Prep soil for fall apple tree planting?

Hello, all. I have five trees on order from Century Farm Orchards for delivery in November. I am in Zone 7a in northern VA, with its typical red clay.

Would it behoove me to turn and amend the soil at my planned planting locations now, allowing the soil about 2.5 months to settle before I begin planting? Would I instead be better off just to leave the soil alone?

I would not amend. I found that when I tested it in my heavy clay soil the amended holes (20-30% compost) would dry out faster and would shrink creating a 1/4’’+ air gap between the amended soil in the hole and the native soil ‘‘wall’’. Luckily I did huge 4-5 foot diameter holes so I am crossing my fingers that with time the worms will churn this division more evenly to address the issue. Root spread from bare root plantings were also much farther when they simply tunneled through native soil the whole time vs getting lazy in the nice amended stuff then hitting a 100% clay wall. If you want more nutrients and compost put it on top of the soil around the tree, the worms and decomposition will work it in.


From what I know (not expert) other than adjusting pH it’s best not to amend the soil, just top dress with compost and then mulch generously but not within six inches or so of the trunk. Over time worms will work on the compost and create a nice soil.

I don’t think turning the soil would hurt anything. If you turned the soil over now you’ll be able to plant the trees quicker in november when the weather could be bad.

As the others said, I wouldn’t add any amendments to the soil though. I’d just leave the native soil in place and top dress with mulch.

A soil test would be useful to determine soil PH and nutrient levels. The typical suggestion is not to amend the soil with compost or other organic matter before planting. You have time to get buckwheat or perhaps another short season cover crop up, mowed and turned under before November. This will help with weed control and improve soil tilth. David at Century Farm suggests adding bone meal to the planting hole, but I have not tried it.

PH is a critical factor and the lime should be applied and worked deep into the soil as soon as possible. After planting, its very hard to get the lime into the root zone where its needed. A PH of around 6.5 should be OK. Dig the soil in the planting area as deep as possible before planting. A shovel and spading fork work well. If the soil is loose before planting, the trees go in easy.

I would not plant any Bevens Favorite trees.

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