AM
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leftwood(z4a MN)

Drainage in the winter in sandy soil is just as bad as drainage in clay in the winter....

I can only imagine winter drainage being equal in clay and sand if water has backed up in the sand, or a frozen layer has become temporarily impervious. Julie, can you elaborate?

    Bookmark   August 23, 2007 at 6:02PM
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julie_mn(z4 MN Henn)

I have a very sandy black loam soil here in Crystal- I am very used to watching water dry up pretty quickly here- and drain away any chemical fertilizers away with it.
Although- the more recent trend of having very warm winter days with surface snow melt after frost has established deep into the ground, stopping any drainage what so ever- has made very many ice skating rink puddels in my yard of varieing porportions! Some areas have frozen over whole beds that I had no idea were so low in my yard. It all looks like a pretty flat expance to my eye-
Needless to say- I have found out the hard way- where the areas are that refreeze into a very solid, very deep (to frost line)frozen lake- and that kill any plant that can not easily adapt or tollerate such winter conditions, and the very wet cold spring conditions untill the frost line thaws and drainage can once again occur.
So- for winter rot- sandy soil, in my eyes, is every bit as bad as clay soil- especially in any low lying areas.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2007 at 8:02AM
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leftwood(z4a MN)

Hmmm . . . water backing up, as I suspected. But I assume these are in areas where the terrain does not lend itself to surface drainage. Dips in the landscape? (No comments from the peanut gallery on that, please. LOL)

    Bookmark   August 24, 2007 at 2:25PM
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julie_mn(z4 MN Henn)

Well- honestly- "the terrain does not lend itself to surface drainage" -that is a logically accurate statement- but to look at the areas in question- and the surrounding area as well- all look to be a flat surface. It is not just a rut- or a bowled surface that has a tendency to puddle and freeze- It is most areas that get sufficient sunlight to warm the surface ground to melt the snow- but not the frost line deep in the soil.
So- raised beds do have a slight advantage- but shielded from the sun areas are even better to avoid ice ponds in my yard.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2007 at 11:42PM
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leftwood(z4a MN)

So- raised beds do have a slight advantage- but shielded from the sun areas are even better to avoid ice ponds in my yard.

Another "fix" might be a healthy layer of mulch - if you can do that - so the soil doesn't thaw prematurely in the first place. Kinda hard to do in a lawn, though. LOL

    Bookmark   August 25, 2007 at 3:07PM
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Thanks everyone for your advice.

My trees are grafted-I can easily see that. So I will plant those 3 inches above the soil line. But will I need to protect the tree in the first winter? And wont I need to fertilize every year since my soil is so sandy? Any suggestions?

Leftwood, the tree I planted in correctly has been in the ground for 2 full years now. Should I still dig it up? But everything predicted has happened...the tree is struggling [last year no flowers] with little growth, and there are shoots coming up from the bottom. Could I take cuttings like you do for roses and propogate it and the replant it?

I also found out that the tree is planted on my neighbors property-And he plans to sell his house. What else could I do

    Bookmark   August 28, 2007 at 11:34AM
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leftwood(z4a MN)

I also found out that the tree is planted on my neighbors property

Well that's the clincher, I guess. But not really, as my advice would be to dig it up anyway. And you don't want those suckers to propagate with. That is the rootstock, which most assuredly has inferior fruit (and probably other "bad" qualities). If it were me, I wouldn't try to save the tree after being in the ground way too deep 2 years. I am guessing you'd have suckering problems from then on and forever, too. Chuck it and start new with good stock.

Apples are very difficult to root from branches, although I am sure there is some variability between cultivars. I tried for years with a genetic dwarf I had, with no success.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2007 at 4:01PM
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julie_mn(z4 MN Henn)

OH GOSH YES! Protect the new little trees this fall and winter and into the spring as well! Deer and rabbits and little rodents LOVE tender smooth apple bark and will eat it all if you give them a way to get at it!
I have heard that the winter sun on newer tree's bark is not too good for them either... But I am sure I do not know the best way to protect them... I used a paper tree wrap on a pear tree for a few winters- which worked well for the sun scald- but the second winter I did not protect the base with wire mesh and the rabbits ate through the paper and ringed the tree as far as they could reach and killed it but good!
Your trees want to live. They want to thrive! They want to make more of themselves! They will find a way to get the nutrients they need to do this in your sand. To my mind, making them crave and need chemical fertilizers to survive- can't be good for them. I would think- if you really needed to give them something to use to supplement their growth till they become established- you could top dress the root zone and then some, with compost. Every time it rains- or they get watered- a little more of the nutrients will filter through the soil to the roots. Slow and steady like. The worms will also pull down this material and help to create a better soil structure slow and steady- the natural way. Trees take time- they are a gift to the future.
As for flowers, you will find there will be better years for flowers- and worse years. A heavy rain at the wrong time will knock them all off- a cold spell at bloom time will hinder the bees from pollinating- a heavy frost or freeze will kill all the opened flowers. In time- you will be thankful for the worse years- it means less apples that need to be disposed of week after week after week.... (This said by she whose yard smells like apple cider and mulled plums at the moment...)
ramble ramble ramble....

    Bookmark   August 30, 2007 at 11:42AM
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