New Orchard Establishment Questions

Hey all, expanding my growing area for the next year and working on optimizing things in my little dirt kingdom. I’m adding a bunch of new trees going into pasture that hasnt been worked or prepared in any way. Old cow pasture that hasn’t seen cows in probably 2 decades. Area is sloped somewhat and there are about a dozen and a half fruit trees 2-4 years old already in various places. I want to ensure success and make things easier by planning things properly. I am looking to grow shy of 75 or so fruit trees in a nursery bed in my garden and plant them out sometime before next spring kicks off.

Details- the trees will be planted in eastern mid NY state (capital region/berkshires/vt convergence area). ~1,000ft elevation. Soil type described as Taconic series- NRCS map calls my spot gravelly silt loam (8-15% slopes). I got a soil test from UMass 2 years ago that i’ll post. Its pretty accurate for how my soil is in the untouched spots but I’ll probably be getting one or two more in a few week or more.

I’m not sure how I want to approach this. I have read many different perspectives and stories of success here and other places so I’m not sure what works best here for me. Massive groundbreaking and/or grading projects are off the table for sure but otherwise anything is game more or less. I’m fascinated by the perspective of folks who advocate for letting the microorganisms do most/all of the work which is at odds with a lot of the more commercial and academic approaches of aglime+salt based fertilizer. Reading some of the comments by @alan @fruitnut and others would suggest that lower levels of fertilizer and nutrients might even be desirable at maturity.

Stuff I can use- Lots of horse manure (gotta confirm with horse farm next door but pretty much unlimited amounts available), 35+acres of woods so lots of leaves, cardboard from the trash, pure wood ash from wood fireplace, 20lbs N/P/K salt-ferts I already bought, lime/gypsum as needed from the store. I will try to reach out to power company (NYSEG) or highway dept. to score woodchips but none yet.

My current plan is to put down cardboard over the area the trees will be. 3ftx3ft minimum pretty much and will leave them in place. The young trees will live in my garden in a nursery bed. I have been doing no-dig since I started but may rototill part of it this year. Trees will spend the year in the garden while cardboard solarizes areas out in the field. Young trees will be dug up and planted next spring with a bunch of horse manure/leaves/organic matter on top. Lime/wood ash added at planting time most likely, maybe additional N/P/K ferts or targeted applications over the growing season.

I’m thinking of avoiding amending any areas that will not directly have fruit trees planted onto them but not sure how possible this will be. Trees will pretty much consist of your normal apples, pears, peaches/nectarines, apricots, plums. 4.9ph might not be an issue for apples here but I’ve read apricots like much higher ph near 6.5-7.5. Would be great to plan how to deal with these sorts of issues before they become real issues. Thanks for your time!


It sounds like you have a good plan. My approach would be to get more soil tests and recommendations for amendments. The fruit trees probably all need about the same additions. For a home orchard, ballpark recommendations will do. The pH probably needs to be around 6.5 except for blueberries.

The lime will take some time to act so putting that down this spring would be good.

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I agree with fruitnut, especially test pH. Wood ashes are highly alkaline, so be careful not to add too much, especially if the pH is on the high side. I would go with wood chips on cardboard, just keep away from trunk. I would be worried about horse manure having too much nitrogen, especially early, when you put the dormant trees out ( also don’t put nitrogen fertilizer in the plant hole, you’ll get root rot.


Check with the horse manure supplier to see if they’ve had a pH test done recently. Usually my source is net alkaline (i. e. you shouldn’t need lime).

Get on every list you can with every local arborist for woodchips, and ask for them as soon as you can. Getting them down ASAP will allow them to break down for a year and not sap nitrogen as much by the time you plant next year. It won’t necessarily hurt to plant sooner, just be aware N may be a limiting factor and plan accordingly.

I like the plan of more testing in different areas and going slow.


Thanks guys, it is very helpful to bounce ideas off more experienced folks. Horse manure is composted so hopefully neutral or slightly alkaline, I will ask them if they add lime but since my soil is acidic this could maybe be beneficial as mentioned. I also have the manure straw/hay that I use as mulch at times as well as grass clippings.

I agree the liming is what I should prioritize this year. My question is how and where do I absolutely HAVE to apply the lime?

Extension/soil test recommendations seem to go by lbs/100sq ft. Lots of places suggest putting a cup of two of lime in at planting time. I dont have any real machinery to work the lime into large amounts of soil. Will dumping a bunch of lime on grass pasture be effective they way I need it to be? I’d be worried about the cost or leeching & runoff because my spots on a slope.

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Heres a shot of the top of where the orchard is/will be from late october. I didn’t plant most of these but expanding a bunch of planting. Literally nothing has been done to these trees, I try to keep them mowed when possible, new plantings will follow down the hill towards a mild plateau.

For these guys since they are already planted can I just broadcast the amount of lime recommended by the soil test within the approx area? From reading online it makes it seem that liming is as simple as spreading it on the surface pretty much. We get a bunch of rain so I’ve always been wary of doing this anywhere other than my veg garden.

Heres a more concrete example of what I don’t know what to do. I amended a small area last year to grow out bench grafts. Added a bucket or so of lime, 2 cupful each N/P/K ferts, watermelons grown in betweeen groups to sop up excess nutrients. Both Bud9s grew with decent vigor. I put down cardboard in two planting spots last fall, I hope to dig up and transplant them into those spots before spring gets going. Can/should I just added a cup or two of lime when planting them out? Is it ever ok to only add lime to the dripline or is it much better to try to address a solid planting area. Pink Old Lady on Bud9. Deer ate the tops/small branches but hit 3.5+ ft at least.

You don’t need to lime the whole area. The plant can get the nutrients it needs from a smaller area.

It’s OK to spread the lime on the surface. If there is grass cover it won’t go far. When spread on the surface it will take longer to affect the rootzone. But in a year or two it will get the job done. Add a little to the planting hole for immediate effect.

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Great, thanks Steven. I’ll definitely get on that in a few weeks after more testing.

Anyone have any thoughts about tilling vs. not tilling for a nursery bed? The test above was my garden before ever planting or working the area. I’m not great at interpreting soil tests but the scoop density seems low. Been adding organic matter constantly just added a couple yards each of leaves and horse manure in the fall. Will test again soon but I dont imagine the density will have changed much. B9 seems to have decent vigor, g935 less so, most of the young trees will be M7… not sure how much growth I should aim for on bench grafts.

Unless your soil is very acidic (<5), I would not stress too much about it. Apple trees will grow ok at >5 and you have time to adjust the pH stepwise over a few years by broadcasting around the drip line. I would get a good narrow range pH strip like Supelco pH 4.0 to 7.0 (for acidic soils, if you have alkaline soil then you would want a higher range). In order to determine how much lime to add exactly, one would have to titrate the soil to determine the buffering capacity of your particular soil, which a professional soil test may do. But you’ll probably lose track how much lime you added at one point anyways, so practically one adds some lime at time of planting if pH is below 6.5, then test again after half a year or so or on an annual basis and stepwise bring the pH to the optimal range. Most of the fruit trees and veggies/ berries grow fine at pH 5.5, especially if you create compost by mulching with wood chips, the compost will moderate the pH at the space where it is most important: the feeder roots.