Help starting a nursery bed

I have been thinking I need to create a nursery bed.
I want a place that I can start seeds as well as transplant suckers to use as rootstocks for my grafting adventures.
I would also use it as a temporary place to plant out my benchgrafts when I have gone overboard, grafted too many, and don’t have a permanent place ready for them. Nobody else ever does this, right??

Is there a way to create a nursery bed that will make the eventual digging and transplanting easier, with higher transplant success? At the same time, I don’t want to build a bed that creates the bowl affect that eventually drowns roots.

I would probably be using the nursery bed for peach, apricot, plum, apple, pear, and cherry.
I have searched the forum and haven’t found much on this topic. Any advice would be appreciated.


My nursery bed started at approx 35’ x 35’ (at the fence), but I plant in a ways from the side to prevent deer from browsing on trees from outside. I chose to till it, and in its second year, when I doubled it, I chose to first use glyphosate and then till. I think a sub-soiler or middle buster would work well too. I’m using mine mostly for apple and pear, but there are now elderberrys and blueberries there as well. I fertilized the first year (2018) and decided not to the second (2019) because I had some winter damage that I thought may have been caused by too much late season growth. These trees and shrubs will be planted out in the field you can see in the photo’s and I don’t want to create soil in the nursery bed that differs too much from their intended permanent locations. Wood corner posts and T-posts in the middle for support work well at reasonable cost for a solar powered electric fence. I check on the bed in winter to see if the lower wires are snow covered, and if they are I disconnect them. This year I also found it necessary to put up snow fence to keep the deer out. I have heavily mulched, which helps with water retention, but I still need to weed it out a couple times each summer season (Carolina Horsenettle has proven to be a pain). I also extended the mulch outside a bit to control weeds under and near the electric fence. You can see in a couple of these photo’s the bed is actually on a slight slope, so it drains well, yet the mulch helps retain moisture effectively. Some of these trees I had hoped to have planted out by now, but clearing has been slow and getting the contractor to show up to pull the rest of the stumps has also been a challenge.
First Year

Checking wires & snow

Make it bigger!

Time to weed again

Add more protection


Thanks so much for the detailed description and pictures! The pictures are great! Looks like you have put a lot of work into your nursery bed and surrounding area. It is a beautiful place. :blush:
What is your dominant soil type? Did you get any of your trees transplanted last year? I was wondering how relatively easy/hard it was to get the tap root on your pears? I started some pears from seed to use as rootstock. When I went to transplant them the following year, I had a heck of a time digging through the clay and rock trying to get all of the root. They were impressive!
Do you have a source for mulch, like wood chips from an arborist or something like that? Keeping the grass and weeds at bay is definitely an issue I am fighting here in all of my orchard and garden areas. Heavy mulching helps, but the grasses keep tillering in from the sides.
You gave me some great ideas, and things to think about. Thank you!!

I have a couple small nursery beds now, I used to squeeze them in anywhere but with the deer I now need to fence them in so have special fenced spots.

For the soil the looser the better. One bed was a man-made mound of compost from many years ago, it is super easy to pull things up from. The other bed is at the bottom of a hill where a lot of organic matter collected over the years, also good. In both beds I can pull up pretty much all the roots. These are mostly peaches, they sprout on their own from dropped seeds so I’m not doing anything but moving them into the nursery. This year I am growing out some apple seedlings and they will go into the nursery in April.


I have a large manure pile as we own two horses. I let the pile sit for a year or two, then use the broken down manure on my vegetable garden. After expanding my garden, and using a large portion of the manure pile, I put the nursery where that pile had been.

My soil is very sandy, but where the pile was removed it was nice and black, with earthworms galore. I planted my benchgrafts into it, and then mulched with pine shavings to prevent weeds and hold moisture. The young grafts have done very well. Here’s a pic from this past June, before mulching.


I use 2 foot tall hardware screen to keep rabbits out. A doe did reach over and nip the terminal bud off about 6 of them last winter.

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We have sandy Adirondack soil, a thin layer of topsoil atop pure sand, few rocks, low nutrition. This property was farmed from the early 1900’s until the 1970’s, then hayed for a while, and then allowed to be taken over by pines. We bought the property in the fall of 2017. Haven’t planted any trees out yet, hope to have the last 2/3’s of the stumps pulled this spring, then hope to have the field plowed, disked and a cover crop planted if it’s not cost prohibitive. Then the planting area will be fenced and I’ll begin laying out rows.

I haven’t moved any trees yet. Digging here is a piece of cake really. I don’t anticipate trouble with tap roots. My understanding of a tap root is that it gives a young tree the ability to find water and nutrients and some stability before it’s major horizontal root system is fully formed. Should a tap root be difficult, I’d just cut it. An established tree shouldn’t be affected by that.

The county had a large road improvement project next to this site in 2018, and I had them put all the wood chips I could get on this property. That pile was large enough, but we added to it with the piles of chips you see in the back-ground of the upper photo’s. We cut these trees and then chipped up what we could up to about 6-7". All those piles have been transferred to the original pile from the county and those will be used to line out tree rows. We have our own PTO driven wood chipper for the tractor. I have so many mulched beds I can’t keep up with making chips for replenishment, it’s a viscous cycle! Moving chips is accomplished with a tractor w/ loader and another tractor pulling a dump trailer.

I really need to work on what cover crop I’m going to plant out.


I thought this video was pretty good, thinking about trying it this year. I like having the straw bales for sides so you can roll them out of the way to make it easy digging.


Scott and @Barndog56,
Thank you both for your perspectives.
Sounds like I need good, loose soil and a stout fence.
Right now rabbits are a problem, but deer don’t venture up around here yet. Not to say that won’t change in the future! I envision there will be a time when a good portion of my trees are mature and really producing… and then they will come from miles around.

Places where I have had piles of mulch or manure sitting are much easier to dig or work up, as you both have noted. So I have been contemplating bringing in a load of really well composted manure and using that for the base to plant in. I can’t see managing any other way. Our soil is not very forgiving.

Great information. I started Strawbale Gardening a few years ago with excellent results. When the season is done, I have bales of hay intact. I’m looking forward to building a little nursery for my rootstock this year. Thank you for sharing!


Wow, you have been busy. It’s is kind of amazing to see how fast those pines reclaimed the farmed and hayed areas! I guess with your sandy soil you won’t have any worries about digging and transplanting. I bet you can dig a fence post hole in no time flat. If done by hand with a clamshell digger here, one post hole can take half a day!
I like your set-up with the wood chipper and dump trailer. That’s pretty sweet. We don’t have any trees on our property other than what I have planted (and one lone Catalpa down by the pond), so no way to make our own wood chips. I do try and get some from the county or utility companies if they have been working in the area, but that doesn’t happen very often.
Thanks for sharing your experiences!

@ctduckhunter, That is a cool video. Thanks for sharing that. He says that in roughly 120 sq ft he had about 200 trees heeled in. I like the idea of having the bales along the sides so you contain the soil or compost in a smaller width space, but depth would be much greater than if I just dumped and spread compost out in a small area. Easier digging sounds great to me!