Recently planted trees struggling

Two of the dwarf apples I bought from Gurney seems to be struggling. They’ve put on only a little new growth, and one hasn’t even added all that much in new leaves. I suspect the high clay soil I’ve got is causing problems.

I’m not sure what to do. I’ve read everything from heaving the soil nearby to loosen it up, to dig up and dig a bigger hole, to dig up and move. I can supply pictures if it would help. Everything else I planted around the same time is doing much better, even the dwarf apple I had to half-defoliate from fire blight.

What rootstock it is on? It coukd a rootstocks. Mine are on M27. They have put out very little growth. Should have listened to @BobVance and ordered ones on better rootstocks. I will give mine this season to see what will happen.

Gurney’s doesn’t tell you what the rootstock is.

I , and a few people here bought the two new apple varieties, Bakwe’s Delight and Crunch A Bunch, from Gurney( it has exclusive rights). I think @BobVance is the one telling me the dwarf rootstock of these variety is M26 and the standard one could be either seedling or M111.

If you search for the thread call New Apple Varieties By Midwest apple Association.", you can read about them. I bought these two on dwarf roitstock. My first two of this rootstock. So far, unimpressed.

Hi Grog,

Not sure where you are at, see zone 7B. I am in Central Virginia and a lot of areas here have crap clay soil and it some cases very compacted clay soil. Compacted in the sense it takes a pick sometimes to dig through it. I wasted about 5 years buying apple trees where I did not know the rootstock - if a company doesn’t tell you the rootstock that is a warning sign. Long story short everyone of my trees was stunted, diseased or just died. Pretty much gave up on growing until I got lucky growing a peach tree and got hooked again on growing fruit trees.

Now after getting into fruit growing again I am having relative success (my trees are growing at a good clip and i am getting some fruit). This is what i did.

First off buy trees where you know the rootstock. That way if you have bad experience than you know what to avoid next time. Second if you are new to growing fruit buy disease resistant apple trees. Geneva rootstock and Bud rootstock have worked well in my 5 acre yard, I am trying MM rootstock for the first time this year.

To plant the trees - First off I rototill the area in a minimum 4 ft x 4 ft area sometimes larger if I am working in a very compacted clay. The way I plant bare root trees is to dig the hole 1 foot deeper than lowest point of the root in the hole - usually the graft union should be 2 to 4 inches out of the hole. And a minimum of an 18 inch radius from the center point of the whole. If the ground is dry I will dump a bucket of water in the hole and let it drain before I put the tree in the hole.

Then i will take a bag of Black Kow processed Cow Manure and mix in when i refill the hole. Never used unprocessed manure - it will burn and likely kill your tree. Mix the manure in 30% to 40% with native soil. Never more than 50%. Then I will take and spread the manure on top of the rotortilled area about 1/2 inch to 1 inch deep. The cheapno name processed manure that Lowes and Home Depot sells is worthless - Black Kow is the “crap” (and available at both stores, at least in Virginia).

If the soil is dry I will water 1 to 2 gallons of water a week. I usually fertilize 1 month after planting - 2 to 3 handfuls of 10-10-10 spread over the rotortilled area.

I do not recommend putting mulch around your trees - as long as you water them properly and keep bare ground (no grass) you don’t need it. A lot of sites recommend mulch - I don’t because I water my trees if necessary. mulch is an impediment to fertilizer, and it takes a long time to break down and become soil. Keeping grass away from Apple trees is a must for me.

Thats it - I went from having stunted trees to trees that grow, are blooming and having some fruit.

A heads up - there are many different methods, opinions about growing Apples. Many people on this board recommend mulch (likely 99 percent) and many will tell you never to add soil additives like processed manure. What works for me in my soil may not help you, or there may be a better way than my way. I am still relatively new to growing fruit (at least to getting trees to grow) so I may not be the best resource. Best of luck.

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I agree about the benefits of knowing what rootstocks your trees are on. To me, it is essential.

My mountain orchard sits on rocky Maryland clay. One beneficial trick is to elevate your plantings.


If they were on M26 (similar to G11 and slightly bigger than B9), it wouldn’t be bad, but I’ve heard several times that the Lil Big (dwarf) are on M27. Those could take 5 years to be taller than you- pretty small for a tree. Some of that depends on the variety. For instance, Red Boskoop got to 6’ within a 2-3 years and is at 8’ now, in it’s 7th year. While Honeycrisp is ~4’ in year 6. The rest of mine are somewhere in between.

I think the standards are on M111 , but am not sure. I’m not thrilled with either option. M111 should grow pretty fast, but I don’t think it is all that precocious. While M27 is very fast to bear, but may only be 4 ft tall and able to support 2-3 apples.

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Stop overthinking this. I bet your trees are fine. They just got ripped out of the ground, shipped maybe thousands of miles, and stuffed in the ground in a new home. Don’t expect them to now grow like a weed, they need time to recover from what they’ve been put through. As long as they aren’t dying, it’s all good. Many newly transplanted trees put out little or no growth, their focus is on settling into their new home the first year. So if your trees aren’t putting out lots of top growth, that’s probably a sign they are focusing on growing a good root system in their new home. Please don’t go digging up and disturbing that root system!!! Also, don’t fertilize with a nitrogen fertilizer to try and force top growth, or you will end up with weak top growth that winterkills. Just give your trees a year to settle in – give them moisture if and only if needed, but don’t drown them. Don’t fret the lack of leaf growth, they need time to settle in. Give them time to settle in this year, and next spring you will be awed at how much new growth your trees put out.


You are right, it has to be m 27, the very dwarf one. P

@Don3a, Have you ever grown any tree with M27 rootstocks? @BobVance has and shares his experience. I am having them now and notice that they don’t do much comparing to other trees.

The transplant shock you refer, too, may not apply here. These trees were dug several months ago, stored for a while and shipped. The health of the trees likely depend on how well they are stored, not a transplant shock. These particular “Gurny dwarf” trees are likely on a very dwarf rootstock, M 27, which grows far less vigorously and raise a concern. I am sure they will grow but how well is another story.

I think the one which has plenty of leaves will be fine, just small. If it doesn’t get many leaves soon, then it could be a problem of some sort.

Note that I’m 6’8", so all the pictures are looking down quite a bit.

Ok, so this is the tree I’m worried about. It’s a Striped Gravenstein on ML27 from Raintree.

These are the other trees I planted around the same time.

An Ashmead’s Kernel, also on M27 from Raintree.

A Goldrush, Lil Big from Gurney’s

A Baker’s Delight, Lil Big from Gurney’s.

And a Karmijn De Sonnaville, ELMA 27 from Raintree. I had to take about 40% of the leaves and new growth off of it due to what looked like Fire Blight. This one is also in a pot.

For all the trees in ground, I amended the soil in the hole to about 50% native mostly-clay and 50% the 5-1-1 that I use in my pots. Advice on if you should/shouldn’t amend soil was conflicting, but between the clay and the rainy stretches here in Richmond that sometimes leave the ground wet for a week or more I thought it was probably a good idea.

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All the in-ground trees look fine to me.

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Agreed. Mine look a lot sparse but I just planted mine less than a month ago.

I was worried about the Gravenstein’s relative lack of new growth compared to the others.

I’ve read recently that trees in heavy soil can benefit a lot from heaving the ground with a spading fork to open up areas for the roots to grow. Has anybody else tried this?

I have very heavy clay. Roots can dig through pretty much anything other than solid rock. I used to amend but had problems this my dig holes shrinking in dry summer causing a 1/4-1/2 inch AIR gap between the soil amended hole and the surrounding clay soil. Roots can’t jump an air gap! So now I simply dig my hole slightly larger than the bare roots and plant the tree. I actually build a 6"-12" mound of natural soil and plant the graft union 4" above the top and then put some compost on top covered with bark mulch. In zone 4 the mulch keeps soil frozen longer and delays flowering which helps with late frosts. Also my water use is much lower with the mulch.

Just my experience.

P.S. also have 1 tree on M27. Never again, much better to have vigor and control size with summer pruning, branch bending and heavy cropping.

Mamuang, I know nothing about rootstocks or how trees perform on different rootstocks. I just know that newly transplanted trees sometimes don’t grow at all the first year, or put on very little growth. I worry the OP is too concerned about lack of growth and just needs to be patient and let the trees get settled. His photos of them look fine to me, nothing to worry about.

Yes, looking at the pics, those trees look good.

Rootstocks play an important role in fruit growing. Not only they indicate the height of the trees, they can help or hurt your fruit growing success due to their levels of disease resistance/ susceptibility .

I’ll be honest, I don’t really know what I’m doing. I started thinking about growing fruit after reading about mulberries and how the only way to eat some is basically to grow it yourself. After some research I learned all about all the things you can’t find in a grocery store.

I bought dwarf trees thinking small yard, small trees. Especially since I only really had one person to feed and wanted to try as many varieties as possible.

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I think you’ll be able to make it work. It will just take a bit more attention that larger apples. I don’t remember who said “Growing apples on M27 is like growing tomatoes”- both in level of care and the size of the plants.

Here’s a pic where I got both the Honeycrisp and Red Boskoop in the same photo.

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