Removing sod when planting trees?

Most tutorials or instruction sets for planting fruit trees suggest to remove any turf or sod in a 3’ or so diameter around the planting site. What purpose does this serve? I certainly am not arguing against it but for a person with a recent disc herniation and a very short work window I’d like to make thing a littler easier on myself in the short term. I’d ultimately like to use a tiller to turn over the lossen the soil without having to take a shovel blade and skim that turf off. I planted to trees a few days ago and that part more than any really hurt my back. I’d think with a tiller the grass would get churned up pretty well and just end up adding nitrogen to the soil. What I thought about doing was planting the trees and then mulching with all of the leaves from my grinder/vac.

I had a disc herniation before and it’s painful. And I did not remove SOD but put on a raised bed with sheet mulch to kill grass under. A bit less work but need to prepare earlier. Hope you getting better soon.

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I removed a swatch of 8 feet by 30 feet of Tiff Bermuda almost 2 years ago when planting my trees. All I had was a shovel…almost killed me, but I got it done. That durn Bermuda it creeping in from the sides now though…tough stuff that Bermuda.

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I think it helps with water/nutrients reaching the roots of the tree…but i think as the tree gets bigger it doesn’t matter nearly as much. My apples have grass growing right up to them now…no harm.


That’s why I was curious about tilling them into the depth of the hole versus leaving the grass on top of the surface. I would think that by tilling them they would break down easier and not necessarily compete for water.

I never remove the turf- it fertilizes the establishing tree and I don’t usually want to create a basin. I stop the turf from reestablishing using it to fill the outside of the hole and mulch over it.

Here’s a nice sheet on the current science of planting trees.

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I prepped 4 holes tonight and planted two of my spring apple grafts tonight. I took the tiller and worked the soil and turf together until it was well incorporated. By the time the soil was churned up well the grass was not that noticable in the hole at all. I took my shovel and stabbed and scored the outside of the hole to give the roots a place to bite into. As Alan mentioned, it definately left me with a lot more soil to work with when I stuck the trees in the holes. I incorporated a bit of spare top soil that I had and was able to mound the holes some. Time will tell how well it works but it was easier on my back. Also hung some soap and dryer sheets from the young trees to try and ward off deer until I can get them caged.


I think you are still doing too much work in planting trees, especially if you have back problems. I’ve had more than my fair share of them, btw.

I have to plant lots of trees every year, so speed and ease of planting are a pretty big deal to me. I also want good establishment results, but admittedly will sacrifice some on speed of establishment. I’m satisfied with good establishment, it doesn’t have to be great, so I take shortcuts.

I don’t till the sod up. Instead I spray (glyphosate-Roundup) before I plant. I do this with tomatoes and trees, if I’m planting the trees late enough where there are weeds or sod. The beauty of spraying it before planting is that you don’t have to worry about getting any spray on the trees/tomatoes and spraying a little glyphosate w/ a pump up sprayer is a lot easier than running a tiller. With tomatoes, if the glyphosate is sprayed too close to planting, I have had some issues with the herbicide contaminating the tomato plants. Tomatoes are very sensitive to glyphosate. I’ve never seen this issue w/ fruit trees.

Then I dig a small hole and prune the roots to fit the hole. I try to mulch after that, but mulch isn’t critical for a while because the weeds/sod will die. and sort of acts like it’s own mulch, shading the ground somewhat. I find as long as the drainage is good trees will still grow well despite all the shortcuts in planting. A little N fertilizer will help growth too.

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Thanks for the encouragement. You are probably right. I always tend to over do and over think these kind of things. Luckily I’m not planting a large commercial orchard. I’m nearly finished with the process of planting and transplanting the last of my trees. I only have 4 left and I’ve already prepped the holes. Should be able to finish it tonight.

I thought about using glyphosate to kill the grass but wasn’t sure how long I would have to wait to plant the trees afterward. Apparently not long. I wanted to get them in the ground ASAP. Hopefully I don’t lose any of them but if so then thats life. I’ll plant more :smile:

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If you ever do decide to use the glyphosate pre-planting, for trees you can plant as soon as the spray is dry. For tomato starts, I’ve seen them suffer planting a couple days after a glyphosate application. Probably best to wait a week after glyphosate app, before setting out tomato starts.

Most people till the ground before setting out tomatoes, but I plant my tomatoes on top of terraces and mulch them, just like I do trees.

I remove the sod as I need where my dog wore out the turf, or where large trees sucked so much moisture out of the ground the grass died. I never seem to run out of holes to plug. Also I mound the trees, so no chance of a basin.

One more question regarding the transplanting of these trees. 6 of these (2-3 year old) trees were originally planted 7 months ago. While digging them up I retained as much of the roots as possible but did manage to clip a few roots. Should I prune some of the top growth to compensate for the loss of some root mass? Typically I would think so but not sure about pruning trees at this point in the season. Will it give the wounds time to heal over before the real cold hits? Or does it even matter. I planned to do a little winter pruning next february/march. I really didn’t do much summer pruning this year since they were so young.

They’ll be fine without cutting the top back. The move is at ideal time and under ideal conditions, ie roots didn’t dry any.

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Thanks Fruitnut.

I noticed last night when I was moving the last of my trees a combo asian pear of mine had very little root growth this summer. It did not look much different than it did when I planted it this past spring. Mostly larger roots with hardly any small feeder roots. It’s on OHxF333 rootstock and was my worst performer all summer. Is there anything I could add right now at this stage that would spur some root development over the winter? Maybe some bone meal or phospherous?

The tree may be in trouble. You could try rooting hormone. Bone meal takes 6 months to two years to break down. Mycorrhizae is another option, if you use the correct type.

No. Pears are often sluggish. I’m aware of no research that verifies efficacy of any product to stimulate root growth of a tree (cuttings are something else- you are using hormones to stimulate cellular dediffrentiation, I think it’s called) and the idea that P does so is an old hort myth. There are so many and the internet helps keep them alive, but hopefully, not this forum.

Best practice is to follow what commercial fruit growers do. If there was a product that got roots growing faster they would dip all there new trees in it before planting- especially pears,

Some use it (step 11)

Growth stimulation

The fungal option:

Drew, all manner of fairy dusts are sold for money. Farmers don’t tend to indulge- can’t afford to. Did you try finding any actual research that confirms the salesmen claims?

Here is a group of articles by a scientist who specializes in surveying all available pier reviewed type research pertaining to horticultural mythologies. Has an article about mychorizal supplements but rooting hormones aren’t covered.

Any credence to benefits of root stimulaters don’t include the ingredients in the product you are providing a link to. That appears to be a very expensive source of fertilizer and a complete ripoff. Auxins may be helpful, but I can’t actually find any research that verifies they are. Why don’t you search for some instead of supplying sources for the product?

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The important thing is to not have grass growing. It robs nutrients from the tree and waterimg the grass could over water the grass

Like Olpea, I use Roundup to burn down the weeds before planting. I like to kill the weeds in August and plant winter rye in the kill area in September. The rye sprouts quickly and grows like crazy. By November I have a thick stand of rye as a cover crop. I spray the rye with Roundup before planting the trees. Rye contains a natural herbicide that helps suppress future weed growth and adds a lot of organic matter. As an alternate, sometimes I till the rye before it gets too high rather than spraying it with Roundup.