Starting a 1/4 acre 90 trees paw paw orchard IN 2024 near Charlotte, NC

I want to plant 90 paw paw trees in zone 7b and was wondering if anyone could guide me on best soil preparation. I have ordered the seedlings and plan to grow in containers for a year and then plant in spring of 2024.

i’m intrigued by Miyawaki method where the land is dug up 3 feet deep and amended for fastest growth. Ch:1 | Introduction to Forest Creation Series | Forest Creation Tutorials | English - YouTube

Right now it’s now it’s 18 month old chips about 6"-12” deep then 6" of decent clay loam soil and underneath that is that is red clay
The land was filled in with hundreds of dump trucks of fill clay, then dirt from a lake then about 300 yds of wood chips over time which is why it has a few layers to it

There is a lowes up the street where I can rent heavy equipment like excavators and skid steers. I might invest in a tractor if needed.

Was thinking of renting the excavator and digging down 3 ft to amend with manure and leaf compost in each hole I can get leaf compost locally for about $12.50/yd and manure about $20/yd delivered. Yes I know I can get the stuff for free if I borrow a truck and trailer and do the work, but it makes more economical sense to get it delivered for me.


How is the drainage? If you fill that hole with water how long does it take to empty?

Also, do you see any worms when digging?

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no I dont’ see many worms. I Ithought they would come after the wood chips but I guess it takes more than 1.5 years. I will have to test the drainage tomorrow. how deep should the hole be to test water drainage?

the land is sloped about 6 feet decline over 80 ft width and i’ve never noticed water pooling anywhere even after a heavy rain.

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Your money would be wiser spent on a few thousand worms… they work 24/7/365… and dump truck loads of compost (on top of the soil).

Also sewing white clover as a cover crop

Also since you arent planting until 2024 i wouldnt disturb the soil… that is plenty of time for worms and the biome to pull down from the top.

If you get a chance watch The Biggest Little Farm movie…they turned garbage no good soil into an oasis without heavy equipment.

This is also a good starting point.


I’ve got soil with pawpaws & persimmons very similar to that on low areas of my property. Your other option is to do nothing more except to use a pick ax or simply a spade shovel and, slam it into the sides of the planting hole and when you loosen roots, tuck them into the cracks and crevasses.

Take your time planting and you’ll be on your way.

Food for the plants & mulch, water.



My suggestion is slightly different from those given because of the trees your working with. All of these are great ideas that are given above but to add to those i would suggest

#1 do a test crop now with a small number of trees (5 or less) What if your soil can support pawpaw fine now?

#2 Do a soil test and find out what your soil has or is missing

#3 hire or rent a tractor with a roto tiller now if you can afford to wait 3 years to plant till the organic material to the bottom now which will lock up nitrogen temporarily. Chopping up the clay and loam and mixing it with lots of wood chips and manure would bring the worms then you could cover the entire thing with wood chips again.

#4 if you cant wait avoid tilling in the chips and instead pull back the chips and work manure in about a 6 foot area where the tree will be planted.

#5 pawpaw as babys hate sunlight be sure you are ready to shade them

#6 They like organic material in their soil be ready to meet those needs

#7 They like water we prepared to water them

#8 Do not grow them in pots as long as you plan unless they are grown from seed now. Be mindful the roots are not rootbound if you do.
Pawpaw roots are super sensitive so damaging roots can be a death sentence.

Pawpaw are not as easy to grow as everyone says if you have a vacant field that nothing has grown on in awhile. Try to watch the following video on pawpaws needs hes right

Here is a thread on how i do it but its a little harder in Kansas than 90% of places out there but it can still be done Pawpaw in Kansas - it's a lot of work but can be done!

I’ve learned what works in my area may not work in yours so look at yours only for final advice.


As you can see from the responses, there are many ways to go about this that may work. But you’ll need to assess your situation may have some unique elements you need to determine such as drainage, existing soil fertility, etc.

To share a bit of my experience in northern Virginia, here is a patch of pawpaw seedlings I planted near my garage 3 years ago. There are 10 seedlings here, planted much too close together, but I bought them as a package of seedlings and planned to graft them and then pick the 2 or 3 that were growing the best to decide which to keep and then grow them as a clump. I tried grafting them last year (2021) and the grafts failed - the grafts started okay but I grafted too late and it got really hot before they fully healed. If I hadn’t had the failed graft attempt last year and they continued straight up they’d probably be at least 7 feet tall by now. Even with the graft fail, they’re still almost 6 feet tall.

I just planted them directly into my Virginia clay soil and put a little composted manure on the top of the soil and some wood chips on top of that. Worms came in and improved the soil some, but it is still mostly native clay soil. I’ve never fertilized these trees, although I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to push them a bit. I’m going to regraft them this spring. You’ll definitely need to plan for irrigating your trees during dry spells, since at least for the first year.

I show this example just to note you probably don’t have to dig down and till in if you’ve got some fertility in the soil, get some life going in the soil and have reasonable drainage. My clay soil isn’t great for drainage, but the water will drain out of a hole in 6 to 12 hours, which is okay for pawpaws. They are okay with moist soil, but won’t thrive if they are sitting in water most of the growing season. That’s why I suggested testing the drainage.

Your wood chips will keep breaking down, which is good, but you could also push them aside in the rows where you plan to put the trees and grow some cover crops to build the soil. I personally wouldn’t till, but would just grow a winter crop, chop and drop it in the Spring, grow a spring summer crop, chop it in the Fall, etc. until you are ready to put in your trees.

There are many ways to go about this and there is certainly nothing wrong with working in a bunch of manure and leaf compost that will break down by the time you plant, but cover crops can push their roots deeper and can also bring up some of the nutrients from lower down. Plus growing legumes will build up your nitrogen in the soil. This assumes your current soil isn’t truly horrible and can actually support cover crops now without augmenting it. They don’t need to thrive when your first start, but at least survive and build up the soil to start. They’ll improve as you go along. I have seen someone try to improve their soil with cover crops, but the soil was so compacted that they never really got their first planting growing adequately, so the soil needs to be adequate to support germination and some growth to start with.

And actually, a cover crop’s performance will give you a sense of the overall soil quality, so you’d have a better idea of what you’re working with. If the cover crop fails, then obviously more drastic measures are needed.

I’ve posted this before, but here is a sample of how I improved my clay soil with cover crops and wood chips. I’ve got a persimmon growing in this area now that is growing like a weed!


You’re talking 1/4 acre…if you should desire to go the excavator rental…you’re only talking one or two days. Although I don’t know that you need to go to so much trouble. Just make sure your hole you pour water in doesn’t still have water standing in it the next morning. If it does, fill it in.


worms are very expensive and for all I know they could die a few months after they are put in the ground. From using wood chips the last few years I have noticed that worms do not like to be in wood chip covered bare soil. I only see them once grasses and other plants start growing in the chips. Worms seem to like going through the roots in my land.

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Yeah they are kind of expensive $50 for 1000 if you buy on Amazon etc. I started with maybe 100 and probably have 10000 in my compost piles. Im not really sure how they would die unless there were a herd of chickens… or the land was barren.

Under my woodchips in my rows and around my trees they are thriving… matter of fact its hard for me to keep up with the woodchips…they eat them.

" Earthworms consume and break down organic matter, including plant cellulose such as that in wood chips, and the resulting waste provides a nutrient-rich environment for crops. Earthworms living in just 1 acre of land can recycle as much as 5 tons of soil per year. Earthworms also speed up the process of turning organic waste into usable compost."

Maybe my worms are different than yours…

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@RollandElliott @krismoriah

Yes as you both know there are lots of different types of worms. There are many more than what are mentioned here but its a place to start. My soil is loaded with them now but it wasn’t always that way What is the Difference Between Red Worms and Nightcrawlers - Pediaa.Com . You likely want composting worms Buy Compost Worms Online | Compost Worms for Sale - Brothers Worm Farm . Here is what you should know about invasives A new invasive worm is making its way through North America. Here’s how to protect your lawn and garden.

When I heard the tree fruit specialist from NC State speak a few years ago about starting a new orchard of fruit trees he suggested subsoiling down the middle of what will become the row then at right angles where the trees will be planted. Not a big problem with peach trees at 18X18 but it would be more difficult with a 3X12 spacing. We did not subsoil at the right angles since we knew it would create small ditches which would bounce and bump making it uncomfortable when we mowed.

Also heard him suggest not adding any type of soil amendments to the planting hole. He was talking about apples and peaches but I would expect his recommendation would apply to other fruit trees too. He indicated the objective was not to make the trees grow too quickly but focus on growing fruit and not just a lot of wood. I expect the objectives for Forestry or land reclamation would differ.

I ran a 1 row subsoiler down my new rows then planted and tilled multiple cover crops down the row.

By my planting year the soil tilth had improved somewhat, I gained some control over the weeds and it was easy to get a shovel in the ground to dig the planting holes. Digging 15 or 20 holes by hand was no big deal but we use a tractor mounted post hole digger when we need to dig 100 holes. I have about 1 foot of sandy loam on top with red or grey clay below.


Welcome to the forum and thanks for your post, it had me go down a full half day rabbit hole. :slightly_smiling_face:


Yeah I’ve heard not to amend the soil and also the exact opposite! Makes one wonder if there is any logic between the two. I’ve never seen any follow up studies or photos between the two. Seems like there should be some sort of university study on this.


Well, look up the Miyawaki method, it has been tested extensively and is a proven method. Spoiler alert, they amended the soil.

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Already mentioned that method never read about used in an orchard and if actually helps get stronger trees faster


This Miyazaki orchard grew fast the first year. Which they did a control group to see if the fast growth was due to better soil though. It’s pretty labor intensive to do. Miyawaki Edible Forest | Orchard of Flavours


Yes, I apologize, I didn’t realize you were the OP. What is an “orchard”? Trees planted in the same area that you want to eat the fruit from? Most trees produce some type of seed or fruit that holds seed for reproduction whether or not you want to eat it. Therefore, I don’t see why you wouldn’t use the Miyawaki method for an orchard.

That said, here’s some information about why you wouldn’t want to amend a hole that you plant a tree in, which is quite different than the Miyawaki method.

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I will say, if you expect decent fruit production, I wouldn’t plant the trees as closely as you would for a forest. 90 Pawpaw trees on .25 acre aren’t many more than is recommended, which would be 300/acre, or 75/.25acre from my understanding, so it should be fine.

I really hope you do this project. If I had space… or if I can think of somewhere to do this, I am going to try it!

Please keep us updated.

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If the soil drains well it’s probably fine the way it is. Pull back the mulch and plant the trees.

The Miyawaki method hasn’t caught on because it’s expensive and wasteful. Does it work, I’m sure it does. But it was designed to rapidly make a dense forest that you can’t walk through.

It does concern me that your soil is gray not red. The gray indicates soil that doesn’t drain well and stays wet. But you said that may be from a lake. Soil from a lake will often be gray because it was under water not because it doesn’t drain well in the current location. If it drains well it will grow trees. If it doesn’t drain well it might still grow good pawpaw.