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Can't get my fruit trees in the ground

 
Amy Saunders
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My yard is full of huge 30 yr old cottonwood trees. They are far apart, with large open spaces, and even where they are closer together, the shade is only dappled, and the grass is thick and lush. I thought I would plant my fruit trees among them, in the open areas, since the fruit trees will only be 25-50' tall, and they would still get plenty of sun. Also, my irrigation water comes from a well, and I only have enough water for my acre existing yard, necessitating planting my food forest within my yard. I purchased 45 standard fruit trees. I started getting ready for them last week, and could hardly dig a hole, the roots from my existing trees are so thick and plentiful. I honestly can only dig down an inch or two before I'm having to chop through roots, and it took me all day to dig six small holes. I'm worried that my fruit trees won't have a chance amongst so much competition. Will the existing trees strangle the fruit trees?

If the fruit trees will live, I'll just keep chopping roots and digging holes. Thanks for your input!
 
Ann Torrence
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Keep digging! The ancient cottonwood trees on our place that have blown over have very shallow, widely spread roots.

Even better, since you have 45 of them, might be to rent an auger for a day. I had someone auger 4' deep and watered every 11 days (or irrigation turn) to push our fruit trees' roots deep the first year. It would be good if they don't compete in the same layer as the cottonwoods.

Might also want a pound of rock phosphate, as Michael Phillips suggests, since the cottonwood roots have had been feeding there. I figure it's worth it to give the new trees the best possible start.
 
Ken Peavey
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There is a tool called a Sawzall. It's a reciprocating saw which can be fitted with interchangable blades. There are long blades for cutting wood which will work well for you. $70-100 for the saw, $10-20 for the blades, and you'll need electric power.
Dig what you can, when you find a root, whip out the saw.

Wear safety glasses when you use it. Small bits and chips can be thrown around.
 
R Scott
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Root bars are good if you sharpen the chisel, but a sawzall is MUCH faster. You can use an old/cheap pruning saw, too.
 
Cam Mitchell
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Location: W. CO, 6A
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@Amy
You may already know this, but make sure to cut the grass back away from the new fruit trees. It will compete with them for water and nutrients. Mulch at least out about 3-4', more if you can, but not up against the trunk. Reduces rodents making yummy snack of the tender plants you just put there for them.

Careful with the auger, if a hand-held machine. If the bit grabs a root, it may decide to turn you instead of the auger. And if there are any extraneous appendages in the way, well....ouch. Don't ask me how I know.

I feel your pain on digging holes. I'm getting 175 native trees/bushes from the state forest service, plus 200+ non-native fruit tree and bush seedlings grown by me. I would love a tractor auger.

You know, maybe with all these seedlings I should start a nursery. That's what Eric Toensmeyer and Mark Shepard did, and geoff lawton too, come to think of it.

+1 on the sawzall. I assume some sort of rapidly combusting material is out of the question?


 
Miles Flansburg
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Amy, I am wondering what your water table is like?
Cottonwoods and lush grass sounds to me like you may have moisture in the ground, not to far down?
Have you tried digging a hole further out away from the cottonwoods? Just to see how wet the ground is?
Just wondering if you are working to hard, thinking that you have to plant them close to the irrigation water?

Also swales and hugelkultur may help with water.
 
Amy Saunders
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Ken Peavey wrote:There is a tool called a Sawzall. It's a reciprocating saw which can be fitted with interchangable blades. There are long blades for cutting wood which will work well for you. $70-100 for the saw, $10-20 for the blades, and you'll need electric power.
Dig what you can, when you find a root, whip out the saw.

Wear safety glasses when you use it. Small bits and chips can be thrown around.


We actually have one of these, but I never thought of using it! I'll have to dig it out of the garage. Great idea, thanks!
 
Amy Saunders
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Cam Mitchell wrote:@Amy
You may already know this, but make sure to cut the grass back away from the new fruit trees. It will compete with them for water and nutrients. Mulch at least out about 3-4', more if you can, but not up against the trunk. Reduces rodents making yummy snack of the tender plants you just put there for them.

Careful with the auger, if a hand-held machine. If the bit grabs a root, it may decide to turn you instead of the auger. And if there are any extraneous appendages in the way, well....ouch. Don't ask me how I know.

I feel your pain on digging holes. I'm getting 175 native trees/bushes from the state forest service, plus 200+ non-native fruit tree and bush seedlings grown by me. I would love a tractor auger.

You know, maybe with all these seedlings I should start a nursery. That's what Eric Toensmeyer and Mark Shepard did, and Geoff Lawton too, come to think of it.

+1 on the sawzall. I assume some sort of rapidly combusting material is out of the question?




Holy Mackerel! 375+ hole to dig? I think you SHOULD start a nursery!

Do you need to keep the grass back that far if the trees are just whips, with little roots less than a foot in diameter?
 
Amy Saunders
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Ann Torrence wrote:Keep digging! The ancient cottonwood trees on our place that have blown over have very shallow, widely spread roots.

Even better, since you have 45 of them, might be to rent an auger for a day. I had someone auger 4' deep and watered every 11 days (or irrigation turn) to push our fruit trees' roots deep the first year. It would be good if they don't compete in the same layer as the cottonwoods.

Might also want a pound of rock phosphate, as Michael Phillips suggests, since the cottonwood roots have had been feeding there. I figure it's worth it to give the new trees the best possible start.


Do you auger the hole that deep just to loosen the soil for future root growth? I'm primarily planting little 2'-4' whips, or barely branched fruit trees. Their roots are less than a foot deep.

I'll have to look for rock phosphate. I've never noticed it before. Do you mix it with the backfill dirt, or mulch the top with it? We have tons of composted horse/cow/chicken/goat manure that I plan to mulch the top with. I've had poor luck in past years amending the planting hole, and better luck just planting into the same soil, then mulching with manure. We just moved here, though, last fall, so it might be different.
 
Amy Saunders
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Miles Flansburg wrote:Amy, I am wondering what your water table is like?
Cottonwoods and lush grass sounds to me like you may have moisture in the ground, not to far down?
Have you tried digging a hole further out away from the cottonwoods? Just to see how wet the ground is?
Just wondering if you are working to hard, thinking that you have to plant them close to the irrigation water?

Also swales and hugelkultur may help with water.


The trees and grass are irrigated. The previous owners of our home used an expensive lawn/yard service, which is why they are so lush. I discontinued, due to the extensive chemical use. I plan to eliminate alot of the grass, plant a food forest, and generally make the yard more manageable. I know it will look less lush, but I'm hoping it will still be nice and pretty?

I'm in the foothills of the Rockies, in Northern Utah. Our well is 100' deep, and static water is about 50', I've been told. We haven't opened it up, so I'm not sure. I am sure, though, that our water table is pretty deep.
 
Amy Saunders
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Thank you all SO much for your helpful replies! I'm part of the way through my order, and the rest will go much easier, due to your suggestions!
 
John Saltveit
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chop some cottonwood trees and grow oyster mushrooms on them. Then the spent substrate is much better soil and food for soil food web.
JohN S
PDX OR
 
Cam Mitchell
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Location: W. CO, 6A
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Amy Saunders wrote:Holy Mackerel! 375+ hole to dig? I think you SHOULD start a nursery!

I'm going to start digging soon, and won't receive some of the trees until April, and other in early May. I'm already sore.
LOL yeah, I'm thinking seriously about starting the nursery. We have some pathetic nurseries in the area, but it's all stuff that's grown elsewhere, and just resold.
It's all normal boring plants, not cool permie stuff. ("What's a persimmon?" or "I've never heard of a sea berry or pawpaw.") There's a market for this, I think. I also just heard about a Permaculture CSA starting up in the area. I think that's called a niche!

Amy Saunders wrote:Do you need to keep the grass back that far if the trees are just whips, with little roots less than a foot in diameter?

Well, the trees aren't always going to be that small. In most trees, the roots likely extends outside the canopy. If it were me, I would clear the grass and plant comfrey and your ground covers, to help build soil and support the growing trees, as well as acting as living mulch. The Bullock Brothers plant a N-fixing plant with each fruit tree. Works for them!

Good luck!
 
Cortland Satsuma
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Cam Mitchell wrote:
Amy Saunders wrote:Holy Mackerel! 375+ hole to dig? I think you SHOULD start a nursery!

I'm going to start digging soon, and won't receive some of the trees until April, and other in early May. I'm already sore.
LOL yeah, I'm thinking seriously about starting the nursery. We have some pathetic nurseries in the area, but it's all stuff that's grown elsewhere, and just resold.
It's all normal boring plants, not cool permie stuff. ("What's a persimmon?" or "I've never heard of a sea berry or pawpaw.") There's a market for this, I think. I also just heard about a Permaculture CSA starting up in the area. I think that's called a niche!



Yep, That is what we decided to do too...we are putting over 2k seedlings this spring.
 
Cam Mitchell
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Location: W. CO, 6A
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Cortland Satsuma wrote:Yep, That is what we decided to do too...we are putting over 2k seedlings this spring.

Ouch. I hope you have help, and an auger/tractor!
To anyone else doing this, make sure to score/break up the slick sides of the hole after digging. Need to give the roots a place to get their...roots in.
 
Cortland Satsuma
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Location: (Zone 7-8/Elv. 350) Powhatan, VA (Sloped Forests & Meadow)
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@Cam...

Tractor, backhoe, drag harrow, 9" & 12" Auger, 1 man post hole digger. Trenching out, putting down a layer of gravel (vole prevention), layers of compost and mixed media. It is still a lot of long, hard work! We will let you know if we succeed in about a month.
 
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