fruit trees and clay soil

jafarmSeptember 20, 2008


I live in Carmel of Indiana. I would like to plant fruit trees in my backyard but soil seems to be clay and is very poorly drained. The first 5" of top soil is very nutritiou: lawn is doing really well, plus I see a lot of earthwarms in that layer. However, when I dig further, the draining ability is getting worse and worse. For example, I dug 1' hole and poured 1 gallon of water. It has been two hours and water drained only 1/16 of inch. I beleive this soil is not good for planting fruit trees. However, before quitting this idea, i would like to learn your experience with fruit trees and roses in clay soil. Any suggections and recommendations will be welcomed.

thank you,

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bluebars(7 MD)

Exactly what you describe is what we have, as do most people who live in relatively new homes. (Developers take all the good soil away and sell it before building.) We hired a landscaper to plant 8 beautiful 8-foot tall Dragon Lady holly trees (for lots of $$!). They were beautiful for a few months, but then leaves began to turn yellow and drop and they all died within the year. The one-year guarantee was honored, and all were replanted. The same thing happened within the following year, all died. The guarantee was honored once again the third year, but Dragon Ladies could not be found wholesale. We searched high and low and paid retail for 8 more, which the landscaper planted at no additional cost. BUT, here on GardenWeb, some nice guy described how they were probably being planted in nice round "buckets" of clay. Sure enough, he was right. This time, the landscaper was forced to replace ALL of the soil, and GOOD soil, and enough to keep the trees alive, PLUS install drainage lines. Now, 5 years later, the trees are thriving and healthy. Frankly, I think a professional landscaper should have known better in the first place.
Wordy, I know, but does that answer your question?

    Bookmark   September 21, 2008 at 2:50PM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

One way to get around the problem of poorly draining sub-soil is to make berms where you want to plant. It is a pain to do, to find clean topsoil, and to make SURE that what you ordered is what you got, as well as getting/renting a Bobcat (or equivalent) to spread it all out evenly, but making shallow, sloping mounds (up to 3-4' high at the centers, more usually 12-18", and as wide and long as you want in your yard - hopefully winding in gentle curves, to give interest to a possibly flat yard), over the area you want to plant trees/shrubs, as well as mixing in perennials, will give the needed drainage, and give the trees enough room for roots to spread as needed, without needing to go straight into the heavy clay. Roots will eventually go into the clay, but enough roots will be in the lighter stuff that the trees (or shrubs) should do just fine.

Mulching over the whole area will also help - keeps the soil more evenly moist, keeps it cooler, and keeps grass and weed root competition down, as well as keeping string trimmers and waywrd lawn-mowers away from vulnerable trunks.

That said, I think I would still stay away from the plants that are VERY drought tolerant or that NEED dry feet and great drainage - lavender comes to mind, as a shrub exemplar.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2008 at 4:31PM
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