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Shallow Clay Soil ... Orchard?

 
Stephen Mayer
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Hi All,

I'd love to plant a few fruit trees on my property but my soil is troublesome ... it does not drain well, is shallow (6-12 inches before hitting shale/rock) and is heavy red clay (you could likely make a pot out of it no problem!).

What do I need to do to plant fruit trees? Create swales or hugels and then plant on top? Bring in tons of dirt? Plant something that will add organic matter and rebuild the topsoil?

In case its helpful ... I'm in Nashville TN ... where I'd assume much of the soil is of the same type.

Thanks!
Stephen
 
John Wolfram
Posts: 632
Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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trees
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I'd probably just plant some trees and see how they do before starting earth moving projects. For example, for about $65 you can get a Honeycrisp Apple on EMLA 111 rootstock, a Red D'Anjou pear on OHF97 rootstock, and a Skeena cherry on Ginsela or Mazard rootstock from C&O Nursery.
 
Tim Malacarne
Posts: 226
Location: South central Illinois, USA
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What he said...

Sounds like a good idea to me, if you can spare the $$... Try it with what you've got first. Lots to read on the net, beware the teacup effect...

Good luck!
 
Tim Malacarne
Posts: 226
Location: South central Illinois, USA
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You know, I have long-admired those red soils...

I guess they'll darken with large applications of organic matter, right?
 
Stephen Mayer
Posts: 10
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I'm thinking of planting with heavy wood chips covering around the trees ... Adding more reach year to build organic matter as they break down.

The problem with doing an experiment is that it may take years to find out how they do ... I've read that apples don't like wet feet an am worried since other trees don't do too well nearby ... It's a big risk. I can only plant them shallow.
 
Tim Malacarne
Posts: 226
Location: South central Illinois, USA
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Our apple trees do very well in a poorly drained soil. The squirrels don't complain, and they're the ones eating all the apples...
 
chad Christopher
Posts: 290
Location: Pittsburgh PA
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chicken duck forest garden fungi trees woodworking
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Sure, get trees with clay tolerant rootstock. In my opinion, I would start some trees now, in a nursery to save some money and build soil for a few years. Pennsylvania is clay heavy, and we are covered in orchards, so...

Also maybe experiment with some things that are growing in a 100 mile radius. Such as filberts, crab apples, mulberry, wild plum, supposedly Bradford pears will grow in anything. Some cherries, elderberry, gooseberry, dogwood. I know your talking trees, but I've seen blackberries grow out of sidewalks. You can graft onto a lot of these later if you wish, or enjoy the variety
 
Stephen Mayer
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Maybe I should ask this in the tree board, but should I try starting root stock from seed? There's a company that sells southern heirloom fruit trees down here and I was going to order from them since they might be more locally acclimated.
 
Blake Wheeler
Posts: 166
Location: Kentucky 6b
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Why not try it (starting from root stock from seed that is)? Definitely recommend getting varieties acclimated to your climate. Especially if you're talking species that need a certain amount of chill hours.

Plant some trees and find out. After a couple years if they're struggling you can always just rip them out and try another angle. Bringing in dirt is an option, a very labor intensive one, and you'll likely end up with my clay anyway if that's what's in the area. Plant a few trees, mulch heavily to add organic matter, and see how it plays out. Drainage would be the real issue. Clay is bad enough as is without the shale underneath
 
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