Growing Fruit in Raised Beds


My friend would like to plant several dwarf stone fruit and european combination in his backyard. I’ve had the best luck with sweet cherries on Gisela 5. I’ve temporarily grown trees in raised beds–I had a couple sweet cherries on gisela that I just had nowhere to plant (I overordered that year), so they went into a raised bed I used to use for veggies. They survived but didn’t thrive; I wasn’ taking the best care of them. I’ve also grown two super dwarfing, patio peaches (bonanza?). I consider those more of a novelty and cute, not quite productive enough or delicious enough to recommend.

Has anyone else purposefully grown trees in raised beds? If so, do you you any recommendations for rootstocks and cultivars? We’re in SE MI.

Once I figure out how to paste/load pics, I will!

Thank you!

Elevation of your planting can often benefit your fruit tree, especially if the site has poor soils or bad drainage.

Here’s a video I like on the subject:

1 Like

Thanks, Matt! I’m going to try this with some of my stone fruit this year.

I should clarify–my friend’s raised beds are not on native soil. You can see three sides of the beds. Their dimensions are odd–there are three visible exposed sides and, according to him, there is no backside (e.g. what would be the backwall isn’t there, so there is room for the roots to run under/inside the back wall).

1 Like

Growing fruit trees on berms is almost always beneficial, and can be necessary when poor drainage is a problem on a site. Raised beds are essentially stabilized berms.

The open bottom is always a better idea unless you are intentionally dwarfing trees by restricting root space or trying to avoid having other roots invade the soil you are growing the tree in. But having containers with bottoms that provide even the adequate drainage of a pot but don’t let roots in or out is a tricky proposition. Maybe copper screen or very heavy landscape fabric would do the trick- never tried it. Of course, an above ground container is how this is usually done.

If you are intentionally dwarfing the tree, Fruitnut is the man I’d ask about how many cubic feet you need per tree- I would use at least 25 gallons, but it would depend at what size you were trying to keep the trees.

I manage an orchard that was all planted in open bottomed, probably about 15 cubic foot boxes. It is best to use real soil in such a set up, because soil, in ratio to volume, is much more dynamic than potting mixtures. In other words, 15 cubic feet of soil can sustain twice as much tree as the equivalent amount of potting soil, and not only because it is denser, although that’s the main reason. A bottom restricts drainage and requires coarser, easy draining potting mix for that reason.

The orchard I mention was planted much too close about 75 years ago. I don’t know if the trees were supposed to be on dwarf rootstock and surprise, surprise. Maybe the bottoms of the containers rotted out and roots escaped to invigorate the trees that were supposed to be dwarfed by the boxes.

We ended up removing half the trees to make space and the orchard is thriving and quite productive. It is in a courtyard with white gravel between the boxes so there are few weed problems. The roots come out under the gravel (and heavy fabric) and the results are exceptionally high quality fruit on very healthy trees. I think the gravel discourages certain pests (at least it keeps the dew down which helps with fungus) and it certainly reflects a lot of light, which is always helpful in the northeast.


Alan, I like the idea of white gravel pathways you mention.

1 Like

Thanks again, Alan. Very helpful. I will relay this info to my friend.

I need to check with my pal. I don’t know enough about growing fruit under these constraints though. If memory serves right, I think he said he put at least 2.5’ of compost in these.

His preference is for stone fruit, a pear tree, and a pluot in these tiers. He’s looking at cherries on Gisela 5, a peach on Lovell, a pear on OHXF 97, and a Pluot combo on dwarf citation.

With that said, he could use some help determining the cubic feet needed per tree and if his setup is conducive to these thriving.

The orchard you described sounds like quite a vision. Since there was an effort to put raised beds for all the trees, it’s probably doubtful but maybe someone was selecting/breeding apples so they planted at high densities. Not fruit but Mark Sheppard (‘restoration agriculture’ farmer) has utilized very high density hazelnut plantings to weed out undesirable qualities.

I would say that I have done it and it seemed to work out OK for me here in Z5.

First planting:

And then here it is about 4 months later:

Let me know if you have any questions and I can answer them. I did all the work myself.


Sean, I really like the look of your BYOC planting in circular planters, and on a slope no less! :clap:

I have 3 pluots and 1 plum in a raised bed on my side yard (ground was hard clay). It gets very little direct sunlight during the winter and as a result, the ground stays wet. So I have Citation and Myrobalan as my roostocks as they can handle soil that stays wet. During the summer, it gets blasted by the sun. They’ve been there for 2 years and have put on a lot of growth, especially last year, their 2nd year.

1 Like


LoL… Yeah… it was a work in progress… started off as just a raised mound on that hill… then I said what if I do a retaining wall. Well that was for the original 2 nectarines and 2 peaches. It was going to be a 8ft diameter circle at the bottom of the hill. Well I said why don’t I do one more… but have this one intersect the other, so one full circle, one with a chunk missing… then I said if I’m going to do this. might as well go all the way up… So in this planting my plan was 8 peach trees (all at different harvest times and/or yellow or white flesh) and then 4 nectarines (again same as the peaches). The bottom circle had to be built up the most at about 3-3.5ft on the low end to get it level at the top. Even at the level spots I still have it raised about 6-8 inches with my own soil blend (and as I stated about 3ft in other spots). I believe that its worked out well with not too much vigor for the trees. If I have a chance I will go out and take a picture of it fully dormant surrounded by snow. It can give a better picture of the structure I am hoping to maintain. Or if you go to the first winter pruning video that Tom @ Dave Wilson did and look at the 4-in-1 peach/nectarine combo thats my goal :smile:

1 Like

Brownola, really nice looking boxes you put together.

Sean, I have another site with a raised bed orchard that looks exactly like yours, but with one tree per plot. When I first came to the site with trees form my nursery the customer told me he had brought in 100’s of yards of top soil.

What I found was some pretty funny looking “topsoil”. It was blue clay, really almost pure enough to make pottery out of. He thought it was top soil because it was excavated from the top of a mountain, but it was the stuff left after all the top soil had been stripped off.

I made a mix of equal parts sand, clay and compost so each tree had about a half yard of of this to grow in and the client circled the mounds with the same bricks you used.

It has been a very productive orchard.


Yeah…that’s why I don’t buy top soil from places around here. Have heard too many stories about getting mostly clay, stuff no different than what you find in your yard around here (soil, clay, rocks, etc) , or in some cases toxic. Heard of a few people that got some that nothing will grow in it. Must have been taken from a dump site. So I bought my soil, not ashamed to say so. It is a mixture a compost manure, Scott’s tree and shrub, and top soil.

I’m just starting out with fig trees, but my local county Ag extension agent told me I’d be much better off growing them in raised beds (more productive). He actually farms on the side and has a small number of fig trees as well so I’m going to take his advice on it.

I’ve got a black currant that I planted in a raised bed because I didn’t have any idea where else to plant it. It’s a serious monster, 8 feet tall and easily that much around.

I really need to move that plant, come to think of it…

Robert Kourik advocates all fruit trees (actually probably all trees) be planted on raised beds or mounds. Makes sense; you can’t plant a tree too high, but you can plant it too deep and to frequently do.

I started out planting nothing in mounds (i.e. raised plantings) to planting only peach trees in raised plantings (i.e. terraces) to finally planting all trees in raised plantings.

We have a high water table here with poor drainage. Not only does the mound keep the roots out of the water, a big advantage is the loose soil. The roots sail through it, which sizes trees up quickly.

I suppose part of this recommendation is contingent on the rootstock too…no?

Certain rootstocks are more water tolerant but in my locale all fruit trees seem to benefit from the improved drainage raised planting allows.

I believe in most soils raised beds accelerate growing by keeping the soil looser and getting it warmer earlier. Never had fruit trees grow faster than some I installed in a swamp on 4’ tall mounds (settling to 3’). Soil was black muck soil, which helped as well, I’m sure. Over 20% OM suddenly exposed to ample oxygen has to release a lot of N.

That’s a good point. I think the amount of mulch pack also makes a difference in bud break.