Advice on planting apple orchard in NKY

Howdy everybody! We’re in NKY, the outer bluegrass. I’m looking for advice on starting an orchard. Particularly planting the trees. The soil we have here is termed “Eden”. It is rocky, clay, “moderately permeable” soil. At around 8” depth it gets very dense. See the attached photos for a reference. While the top 6” is really great, well structured and rich soil, but after that it gets sticky quick.

I know apples will grow here, maybe peaches too. The trees will mostly be seedling trees, planted on the western slope of our property. Anything that isn’t a seedling will be M111 rootstock. I figured seedling stock will give the vigor needed to utilize this clay. I’ve read most of the advice on how to plant in clay. Im not building 100 raised beds, but Im leaning toward the mound idea. I wanted to maybe utilize an idea I got from Twisted Tree Farm: digging holes and setting the dirt right on the downhill side (breaking up the native soil and planting into that) and leaving the hole to mimic a large tree that uprooted and fell in the woods. These mounds commonly have new trees growing out of the friable and rich topsoil, meanwhile the hole acts as a kind of swale. We have a tractor and backhoe to assist.

The other option is trucking in local topsoil (by the truckload, we will be planting 12 seedling apples, 12 seedling peaches, and 12 seedling pears this fall), and building mounds on top of the sod.

This is a pretty big deal to me, a few years in the making. This will go to our grandchildren, God willing we are given them, and will be a source of income and food for the family in the uncertain times to come here in the states. I’ll be sharing it all with you fine folks here along the way too. Just for your kicks, here are a few photos of the proposed orchard site. The large view photo is facing north. The picture next to the tractor is facing south.

And a few more pictures of our little nursery. Most of the trees are grafted from scion wood from Steve Edholm in Cali. In the mix is black strawberry, cherry crush, January russet, wickson, and King David. Seedlings are from cosmic crisp, Arkansas black and pink lady, and a few white peach seedlings from Serbia. There’s also m111 rootstock, T-Budded a last week. All trees are in their first leaf.

We really want to get these guys in the ground this fall. Any advice on how best to plant is greatly appreciated, especially if you’re from this area of Kentucky. We have some rough and rocky soil, but I know it grows trees well, just look at the woods….


If you can take a ripper / subsoiler it likely to reward your troubles, but looks like decent soil on top and the M111 should not have a problem living. (Skip MM106).

Good luck.


Beautiful and inspiring! Welcome.


I was under the impression cosmic crisp trees was only sold in in state that being either Washington or Oregon. I forget which. The patent holders seem pretty intent on that last I checked. Pink lady is not resistant to fire blight and not sure about Arkansas Black. I would be careful with pruning being in the south.

Welcome to the forum, from NE Kentucky, we’re maybe a couple hours east of you.

You may be aware of Reed Valley orchard? It’s between Paris and Cynthiana, not too far from you. We’ve been there several times, they have a lot of apple trees there, like a couple thousand at least. Also, a lot of pears, and a few peaches along with some berry plants. The Reed’s actually retired last year from running it, and someone else took it over. Anyways, you may know about all that. I think that’d be a good place to visit and see what does well there, and what rootstocks they use, etc.

Seems like their best selling varieties are Goldrush, Golden Delicious, Gala, McIntosh, Fuji and Pink Lady, among others.

We started out with about 17 trees 5-6 years ago, but we’ve lost 5 trees, and a couple more are on their way out. We’ve never had a decent crop since we planted them, mostly because of late freezes, but this year our trees were loaded, but were stripped clean by what I assume were squirrels. Peaches also were cleaned out too.

Anyway, good luck with your endeavors.

Those varieties selling the best don’t surprise me. Golden Delicious, Gala, Mcintosh, Fuji and Pink lady are all grocery store brands so everyone knows they like one of those apples. I have gone out of my way to grow Fuji sports and the Fuji apple variety because I know I love that sweetness. We also know a lot of those varieties store super well. Most grocery store varieties store upwards of a year. At least I know many Fuji varieties do.

I live in Cincinnati Ohio. M111 is a real winner here. My seedling Red haven peaches do well. Pears grafted to callery pear rootstock do well. I to am hard pan clay/rocky. I also have squirrels that eat about 10 bushels of fruit before it is 3/4 size. I get none but the trees are fantastic


They may not sell to anyone outside washington state…
but that doesn’t keep a buyer in that state from snipping a limb and sending it to a friend in some other state (or country)…has happened many times to many different apples.

There’ll be no problem until some Tennessee nursery starts selling Cosmic Crisp trees or some roadside market begins selling “Cosmic Crisp” apples.

True, maybe I should say they seem to have more of these trees than anything else, maybe because they are so popular. They have lots of Red Delicious too, but I’ve never tried theirs, RD just about turned me off of apples, until I found these other not as well known, but much better varieties.

But they also grow a lot of Goldrush, which is my favorite, but not seen in any store I’ve been in. Why I don’t know, it’s got great flavor that’s very tart, acidic even, but also sweet, a bit aromatic, and gets sweeter the longer it’s stored, which can be up into the next spring.

They also have lots of Cortland, Sansa, Stayman and Stark Winesap, and another favorite of mine, Suncrisp. Never have seen that one in any store, either. Golden Russet is another one they grow which is a top five for me.

Are you growing out these seedlings purely as full size rootstock to graft known varieties to? I’ve experimented a bit doing this with apples. I’ve let a few peach seedlings just grow, hopeful what they produce will be good without grafting to.

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If you want advice on orchards in KY you may want to visit and talk to Cliff England at Englands Orchard in McKee KY.

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I’ve read that once or twice. I’m debating it, trying to see if the budget will allow it. The Yeomans plow looks awesome. We’re also in the works of establishing a working farmstead with a house atop the hill, septic, fencing etc. So all that makes the budget tight.
The real issue in my eyes as it sits is that the percolation is very minimal. At only a foot of depth the water drains at a rate of half an inch in an hour and a half. I’m not hopeful about how the roots will do with that kind of compaction, hence the logic on seedlings. Plus a full size seedling rootstock orchard will just be amazing to see and will live on for decades.

This used to be an old worn out cow pasture based on satellite photos. The very weedy bits on top of the hill were the straw bale sites I’m guessing. Most farmers round here just let the cattle graze and maybe move them once per year.

Yea that’s the idea. I’ll train the scaffolds early and graft 4 out of 5 major scaffolds and leave one branch with the original variety on it to see what they come out as.


Yea we actually live in Cincy too, grew up here. We’re planning on making the move to Falmouth within the next ten years assuming all the building projects go well.

Looks like we’ll be taking a fall trip this year with the wife. I grew up north of the Ohio so I’m unfamiliar with the NKY area beyond the CVG airport. Thanks for the advice. Sorry the squirrels get at the fruit before you can. A lady at church has plastic bags attached to the trunk of her peach trees and they are tied up to the branches. It’s ugly but it helps keep the critters out of the canopy.


I guess I wasn’t really clear, the seedlings aren’t grafted yet. By “cosmic crisp seedling” I mean to say that I planted seeds from a cosmic crisp apple bought at the store. Also I chose Arkansas black as seedling and varietal selections due to rust resistance, and we have cedars/junipers here big time. The goal is to cut many of them back to use for building projects and fence posts but seein as how it can blow in from miles away I figured I’d put some eggs in the disease resistant basket too. Also this area I don’t consider south, we’re barely past the Ohio river valley here. We do have very humid summers in the mid to high 90s pretty often though.

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Excellent idea.

By the way, not just M111 but also M7 will do fine in your soil.
I’m experimenting and have grafted to many other rootstocks, incluing the Bud series.
The jury is still out, so to speak. But, Antonovka, M111 and M7 can handle the soil you have.
Still, breaking up that subsoil layer is an idea that has worked.
Hillside locations…especially NE Facing slopes, will also reduce some of the trials and grief of growing apples.

see this extension publication “Home Fruit Variety Recommendations - 2019 (HortFact-3003)”

on this page: Home Fruit | Department of Horticulture

Be careful not to dig to deep. If you run into any mastodon bones you may end up with an archeological dig site. You will also notice that in kentucky your utility bills will not be loaded with $82 in fixed fee riders in addition to your fuel usage and transportation of power bill

Why specifically the NE? I guess we have the slope thing down. I’d plant on the NE but we don’t really have one. I’m guessing to help dry the trees out in the morning when they’re wet? (At least that’s what I remember from Michael Phillips’s book). NE slope is where the septic is going, and it is mostly wooded. Either way in this location the morning sun will hit the trees near 9AM and get sun until roughly 7pm in the summer.

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