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Building a Fruit Tree Mound to Create Own Root Fruit Trees and Increase Soil Drainage in a Wet Area

 
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One of the things I love about permaculture, is that it can be used to take a less than ideal growing area and transform it into a super productive area!

Most fruit trees like well drained soil, which means that they like don't like the soil to be waterlogged. This helps create healthy roots, and as a result a very healthy plant!

Even if you're only available planting area is in a very wet spot, you can create well draining soil using this simple method! Just don't build it when it's 95 degrees outside with about 90% humidity.

I dug around the pomegranate and broke up the soil with a shovel and then piled it up against the tree to make a mound around it with the tree at the center. Depending on the degree of moisture in your soil, you can make the trench deeper and mound higher to make it drain even better. This pomegranate was in a pretty moist spot so I made it pretty high. I probably could have made it even higher but didn't want to spend too long building it.

I usually like to cover the mound with a shredded or whole leaf mulch, which creates a layer of rich organic matter to help build soil fertility. With it being summer, I didn't have a lot of leaves available at the moment, so I cut down some wild bushes and chopped up the cuttings and used them as a mulch.

You can also use this to convert a grafted fruit tree into an own root fruit tree. Pomegranates usually are grown on their own roots, since they propagate easily from cuttings, so I didn't have to do it for this tree. I have an apple tree that I did this for, and I wounded it right above the graft so it should send out new roots from the fruiting variety and become an own root fruit tree.

I did this about a month ago, and the shape has held well. I planted some squash on the mound a week later to both help hold the soil in place and to use the available growing area. It is really liking the area too and growing very fast!

Has anyone else built anything similar to this? How did it work out?

This video shows before and after building the mound.

 
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Steve, I know that heat all to well, I don’t know how you did that!  But great video, thanks for the sacrifice - hope you keep us updated on how the tree responds.
 
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I have built up a mound prior to planting my lime tree, as my soil has a lot of clay and gets very wet. It is going fine. I've never thought of building the mound after planting.

Adding soil above the graft? Brilliant!

Thanks for the inspiration.

This should generally make the tree more vigorous, right?

I'm now thinking of doing this to my mandarin, which is slow growing, and to my small, young lemon. Because I think they could use the vigor in my heavy soil and I don't mind bigger plants.
 
Steve Thorn
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Artie Scott wrote:Steve, I know that heat all to well, I don’t know how you did that!  But great video, thanks for the sacrifice - hope you keep us updated on how the tree responds.



Thanks Artie, I've been really encouraged by the results so far, and am going to apply it to all of my other fruit trees in this wetter area.

I filmed this update video below about one month after the previous video. The plant is super healthy and putting on lots of new growth and the previous growth is super green and healthy looking. I planted some summer squash on the edges of the mound for a late season crop, and they are growing really fast and looking really healthy too.

 
Steve Thorn
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Isaac Jamieson wrote:I have built up a mound prior to planting my lime tree, as my soil has a lot of clay and gets very wet. It is going fine. I've never thought of building the mound after planting.



I've built a few more of these mounds recently, some additional ones with existing trees and some without a tree planted yet, to get them ready to plant new fruit trees this Fall.

It was a lot quicker for the ones that didn't have an existing tree, since I didn't have to be really careful disturbing the soil too much around them and putting the dirt around the trunk.

I'll probably do like you did and build the mound beforehand going forward to make it easier and quicker, and still plant the tree below the graft in the mound with the same process as above to encourage it to put out it's own roots and become an own root tree.

Adding soil above the graft? Brilliant!

Thanks for the inspiration.

This should generally make the tree more vigorous, right?



With most fruit trees it should. I really love the idea of fruit trees growing on their own roots, that way they are growing as naturally as possible. I'm really interested in breeding fruit trees in the future too, and if they're growing on their own roots, I can better observe their natural own unique vigor, disease resistance, fruiting ability, and other characteristics.

Most fruit trees growing on their own roots are a naturally, larger and more vigorous tree from what I've seen. Some varieties grow to a smaller size naturally, but there aren't as many of them. Unfortunately a lot of grafted trees are on dwarfing or semi dwarfing rootstock. Some people like growing smaller trees and may not have room for bigger trees. I personally prefer growing full sized, own root, and naturally growing trees that will hopefully live for a really long time and can maximize their vigor, disease resistance, and fruiting potential.

I'm now thinking of doing this to my mandarin, which is slow growing, and to my small, young lemon. Because I think they could use the vigor in my heavy soil and I don't mind bigger plants.



That's awesome Isaac!

I don't have any experience with citrus unfortunately, since I'm unable to grow most of them in my zone. That's really neat you're able to grow them where you are. I've always dreamed of making fresh lemonade one day from freshly picked lemons. I may give Meyer lemons a try one day.

I hope it works out well if you decide to do it, and I'd love to see how it turns out.
 
Artie Scott
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Some interesting points there Steve that raise some questions in my mind. If I understand correctly, planting (or mounding) above the graft will result in the tree reverting to its own characteristics vice the root stock. Which, if you want the tree’s natural characteristics as you have described, makes perfect sense.

My question is, then why buy a tree grafted onto dwarf or semi-dwarf root stock at all?  I thought that the benefits of grafting were both to limit size, and also because the particular rootstock had other superior characteristics, such as disease resistance, etc...  

Planting or mounding above the graft would seem to eliminate any advantage of buying a grafted tree.  Or am I misunderstanding?
 
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Artie Scott wrote:Some interesting points there Steve that raise some questions in my mind. If I understand correctly, planting (or mounding) above the graft will result in the tree reverting to its own characteristics vice the root stock. Which, if you want the tree’s natural characteristics as you have described, makes perfect sense.

My question is, then why buy a tree grafted onto dwarf or semi-dwarf root stock at all?



I've found it really hard to find fruit trees that aren't grafted onto semi dwarf rootstock, which seems to be the most common. Pomegranates and figs usually aren't grafted since they reproduce more readily from cuttings. I think most other fruit trees are grafted because it's easier and quicker to reproduce them that way.

The most common ways that I've seen to get an own root fruit tree without grafting are: the mother tree can be air layered, if it's a grafted tree it can be stool layered above the graft or anywhere if it's not grafted, or if the mother tree is already an own root tree, it can be propagated with a root cutting. Most of these methods tend to be more labor intensive, which is probably why they're so hard to find.

I thought that the benefits of grafting were both to limit size, and also because the particular rootstock had other superior characteristics, such as disease resistance, etc...

Planting or mounding above the graft would seem to eliminate any advantage of buying a grafted tree.  Or am I misunderstanding?



Yeah, I want to purposely undo the graft.

I want a really tall, vigorously growing tree, not restrained by the rootstock. I wander if the disease resistant varieties are also less resistant with the rootstock.

I hope to do some experiments in the future comparing the two and see how they turn out.
 
Isaac Jamieson
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Steve, you remind me to be grateful that I can grow citrus. I've learnt, after a few tries, how to pamper citrus. My parents have better soil for citrus, but I can make it work.

I'll give the soil over graft plus wounding trick a go when I return from the holiday I'm on.  It will be early Spring here soon, so hopefully the trees growth will increase noticeably.

I will keep you posted.
 
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I do that same basic idea on all my trees. Since they all get a wire cage around them to fend off goats, the cage conveniently holds a bit of organic matter to shade the soil. The trench has manure in the bottom, with cardboard pieces and random chopped pieces of organic matter. When it's dry here, it's a desert. When it rains, it can flood and turn into a mud pit. So this helps direct excess water away (with the lip of the trench) while keeping some moisture available further from the immediate root ball.

The tree itself gets planted a few inches above the soil line and I mound soil on that to make sure it doesn't dry out, but that it doesn't get waterlogged.

The grain sack is my makeshift sunshade from the afternoon scorching heat.
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A baby breadfruit seems to be happy. Planted a couple of weeks ago and it
 
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I don't want to undo the rootstock influence on many of my fruit and nut trees. A lot of named apple varieties aren't suited to our soils here, but the good old MM106 takes wet and dry years in stride. It's also resistant to wooly aphid. That's a big deal, too, because most seed-grown apples that I've started were immediately infested with it. And if I let my pear trees root above the quince internode, they'd be trying to grow taller than the oak. Nope.
 
Steve Thorn
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I'm glad to see this little friend has moved into the ditch around the edge. I was walking beside it, and he popped out to say hello.
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Froggy friend
 
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Ok. I'm back to forest building.

I've wounded the trunk above the graft and added soil and mulch.

First I made some space as the daisy that protects the mandarin was rubbing on the trunk and its early Spring here, so more exposure to the world is in order.

The mandarin is not quite up to my hip height now. It will be interesting to observe its growth in the future.
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The daisy sheltering the mandarin.
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Daisy rubbing on mandarin trunk.
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Making space.
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Wounded trunk.
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Soil mounded above graft.
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Woodchip mulch.
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Ready to grow 🤞.
 
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I'll be really curious to see how this goes for you with the citrus, Isaac. All the advice I ever had for planting and growing citrus stressed the need to elevate the crown. Keeping the trunk dry and the roots near the surface well aerated was crucial in Arizona, where we had heavy soil, poor drainage, high alkalinity and rot root. I nearly lost a grapefruit to collar rot, but by cleaning the wound and keeping it as dry as possible it healed and the tree went on to be a champion producer (until the guy who bought the place killed it by failing to water in the summer).
 
Steve Thorn
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Isaac Jamieson wrote:Ok. I'm back to forest building.

I've wounded the trunk above the graft and added soil and mulch.

First I made some space as the daisy that protects the mandarin was rubbing on the trunk and its early Spring here, so more exposure to the world is in order.

The mandarin is not quite up to my hip height now. It will be interesting to observe its growth in the future.



Great pictures Isaac,  that looks awesome!

It's neat to see your plants getting going for the Spring, as mine are getting ready to slow down for the Fall.

Excited to see how it turns out!
 
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Thanks Phil.
I wonder if adding additional soil makes the crown less elevated.
I'm thinking kind of no, because the crown isn't actually going deeper, but kind of yes, because it now has more soil above it.
Let's hope that it is not too much of an issue. The soil I added was from under deciduous trees, light and full of humus. Being light is probably a good thing, but being full of organic material, this holding more water may be an issue, right?

I'm thinking that I could observe for symptoms, and if they develop, I could remove mulch and soil. I'm also thinking that the start of spring is a good time to try this, as we are heading away from our wet season here. That way, the desired roots may develop sufficiently that if I end up removing the extra soil, they will still do their thing.

What symptoms should I look for?

My soil is pretty good for nearly a foot then becomes heavy clay. I believe it's acidic, although I haven't tested it.
 
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Steve Thorn wrote:

It's neat to see your plants getting going for the Spring, as mine are getting ready to slow down for the Fall.

Excited to see how it turns out!



Time to observe.

I'll keep you guys posted if anything happens, whether it be nothing much, disease, or vigorous growth.

Hoping for the latter.

 
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Hi Isaac - Keep an eye out for wounds or patches of dead bark. If it's active you will often see rust-coloured gummy sap oozing from the affected area.

Examples
 
Steve Thorn
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I've been building more of these mounds and am seeing a lot more frogs and toads! The ditches around the outside of each mound stay pretty moist and some have lots of leaves and other mulch, which I think is providing good habitat for them.

This was a little tiny fellow.
Small-frog.jpg
Small frog
Small frog
Tiny-frog.jpg
Tiny frog
Tiny frog
 
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Isaac Jamieson wrote:I wonder if adding additional soil makes the crown less elevated.
I'm thinking kind of no, because the crown isn't actually going deeper, but kind of yes, because it now has more soil above it.
Let's hope that it is not too much of an issue. The soil I added was from under deciduous trees, light and full of humus. Being light is probably a good thing, but being full of organic material, this holding more water may be an issue, right?



I'm betting you want have any issues since the soil should be pretty dry at the top of the mound.

Also it sounds like your soil is really healthy, which will hopefully make your tree very healthy, and more resistant to diseases.
 
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I've built more of these fruit tree mounds around my other fruit trees and am loving the results.

So far I've done it around 8 more pomegranates, 3 apples, 1 cherry, and 1 mulberry.

All of the trees are putting on healthy new growth and looking a lot better than most of the ones without mounds.

I also feel like my food forest is becoming a frog haven, which has been really neat seeing all of the different types of frogs and toads. Hopefully they'll feast on lots of bugs as well.
 
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Who knew an apple leaf could hold up a little frog?

I didn't notice the bug he was looking at until after I took the picture. That bug looks almost as big as him.

The coloration on some of these frogs is just amazing!
Green-frog-on-an-apple-leaf-looking-at-a-bug.jpg
Green frog on an apple leaf looking at a bug
Green frog on an apple leaf looking at a bug
Green-frog-on-apple-leaf.jpg
Green frog on apple leaf
Green frog on apple leaf
 
Steve Thorn
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I found another frog in a different apple tree looking at a bug.

Sic 'em little froggy!

This one's coloration seemed better for some of the leaf litter below, but I saw him this morning, and this evening I saw him again, so I was glad to see he didn't get eaten yet.
Brown-frog-on-apple-leaf-looking-at-a-bug.jpg
Brown frog on apple leaf looking at a bug
Brown frog on apple leaf looking at a bug
Brown-frog-on-apple-leaf.jpg
Brown frog on apple leaf
Brown frog on apple leaf
Brown-frog-on-apple-leaf-looking-at-a-bug-from-above.jpg
Brown frog on apple leaf looking at a bug from above
Brown frog on apple leaf looking at a bug from above
 
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Steve Thorn wrote:I found another frog in a different apple tree looking at a bug.

Sic 'em little froggy!

This one's coloration seemed better for some of the leaf litter below, but I saw him this morning, and this evening I saw him again, so I was glad to see he didn't get eaten yet.



Fantastic, Steve! How very exciting! Frogs are such wonderful critters.
 
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Here's a video update of the pomegranate on the mound about two months later with tons of new growth!



The photo below is a close up of the new main, fast growing shoot.
New-fast-growing-main-shoot-of-the-pomegranate.jpg
New fast growing main shoot of the pomegranate
New fast growing main shoot of the pomegranate
 
Steve Thorn
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Here are some videos I made of a general step by step process for adding a mound around existing fruit trees.

This first video goes over the general design of digging a ditch around the outside and putting the soul in the middle and up against the fruit tree and talking about how my method has changed after building a few of these, that makes it quicker to build and creates more microclimates for plants and animal habitat.



The shovels of dirt are put in a ring around the tree and loose dirt is added closest up to the tree.



The ditch is dug and the soil laid out, and it can be stepped on a little to slightly smooth it out if needed or wanted.



Here's the finished mulched fruit tree mound covering the graft and wounded above the graft to encourage rooting from the fruiting variety and creating an own root fruit tree. The well drained soil should increase the health and vigor of this tree and future fruit production!

 
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I have a 7’ Apple tree that about drowned this year. It’s really never been healthy. It was in a low spot in my yard on a very small mound, maybe 18” diameter, 6” tall. I was hoping M 111 rootstock could handle it. We have had a very wet year all . I didn’t think it was healthy enough to survive a move. It had very few leaves and none looked healthy. About a month ago I used some old cedar lumber and made a two tiered raised bed around it, about 6’ square. The top tier is about 10”  above the old ground level. The weather has still been a littler wetter than usual, but the tree is getting new leaves and looking much better.  I’m expecting it to eventually grow roots above the graft. I have room for a full sized tree there so not a big problem. I’m not sure if there will be other problems from mounding the soil around it. I couldn’t think of anything else that might save it.

I ended up with a nice raised bed filled with good soil. I planted garlic chives by the tree trunk and filled the rest of the bed with Evie 2 strawberries.
 
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That's awesome to hear Ken!

The height of the mound for my pomegranate mentioned above sounds about the same as your bed. Including the ditch, the total height may be 18 inches. I've been experimenting with different heights, and have recently been building the mounds about 2 feet high and the ditches about a foot deep, so about 3 feet from the bottom of the ditch. It should be interesting to see the effects of different heights.

My apple trees that I've added the mounds to in wet areas have lots of new green leaves like you mentioned, and the new growth looks really healthy too!

I hope your apple tree continues to do well, and maybe we'll have some tasty apples to pick soon.
 
Diane Kistner
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Steve Thorn wrote:The height of the mound for my pomegranate mentioned above sounds about the same as your bed. Including the ditch, the total height may be 18 inches. I've been experimenting with different heights, and have recently been building the mounds about 2 feet high and the ditches about a foot deep, so about 3 feet from the bottom of the ditch. It should be interesting to see the effects of different heights.



Steve, this has been a very instructive thread, and it's gotten me thinking about what I can do in my flooding front yard. But that's down the road. Right now, I'm digging the holes for a three-pawpaw-tree patch. It's dry, dry, dry, dry, dry here. I'm wondering what height for a mound you'd recommend when planting a tree in these circumstances.

 
Steve Thorn
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Thanks Diane!

If you're planting in a really really dry spot, I probably wouldn't make a mound actually. If your soil is draining very well, I'd just plant the tree kind of deep so the roots have access to more water while getting started, mulch it with leaves to build soil fertility and to hold more moisture, and maybe even plant it in a slight depression in the ground if possible, to help collect more water.

Paw paws seems to be more tolerant of moist soil than other fruit trees, and they may even slightly prefer it.

I have a paw paw growing in a pretty moist and partly sunny area that seems to be very healthy and liking its location. It made its first flowers this year but no fruit. The flowers are really neat and unusual looking. Hopefully it'll produce some fruit next year!

Hope your paw paw does well!
 
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Steve Thorn wrote:Thanks Diane!

If you're planting in a really really dry spot, I probably wouldn't make a mound actually. If your soil is draining very well, I'd just plant the tree kind of deep so the roots have access to more water while getting started, mulch it with leaves to build soil fertility and to hold more moisture, and maybe even plant it in a slight depression in the ground if possible, to help collect more water.

Paw paws seems to be more tolerant of moist soil than other fruit trees, and they may even slightly prefer it.

I have a paw paw growing in a pretty moist and partly sunny area that seems to be very healthy and liking its location. It made its first flowers this year but no fruit. The flowers are really neat and unusual looking. Hopefully it'll produce some fruit next year!

Hope your paw paw does well!



Thanks, Steve. Depression might be the best way for me to go.

Do you only have one pawpaw? You need at least two that are not the same cultivar to produce fruit because they are not self-fertile.


 
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I wouldn’t plant in a depression unless you are dry all year. I don’t think GA is? I think most locations would benefit from at least a bit of a mound, maybe a few inches.
 
Diane Kistner
pollinator
Posts: 201
Location: Athens, GA Zone 8a
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Ken W Wilson wrote:I wouldn’t plant in a depression unless you are dry all year. I don’t think GA is? I think most locations would benefit from at least a bit of a mound, maybe a few inches.



Ken, it's hard to know what to do. Last year it was rain, rain, rain, rain, rain all spring/summer/fall. This year, it was drought, drought, drought, drought, drought. I think I just need to follow the advice to lie on the ground and sense into the dirt and see what comes to me!

 
Steve Thorn
gardener
Posts: 1057
Location: Zone 7b/8a Temperate Humid Subtropical, Eastern NC, US
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forest garden fish fungi trees foraging earthworks food preservation cooking bee woodworking homestead
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Diane Kistner wrote:Do you only have one pawpaw? You need at least two that are not the same cultivar to produce fruit because they are not self-fertile.



I've got a younger one that hasn't produced any flowers yet, maybe it will next year so I can get some paw paws.
 
Just put the cards in their christmas stocking and PRESTO! They get it now! It's like you're the harry potter of permaculture. richsoil.com/cards
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