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Joined: Tue Feb 08, 2011 6:21 pm
Location: Eugene, Oregon

Various fruit trees in clay soil

I want to plant cherries, figs, peach, pears, plum and filberts on my property.
The soil is clay and it remains moist until April. I'm in Eugene, Oregon and this will be my first experience with planting any tree. Any suggestions about planting in this environment would be appreciated.

Super Green Thumb
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Location: El Cerrito, CA

Right off the bat I would recommend the Sunset Western Garden Book for a discussion of which cultivars of these fruit trees do best in your locale. Sunset has a finely drawn system of climate zones, especially in the western states/provinces, *and* gives pointers on care of the recommended cultivars.

Just as an example, Eugene (Willamette Valley) is in Sunset climate zone 6 (Williamette and Columbia River Valleys). Looking at cherry trees, Sunset tells us that cherries are at their best in Sunset Zones 2, 6-9, 14, and 15. Despite all my best efforts, my beautiful cherry tree (half barrel) flowers but doesn't fruit; I live in Zone 17--generally not enough chill hours.

So you're in the right place for cherries. Now to cultivars....

LOTS of 'em! For me, maybe two....

The Sunset Western Garden Book is often available as a circulating library book, so once you've done your research (it also provides LOTS of detail on needed care/pruning/culture of the trees) you can turn it back in. Or if you decide you want to keep it around, it's available used (7th ed.) or new (8th ed.) from almost anywhere: gardening stores, hardware stores, bookstores, etc.

Cynthia H.
Sunset Zone 17, USDA Zone 9

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Location: Oregon

Hello, neighbor! :)

I have soil exactly like yours. The problem with heavy clay soil is that water tends to drain into the planting hole from the surrounding soil, much like a dry well. To avoid this, you want to dig the hole no deeper than the root ball. Remove the soil from the top of the root ball until you find the first root. Plant the tree so that that first root is just below the surface of the soil. Some areas of my yard have standing water in the rainy season. If I have to plant in such an area, I plant so that the top of the root ball is actually 1 to 3 inches above the surface of the surrounding soil, then I mound the soil around it.

Dig the hole wide and bowl-shaped, avoiding steeply vertical sides. I dig the holes at least 2 times the width of the root ball. Make sure to rough up the surfaces of the interior walls of the hole. I find the small pickaxe that I used to take along on camping trips works very well for this purpose.

When you plant your tree, backfill with the soil you removed. If you fill the hole with a lighter mix than the surrounding soil, it will exacerbate the drainage problem. You can add some compost, about 1/3 of the total volume, but don't add anything like sand. It will only make it more likely that water will drain into the hole and stand there, causing the the tree's roots to rot.

I have a cherry tree and an apple tree.

HTH! :)
"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" - Douglas Adams

Super Green Thumb
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Joined: Mon Mar 29, 2010 3:43 am


How big an area are we talking. Orientation, slope, wide open full sun?


My orchard is made up of berms and swales on contour. Slight slope facing north about 1/4 acre deer fenced. I'd rather it be sloping south.

Last edited by DoubleDogFarm on Thu Sep 08, 2011 6:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Greener Thumb
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Location: SUSSEX

Our orchards are all planted into Wealden Clay. A rather nasty material to handle as it is either too wet and sticky or rock hard.
It's one redeeming feature is that it retains moisture pretty well in dry periods and it does not leach nutrients anywhere near as much as the lighter soils do.
We do find that it pay to delay planting until the early spring so that new trees are not just sitting in the cold wet soil until they break into growth in the spring. Also trees do need a good stake as wind rock will rapidly form a sealed ' pot ' around the root system which can detere the roots from growing out into the surrounding soil.
Ph is usually pretty near to neutral and once a tree is established they are not so difficult to control as the soil itself acts a brake on its vigour.

Patience is all that's needed.
An apple a day.....keeps me in work.

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Joined: Sun Jul 25, 2010 4:41 pm
Location: central Texas

The garden/orchard here is brown clay, and here are a few things that have worked..........

The fig trees, pear trees, mulberry trees, and muscadine vines grow well in moist clay that is covered with plenty of mulch, but I still prefer to start each one above the undisturbed ground.

The peaches, plums, various citrus, papayas, paw paws, and blueberries strugggle with the clay too much, so I always plant them above the clay in very large plastic pots, in raised beds, or in separate mounds formed on top. All 3 are filled with or made of sandy, organic, rich soil mix. The blueberries are actually in giant pots filled with 50% peat moss mixed with 50% finely shredded pine bark mulch.

I don't disturb the very-packed clay when forming a new mound on top because I don't want water sitting in clay gaps, cracks, holes caused by digging a hole in the airtight, packed clay and pushing back chunks of hard clay to fill in the hole after the plant is set down on the ground. Instead, I just pour out onto the ground the contents of several bags of potting soil, composted cow manure, and the like...and mix the stuff up with shovel work. I form the round mound shape, push away the center soil to make a hole, and then set the fruit tree's root ball in that center spot after loosening the tightly wrapped roots. Since the mound will eventually settle lower, I stack the soil mix a few inches higher than the top of the root ball.

Regarding which varieties of fruit to buy and plant,I would ask you to do a lot of local studying before buying the plants. Your county extension agents, local independent nurseries, local pick-your-own fruit orchards, local individuals who grow fruit, etc. can save you lots of $$, years, and frustration by giving info on WHICH FRUIT TREES WORK WELL THERE. That is the bottom line.

National box stores are known for ordering plant inventory without care or concern about your orchard's success by shipping in inferior or 'just won't fruit here" fruit trees. Regretfully, fruit trees are persnickity. On the other hand, the best-for-your- area, high quality, productive, disease-resistant fruit trees planted correctly and cared for is a real good thing to strive for and benefit from for years. Good Luck!

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