Root Aeration

As some of you may know from my last post, I have crap clay soil I am trying to fix. When planting my trees, I initially amended with compost, too soil, and my clay soil. Recently, however, my peach trees started showing signs of overwatering and/or a nitrogen deficiency (pink spots on leaves). I previously dug small holes near the soil at the base of the tree and filled with peat moss to encourage drainage, but I want to continue to do more to help ensure the soil dries. So, I recently found these: Retail Store: Pro-318 Root Aeration Tubes & Root Sticks

Has anyone used these or done something similar? Any other thoughts regarding anything mentioned above? Finally, my apologies for my ignorance—I am learning as I go.

Thanks and I look forward to everyone’s feedback!

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Tough crowd! Well, I think may try them to test them out sans any input. Not sure of other options and do not think these would hurt anything.

I have not tried them but I would love to hear how they work.

I haven’t dealt with clay soil in a looooong time but from previous experience you do not want to amend the soil unless you can create an entire channel of amended soil for drainage. Short of that you usually end up introducing more problems than the ones you fix.

Easiest approach, don’t amend, put an extra thick layer of compost and green mulch on top. The mulch serves as a water sponge that makes watering more effective by holding water that has a chance to slowly percolate into the soil, while stopping evaporation. The layer of compost and composting green mulch support feeding roots that can breathe better.

Plan b is to add soil to the top of your clay and plant the tree in a mound. This pretty much avoids the problems with the clay underneath.


I have heavy clay soil. No amendments, I plant the tree without digging a hole (5 gallon size).

Build a mound/platform 3-4 feet in dimeter, the height of the pot (~1 foot). Company the mound as best a you can, a car/truck can do quite well, but I have a skid steer. I’ve also used a jumping jack soil compactor. Tree goes in the middle. Run drip line over the mound, then mulch heavily.

You’ll have good drainage from the mound elevation, but good water retention from the clay and mulch. The roots will grow into the clay at their own pace


Here in Colorado we have alkaline clay soils but they are dry. We have done the mulch idea as well. What we do is plant the plant or seed and let it grow with mulch over it. We stray revive every spring before watering or a rain. It is to my understanding revive helps break the soil down a bit. Our plants often struggle out of the gate due to lack of water (like I said we are opposite of you). The mulch helps with keeping the water in though and eventually the roots will get established enough to survive. Our garden is perennial with exceptions like squash and this year I am experimenting with corn. Other than the squash annuals go into pots. Digging to too exhausting in clay soil for things that cannot be started with seeds or are not perennial in my opinion.

Unfortunately, the trees are already planted. While I thought I had done enough research on how to plant, clearly I did not do enough. So, I am trying to right previous wrongs, which is the reason for the root aerator.

I did the same thing. I went the unusual route of digging the surrounding area (around .25 acres) down a foot. But obviously most people don’t have that option.

How long have they been on the ground? It may be worth to consider digging them up while dormant and redo the planting. If they are young they will not notice much and the benefits would be great.

Your back may not like that plan.

I have been debating. But, I am hesitant and do not want to kill them. I planted them in April. All are 4’-8’.

Work is no issue. I enjoy working back in the orchard!

They are young, if they are properly dormant they snap back like nothing happened. Heck bareroot trees get 70% or more of their roots chopped, you would not come anywhere close to that level of root pruning.

On heavy clay building up is the most ideal solution. You can spend this season working on the soil you will need and you will need a lot of it.

I’m assuming you meant compact and that just makes the sentence more confusing to me- compact the planting mound by driving a car or truck over it?

If it works for you it works for you, but I can’t help but doubt it is the solution for the kinds of clay soils I have to deal with- the literature consistently instructs that loosened soil is generally the fastest for a young tree to develop a root system into. My own experience supports this and I plant a couple hundred trees in many different soil types every year.

I think HunterHomestead should consider replanting his peach trees this fall on mounded soil, perhaps imported topsoil- 1/3rd yard per tree. Contrary to most literature, enough sand and compost mixed with clay may work even better- sand and clay don’t equal concrete if you use about 8 cubic feet of sand well incorporated with the clay and compost to make a 6’ diameter mound- but it is big work to mix adequately.

Methods to improve drainage where they are are is not likely to satisfy the needs of this species, peaches are very finicky about both good drainage AND adequate water throughout the season. In good conditions they are unstoppable, but subject them to adversity and they stagger- often only producing the crop a homeowner can use :wink: But a staggered tree tends to be short lived and isn’t a good candidate for grafting other varieties onto, which is the best solution for vigorous peach trees that produce far more fruit than you can use in two weeks. Have at least two varieties on every tree to stagger the harvest.

The question is whether you are mounding or not, and the method of compaction. A lot of assumptions cloudy up the conversation.

If you are making mounds by raising the planting area up (as opposed to digging the surrounding area lower, as I did), you are now using “disturbed” soil. If you were to simply mound up the dirt and maybe lightly compact it by walking on it, you’re looking at 30-50% “settling” and a whole bunch of runoff once it starts raining. What might have seemed like a large mound will be reduced to a lump at best. You would also most likely need to stake all but the smallest trees in windy areas.

Now unless one is using industrial compaction equipment and applying the dirt in “lifts” of several inches at a time, you aren’t going to re-compact the earth back to an “undisturbed” approximation. What you will more likely end up with is a mound where the top few inches are quite well compacted, but the dirt in the middle of the mound (vertically) is only moderately compacted. You’ll get a lot less settling from time and rain if you do some of the compacting yourself as well. But the dirt in the mound will still be quite loose compared to undisturbed and very suitable for new root growth. It will also support the new tree better, but staking may still be required.

Again, if you have access to a bulldozer I would not recommend using it to make tree mounds, as you will not have loose soil in that case. But the weight of a pickup truck or even a bobcat over 12 to 24 inches of soil is going to leave quite a bit of space for roots, but will greatly reduce the settling that you have to plan for when building mounds for trees. The water content of the soil when you compress it is also a difficult to control factor. Too wet or too dry and you won’t get good results

This is a mulberry planted in March in a compacted mound, it sat around for approximately two and a half months and has now put on about 50% of what you see there in the last month.

This is a Scarlet Prince peach planted about 1 year ago. Same type of mound, so it’s got about 4 to 6 in of mulch on top.

What I like so much about mounding up the soil is that you effectively get away with anything. You are not going to recompact the soil to what it was when it was undisturbed, unless again you are using industrial construction equipment. But the drainage benefits are immense, not to mention just how good it looks. And with clay the mounds will hold enough moisture, especially with mulch. I might not mound at all if I had fast draining soil, but clay mounds seem to drain off any amount of excess water while keeping an ideal amount for the tree.

I agree with Alan. Replant the trees if you can, and if you don’t compact the soil, have a plan to maintain the mound as time compresses it and rain erodes it.


I suppose if the earth is dry you are probably right- I’m in the NE and the earth is almost never dry in spring planting time (sometimes it is in fall planting time, however), and I assure you, driving a light truck over clay soil would compact it in a very negative way. The settling you are talking about is inconsequential as long as you expect about 30% and plant accordingly and then annually mulch generously until trees are established and then let sod hold the soil if the trees remain adequately vigorous.


This is fantastic. Thank you.

Any insight on when to dig them up after they go dormant? I can’t do it in the middle of winter since everything will be frozen, so my options are late fall or early spring.

You don’t even have to wait for trees to drop off all their leaves- when peach trees have started losing them and all but the tips of branches shed their leaves easily when lightly rubbed, they can be transplanted. Those remaining leaves my even help them to establish more roots going into winter. It is when I always begin my transplanting of bearing age, mostly approximately 2.5" diameter trees in my nursery. I start moving peaches on the last week of Oct. I continue usually until about mid-Dec but feel it’s safe until the ground freezes as long as you give them a lot of airy mulch. Always mulch them before temps drop into the single digits when fall planting in the colder regions.

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Any time before the buds begin to swell. You want to avoid the early root activity.

Heck you could do it in the fall once the tree goes dormant. It is just emotionally scary because it looks dead and you have to wait until the spring to see it come back.

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You hit it. I put so much into my orchard and am admittedly WAY too invested in my trees. So, the thought of digging them up and potentially killing them is scary.

But, methinks the benefits outweigh the risks here.

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