Transforming 2 acres of pines to mixed orchard & garden

I am underway transforming my pine tree forested yard into a mixed orchard and garden site. I want to document the process here to hopefully help others who might do something similar, and garner input as I work through the process.

Background: yard was mixed longleaf pines and hardwoods ~40 years ago when we harvested pine timber, ~18 years ago we lost ~150 mature oaks during hurricane Katrina, cleared and planted pines. This past winter and spring we dug stumps, cut and burned ~1,000 pines, 15 magnolias and 12 dead white oaks. The property is on a busy state highway 2 miles from town. The pines no longer blocked the road noise and view…and we can’t eat them! This site is close to the house, water and electricity.

I’ll post a progression of pics below. Most recent are after several hours with a landscape rake behind the tractor working to remove larger sticks.

You can see the pale gray mostly clay soil: pH 5.10, Organic Content 4.35%, and very low in all tested minerals per LSU Ag soil test.



I see several immediate issues (and I’m sure there are more).

  1. Poor soil
  2. Drainage

We will borrow a transit and look to address drainage first.

A farmer friend has offered to spread lime and chicken manure with his spreader truck.

I have access to basically infinite wood chips.


i have poor draining clay and was forced to plant on mounds. if there’s grass, put down cardboard drive a tree stake through it. place your tree on cardboard. Tie to stake. mound and tamp soil. add 4in of woodchips. water well. my whole property is planted this way. make sure the soil you use is well draining. after about 5 yrs the mounds disappear. i slowly killed 3 trees and nearly myself digging and planting in my soil. water just puddles there


I’m reading Orin Martin’s book and have watched many UC Santa Cruz videos. Also have read a ton here including @alan and @clarkinks on working with poor soils, orchard floor composition, etc…

I am still uncertain about the best way to approach the soil condition, especially if drainage remains somewhat an issue. Water does hold up for days after heavy rain.

Particularly, what’s the better approach? Cover crop rotation or start spreading wood chips? Maybe both?

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The best approach would probably be to build large berms and plant on top of the berm. @Olpea is doing this on clay soil in Kansas. He’s a professional grower, one of our best. Run the berms such that excess water drains away down the alleyway between berms. I’d estimate that his berms are about 2-3ft tall and 20ft apart but hopefully he’ll chime in.


@LADPT @fruitnut

Kansas soil and drainage is a challenge of its own. Consider the Japanese don’t get rid of the water. They farm a mountain by building ponds and terraces down the side of the mountain.
They pour the water from one pond to the next down the entire mountain. Water is very valuable i would rather it did not drain off my property. In my case i want to hold it as long as i can and let it soak in. At times there will be big rains and i have drainage in place when it happens. These type of years the water is mostly staying right here.
Berms and swales - terracing - creating water ways

This photo speaks volumes. The trees are big and the land is being drained into a water way. Those trees are standing on a mound. At first i planted some sweet cherries around 30 years ago but they died after the first rain. The next sweet cherry i grew on top of a terrace. It was a very expensive lesson.


That’s pretty close Steve. Most of the berms are a bit taller (maybe 4’) but the shortest ones have settled to just a couple feet above grade in the lowest places. Some berms are 20’ apart (for tomatoes and cherries) but 25’ apart for peaches (which could probably be 22’ apart and still meet the requirements for a low density peach orchard)

Here is a pic I just posted 3 days ago of a new area of the peach orchard. The berms at the very front are probably 3’ high. They get probably 4’ high as they go down the hill, then again 3’ tall at the very far end. Rows are about 480’ long in this section.

If I think about it, I’ll try to take some pictures of the mature trees on berms.


I’m concerned that berming up rows would effectively lower the rest of the area since some of that soil will be scraped away to create the berm rows. Any concern there for already low land?

I could bring dirt in, but that would get expensive.

I could row up arborist wood chips. Not sure how long they would take to break down to be able to be planted into?


Is it possible to insert a ditch that would drain from the lowest spot in this area to an outbound creek?


My drive circles around this whole area. Might could slope and cut a bit of a ditch to drain towards the highway ditch.


That is a concern if you can’t drain the water. Still, I’d rather have the trees higher up on berms, and water pooling below than have water pooling at the ground surface of the trees. Peach trees die if the soil around the roots is saturated with water.

Here’s a pic today of some mature peach trees. Down on the lower end, we do have some water pooling in the aisle ways, but most of the peach tree roots are still up out of the water.

We pruned these trees last week. We mistakenly pruned most of the peach trees last fall, but that’s another story.

They look pruned ugly because we left just about any fruit on them that we could, even if it was on water spouts.

The biggest problem with not draining water off row middles in terraced plantings, is that the row middles always stay wet and invite ruts in really wet weather, when you still have to run a sprayer. Running equipment through water is not fun. It eventually makes all kinds of ruts and issues getting stuck.

Here is a pic I posted 8 years ago on this forum, where I had some serious issues of water in the row middles. I stuck my airblast sprayer, even pulling it with a 4X4 tractor. The sprayer weighs about 5000 lbs. full. If the wheels are knee deep in mud, it’s like pulling a 5000 lb. sled. Really, worse, because the wheels are buried and plowing mud at the same time the sprayer is dragging the bottom like a sled.



Shortly after 1” heavy rain

I’ll try to get a pic today if it doesn’t rain again.


@LADPT @Olpea

Consider callery pears dont care as much. BET rootstocks i frequently plant on burms and pool water at their feet. My thought is turn that water into pear fruit!


Some small nurseries on the west coast have begun using Pacific (swamp) crabapple as a rootstock for very wet areas. Pacific (swamp) crabapple can even be grown in areas with standing water. I have purchased a few apple trees with named apple cultivars grafted on top. The young trees I planted this winter seem to be doing well in an area only feet away from the lake shore. Pacific crabapple used as a rootstock is supposed to result in a semi dwarf apple tree.

Buying Pacific crabapple trees is rather expensive if intended as a rootstock. Pacific crabapple is supposed to grow fairly true from seed, so I purchased 40 seeds cheaply over the internet last fall. I cold stratified the seeds in a 50/50 mix of damp coco choir and wood shavings in the fridge for 3 months. I planted the seeds this spring and I was rather surprised when almost all the seeds grew. I now have more crabapple rootstock than I will ever need for my wet areas. I also purchased a winter banana apple tree so that I could use scion wood from it as an interstem to graft pears onto the Pacific crabapple rootstock in case I wanted pears near the waters edge as well.

I just thought I’d mention some other less expensive options.


I understand and empathize with that sentiment. The difference is that southeast Louisiana is way wetter than your area or mine. And his soil looks flatter and more poorly drained than yours but I could be wrong on this point.


where did you buy the seed for that crabapple? it sounds like the ticket for my clay soil. when it rains hard i get pooling here as well and im at the bottom of a hill.

We do have wild (I’m assuming callery) pears growing all over, and landscaped Bradford pears :pensive:

I currently have 7 on callery in another (not wet) spot doing well, planted last year:
Hartwell Cook, Leona, Olton Broussard, Orient, Pineapple, Sweet Cheeks.

I’m looking for relatively cheap material to build berms to plant in. I’d love to build a pond but $$,$$$

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It is a Canadian seed company, so you might want to look for a US alternative.

Hardiness Zone: 5-9



Why not start getting free wood chips? Stack them as high as you can for 3 or 4 years bury them in dirt and wind up with burms 4 feet higher than your soil is now. Drift wood , logs etc. Bury them and build it up 10 feet if you can. This is what i’m thinking start with Hugelkultur . Mostly it is hard work and not money involved. If you only plant 30 trees a year you will have the ideal orchard! My only goal ever was to outplant my pests.

Not that i’m advocating it for you, but if i were you and i was driving down the road and saw callery or other wild pear growing in standing water i might ask the owner if i could have some of those trees. The first planting would be water tolerant callery or similar tree on a burm made of whatever i could find. Once you have fruit coming in it is much easier to plan on growing more. The hardest part is starting!