A Raised Bed for an Apple

Hey all,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. I’ve been reading the forums a lot, and it looks like you guys, along with growing an incredibly large base of knowledge for rookies, have had pretty good luck with your plants!

I am interested in planting an apple tree at my parents’ house, the problem is that it is in a spot where the clay is anywhere between 3-6 inches below the surface. I haven’t yet checked the drainage (i.e. the test where you fill the hole up and see if it drains in 24 hours). Currently there is pachysandra growing there, which seems to be doing well, but I know little to nothing about that root system.

As of now, I’m planning on planting a Hudson’s Golden Gem, on G.935 rootstock from cummins, and I plan to use a raised bed. I’d love to take the rototiller and dump 8 inches of leaves, and 3 inches of compost on the entire 20x60 area, but that isn’t going to be allow. So I have resorted to a raised bed.I have a few questions:

  1. I was planning on doing a 6x6 foot bed that is roughly 1 ft high. Is this big enough for that rootstock?

  2. I’ve read a bunch of opinions and styles of raising the rootball. Some say just raise the ground 6 inches, and put the bottom of your roots in the native soil. Is there any reason to do this rather than have a bed that’s 12 inches tall?

  3. Since the soil is shallow, should I do down a few inches into the clay (only inside the bed) and backfill with what I’m putting into the bed?

  4. I know that, in general, you want to avoid dwarfing rootstocks in heavy soils because, among other reasons, they don’t have the “oomph” needed to get through the clay. Do I have to worry about this with a G.935?

  5. I’m planning on doing a mix of roughly 1:1 ratio of compost and topsoil. Will this be too hot for the plants? If I dig a bit into the clay underneath the bed, should I mix that into the bed medium?

As usual, thanks a bunch for everything you guys put on the internet!

I can’t answer your raised bed question because I just made the raised bed myself in the spring this year.

You said you has chosen a Hudson Golden Gem for your parents. Where do they live? How much time and energy your parents want to invest in growing an apple tree?

I don’t grow HGG but Scott Smith, someone I very much respect has mentioned that it is a very difficult variety to grow where he is, MD.

Please look up the thread called Best Tasting Apples particularly post #139. There is so much info about apples on that thread. You probably will find a more grower-friendly variety for your parents.

We’re in Michigan, and as of now I’m living with them.

What you’re citing is pretty much the opposite of what I’ve heard about growing HGG, at least with regards to diseases. I may be very much mistaken. I in the process of emailing an apple grower here in michigan who sells them. Although he’s in mid Michigan (I’m near Detroit) our microclimates are similar due to our proximity to water (Lake Michigan for him, and Lake St. Claire for me).

I will check out that post. Good luck with your bed!

A client in Mumbai, India had raised beds for his apple trees because of the drenching monsoon rains that would flood the area for weeks at a time. They did all right in the ones this size until the neighbor altered the drainage and they were submerged the beds.

The roots won’t penetrate the clay very much, you might want to consider P18 rootstock that has a very horizontal habit.


More height will likely only help, but I suggest you have the clay incorporated with the introduced soil to some extent although it is a labor intensive process to thoroughly mix clay with lighter stuff. To have the soil start light near the surface and gradually become heavier will encourage the roots to penetrate deeper and reduce the chances of the tree tipping over in winds or when carrying heavy crop. You could also stake the tree with a heavy post of metal electric conduit after planting, but incorporating some clay in the upper mix will also prevent the soil from drying out as quickly.

I think you should try the drainage test to determine how high you want the mound to be. I have used even 2.5’ tall mounds to successfully grow trees in sites with nearly constant standing water. Mounds never seem to have an adverse affect, but the higher the mound the more effort required to maintain its height. Annual mulching is the means I use to do that.


I’d considered a standard rootstock, but we really don’t want a full sized tree. I figured that a semi-dwarf would be a good compromise. Do the other P series rootstocks also have a more horizontal habit, or just P.18?

I suppose I could look into an interstem.

We might be able to swing a 2 foot birm/mound rather than a raised be with the wooden sides.

Obviously, if the drainage test reveals that it is awful then I’ll make it taller.

I’ll keep the mixing of the soil in mind. Everything I’ve heard with regards to planting trees NOT in raised beds really says you want to use the natural soil, since the tree has to grow through it eventually. I kind of assumed that applied to a raised be, but I wasn’t sure.

So if I went down a few inches into the clay, and then mixed the clay with the topsoil/compost as you recommend I should be good? Or should I just start at ground level?

I create mounds by throwing soil out of an 8’ diameter ring onto the ring taking at least a couple inches of soil to 11’ out from the rings center. you can use that for mixing or do as you suggest, especially if you have half decent drainage and would therefore benefit from helping the roots get deeper.

Drainage test in progress.

Good sign though, as it went down 1.5 inches in 15 minutes. Also the pure clay was down 12 inches. Top3-5 was mainly dirt (loamy clay/clay loam) the next 8-10 was about a 50/50 mix of lol any clay aaand clay. Then at roughly 12 inches it was pretty darn solid clay.

After 24 hours, there was only 1 inch left in the hole! That one inch was where it was almost 100% clay. Normally I’d say that’s not great, but considering that I’ll be raising the tree, I’m OK with it!

I once had a nursery partnership with a commercial apple grower whose main orchard was in clay with drainage that was bad enough that most springs there was standing water even as trees started to bud out. When he’d rip out a row of old trees we’d plant nursery trees between his permanent ones. Nursery men like a fairly heavy soil because you get more root in less area and the root balls tend to be fairly solid. However, if the orchard wasn’t already performing well I would have assumed that the soil would work very poorly based on the drainage.

The point is, chances are you tree will do fine even without a raised bed, but I always get much better growth with that method.

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So i’d be good on a Google series stock? I’m thinking of planting that, and then later (a year or so) top working Hoople antique gold onto it. That or get 5 rootstock and try my hand bench grafting.

Wow that’s poor practice…!! That infects the new trees with everything bad in an old orchard.

You won’t find any big nursery growing trees on old orchard ground.

It is not a bad practice if the results are good. There are not many soil born issues in upstate NY and I have apple trees I’ve managed over 15 years after transplant from that place that are doing just great, just as the growers trees did great in his orchard.

Exactly what pests are you talking about? Which ones would come with the trees when transplanted? Nematodes were a non-issue.

Also, you might consider a more tactful way of calling my professional methods into question than, “Wow, that’s poor practice!”. Just saying… not mad or anything.

It was a great idea because it didn’t increase any of the maintenance expense incurred during the establishment of the orchard trees beyond the actual planting and I had no other land at the time to use for nursery trees. It helped me establish my business, in other words.

Hey maybe not but you aren’t growing trees for commercial orchards where profit and loss are critical. A homeowner won’t know the difference if his trees grow a bit slower. He might like a smaller tree as long as it doesn’t die.

Cornell has made replant disease resistance a major emphasis in their rootstock breeding program. That tells me there are issues. I suspect there are issues even in your area that would concern commercial growers.

I really wasn’t thinking about whether it was you or someone else. I’ll stick by my call.

You’ve told me more than once to tell it like I see it. Nothing personal.

Replant disease is an issue in some orchards, not all, and the symptoms aren’t chronic to the tree, it is about slow establishment, not long term poor yield. That was how I knew it wasn’t an issue in his orchard.

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I’ve seen soil borne issues build up in my greenhouse to an astonishing level in about 10 yrs. Started out with Citation which is susceptible to crown gall. Those trees are all gone. But I’m left with crown gall levels that killed the last few Citation trees that I planted a few yrs ago. Not sure if there is something else going on. But my trees on K1 are now severely infected. If they die I’m going to need a very resistant stock or another solution.

Who would think that would happen in the middle of a desert? Not me.

A green house is a perfect petri dish with the confinement, consistant warmth and high humidity levels. Many pest issues are amplified within a hot-house.


I should be good on a geneva rootstock then? I think I’ll plant, and then in a year or two graft hooples antique gold onto it. That is, unless I can find it on a semi-dwarf roostock. I know to avoid M.106, many of the geneva stocks that are around the 50% size are reviewed to be better than the M series on poorer drained soils.

Do you have a source for that? I’m just curious. I hadn’t read that yet.

To which part? The m.106? Or the better on poorly drained soils?

The better on poorly drained soils came from the fact that I hadn’t seen anyone warn about them. I’ll see if I can fi n d more.