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Planting Peach Trees in Clay Soil

 
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Has anyone tried this?  I've been doing a lot of reading - I adore peaches, and I want to be able to grow my own, but our heavy clay soil isn't what peach trees like, at least not from what I've read.  One mitigating strategy is amending the clay with sand and compost, which I can do, but what happens when the roots of the peach tree out-grow the hole I've amended?  Do I need to dig a giant hole and amend the whole thing?  How deep do the amendments need to go?  

Is there an alternative planting strategy that will increase my chances of my peach trees thriving?  

Master Gardner YouTube offered a fruit-tree planting strategy of building a mound and planting above the ground for better drainage.  Does that work with peach trees?

Other suggestions/strategies?  

Thanks in advance...

CAL.  
 
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Peach and almonds are one of the few trees that grow well on yellow clay soil on my land.
They are verry tolerant of clay soil but adding manures,biochar and nitrogen fertiliser helps them grow faster.
We have plantations of peach trees in heavy clay soil and right next to it there is a brick factory that makes bricks from the soil.
 
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I agree with Mihai's suggestions and will add that you can plant them in a mound, mixing looser soil with the clay, gradually transitioning to the pure native soil. This will help especially during wet times. I know of a woman who grows peaches in a swamp in Georgia this way!
 
Andrea Cunningham
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James Landreth wrote:I agree with Mihai's suggestions and will add that you can plant them in a mound, mixing looser soil with the clay, gradually transitioning to the pure native soil. This will help especially during wet times. I know of a woman who grows peaches in a swamp in Georgia this way!



I am all for the idea of planting on a mound...  digging in our soil is no fun.  There is so much to do, it helps if I don't have to do *everything* the hard way.  
 
Mihai Ilie
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Planting them on a mound might not be the best idea because the mound could dissapear over time ,especially if its made from compost and the trees will be left with their roots airborne.
Even rain could wash away the mounds .
Planting on mounds its used in swamps and such places but those are big mounds wich take a lot more work to make than digging a hole.
You can dig it easy when the soil is moist and the hole doesnt have to be too big.
Also ,peaches dont like high ammounts of compost because they are trees that grow naturally on poore and arid clay soil.
When you plant a peach tree i highly recommend to not add any compost or manure at the begining because it could burn their roots.
 
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Peach trees grow great on heavy clay soil.  I've got 5 peach trees, all doing fantastic and our native soil is brick material.  At least it used to be brick hard, but after years of mulching with wood chips, its amazing.

Mulch, mulch, mulch, mulch, mulch.  Wood chips.

As you put wood chips down, the soil becomes lighter and drainage improves exponentially.  That's the secret to a thriving orchard on heavy clay soil: mulch.  Plant your tree and then put down 8 inches of wood chips all around it.  In six months, add another 8 inches because those chips will bread down quickly.
 
Andrea Cunningham
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Marco Banks wrote:Peach trees grow great on heavy clay soil.  I've got 5 peach trees, all doing fantastic and our native soil is brick material.  At least it used to be brick hard, but after years of mulching with wood chips, its amazing.

Mulch, mulch, mulch, mulch, mulch.  Wood chips.

As you put wood chips down, the soil becomes lighter and drainage improves exponentially.  That's the secret to a thriving orchard on heavy clay soil: mulch.  Plant your tree and then put down 8 inches of wood chips all around it.  In six months, add another 8 inches because those chips will bread down quickly.



Our first summer in the compound, the local utility was doing tree work around the power lines.  I told them they could dump as many wood chips as they wanted - we had the space, and I had been doing a lot of reading/youtubing about the no-dig approach to gardening.  Everyone else in the house thought I was nuts, but we've used wood chips for *everything* including temporary pathways, mulching beds, "paving" a parking area...  And now that we're 18 months in, what we haven't used as chips is turning into straight up compost and I'm not looking quite so crazy.  

In other words, I'm 100% prepared to follow the mulch, mulch, mulch advice.  The area that the trees are going into is already covered in a couple of inches of wood chips, I'll have to see about getting another truck load or two put into place so everything is prepared for when the trees arrive in the spring.  My current anxiety is over having the trees arrive and not being ready for them.  
 
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Andrea,

LOTS of great information here.  I grew 8 peach trees for a number of years right in dense clay.

Whenever I plant a tree I always dig a nice, deep, broad hole.  In my case I was planting rootstock so digging was a bit easier.  I dug my holes, brought over a few bags of topsoil and manure (I get this from the big box store), and then mix the clay I dug up 50:50 with a mixture of equal parts manure and topsoil. I try to break up clay clumps as much as possible.  I also add in a bit of bonemeal for improved rooting.  Then I backfill the hole with the soil mixture, stick the little tree in and cover everything with more soil mixture, pack down and put in a growing stake.  Make certain the hole is nice and deep, partly to ensure good drainage and water thoroughly.

Since you have the woodchips aplenty, by all means apply a generous layer in a nice big circle around the tree.

Feeling really ambitious?  You could try to plant comfrey about 18”-2’ away from the tree itself,  the comfrey is a nice companion plant and it’s leaves will drop and provide a nice chop and drop fertilization.

Feeling even more ambitious?  Try inoculating those woodchips with wine cap mushrooms.  You will likely want to start with a layer of chips at least 4-6 inches thick, spread the wine cap spawn, water and wait.  The comfrey should provide a bit of shade for the wine caps, and the wine caps will turn your woodchips into amazingly fertile compost filled with healthy microbes!  Even if you don’t want the mushrooms, the compost they leave behind is amazing.  Best of all, the peach tree, comfrey and wine caps all form a synergistic relationship.  I try to incorporate wine cap mushrooms into just about every corner of my garden and fruit patches.

Anyhow, these are just my thoughts.  Take them for whatever you think they are worth.

Eric
 
Andrea Cunningham
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Eric Hanson wrote:Andrea,

Feeling really ambitious?  You could try to plant comfrey about 18”-2’ away from the tree itself,  the comfrey is a nice companion plant and it’s leaves will drop and provide a nice chop and drop fertilization.

Feeling even more ambitious?  Try inoculating those woodchips with wine cap mushrooms.  You will likely want to start with a layer of chips at least 4-6 inches thick, spread the wine cap spawn, water and wait.  The comfrey should provide a bit of shade for the wine caps, and the wine caps will turn your woodchips into amazingly fertile compost filled with healthy microbes!  Even if you don’t want the mushrooms, the compost they leave behind is amazing.  Best of all, the peach tree, comfrey and wine caps all form a synergistic relationship.  I try to incorporate wine cap mushrooms into just about every corner of my garden and fruit patches.


Eric



I do want to get into the companion planting business.  I hadn't thought too much about mushrooms (not something I want to eat), but I was thinking about critter-repellent things to keep close like lavender, rosemary, and mint (all of which I find more interesting and useful than mushrooms...  I think it is the mushroom texture that gives me recoil.)
 
Eric Hanson
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Andrea,

Good for you for considering the companion planting.  Basically everything you mentioned seems like a good idea.

Regarding the mushrooms, I grow wine caps, but their main purpose is not a food crop.  I like the way Wine Caps taste, and the texture is not the slimy type that you may have had before.  To me, the mushrooms are a tasty side benefit, not the primary purpose.  

For me, the primary purpose of wine caps is the compost they make.  Since you have plenty of woodchips, you are in the position to be able to make amazing mushroom compost.  Mushroom compost is incredibly fertile stuff.  This last summer I planted in mushroom compost for the first time.  The plants (zucchini and other summer squash) were incredibly rich, dark green and healthy.  I was blown away by how well they grew.  Summer squash is a heavy feeder and I added no amendments whatsoever.  Nonetheless they were the best squash I have ever grown.

As the wine caps break down the woodchips they establish a rich colony of various microbes, microbes which help to feed the plants.  Were you to establish wine caps early, they will wrap themselves around the tree roots and feed them.  Something I found about my project was that wine caps grew best when plant roots were available.  I pulled a couple of small plants out of my garden and their roots were intertwined with wine cap mycelium.  And those plants were extremely healthy themselves.

I imagine that if you were to start a colony of wine caps (or a host of other mushrooms, but wine caps are just so easy) then they would get established with the tree roots and help it grow.  Like I said earlier, if you don’t like mushrooms, don’t eat them (I imagine that I would not like the taste of manure, but the plants certainly like the stuff!).  It is worth growing for what they will do for the plants themselves.

I don’t want to sound pushy, and in the end, do what is best for you.  Personally, I am incorporating wine caps into just about every part of my garden and if I decide to plant fruit trees again, I will establish them with the trees as well.

Do whatever is best for you!

Eric
 
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My peach trees are planted in Red Clay and are doing quite well, I did inoculate them with mycorrhizae at planting and again after their first full year of growing.

The problem with amending the soil of any tree planting hole is that the roots will want to circle inside that small area of good soil you provided, so they act as if they are in a pot and root bound.
Using mulch ontop of the soil is a far better use of any soil amendments for tree planting and if you inoculate with mycorrhizae, the minerals in that clay will become available to the tree through the actions of the fungi and the bacteria that fungi attracts.

Redhawk
 
Eric Hanson
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To RedHawk you listen!
 
Andrea Cunningham
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Eric Hanson wrote:Andrea,

As the wine caps break down the woodchips they establish a rich colony of various microbes, microbes which help to feed the plants.  Were you to establish wine caps early, they will wrap themselves around the tree roots and feed them.  Something I found about my project was that wine caps grew best when plant roots were available.  I pulled a couple of small plants out of my garden and their roots were intertwined with wine cap mycelium.  And those plants were extremely healthy themselves.

I imagine that if you were to start a colony of wine caps (or a host of other mushrooms, but wine caps are just so easy) then they would get established with the tree roots and help it grow.  Like I said earlier, if you don’t like mushrooms, don’t eat them (I imagine that I would not like the taste of manure, but the plants certainly like the stuff!).  It is worth growing for what they will do for the plants themselves.



I can be talked into trying just about anything, particularly if it is going to help me eat peaches out of my yard. Where does one even begin to get the necessary items for establishing wine caps? Is there a preferred purveyor for the spores or methodology for getting them started?
 
Eric Hanson
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I can give you two reputable sources.  The first, gold standard for all things fungal is fungiperfecti.com.  The second, the one I have used is fieldforest.net.  I can vouch for the latter.  They are very friendly and knowledgeable.

Hope this helps,

Eric
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:Whenever I plant a tree I always dig a nice, deep, broad hole.  In my case I was planting rootstock so digging was a bit easier.  I dug my holes, brought over a few bags of topsoil and manure (I get this from the big box store), and then mix the clay I dug up 50:50 with a mixture of equal parts manure and topsoil. I try to break up clay clumps as much as possible.  I also add in a bit of bonemeal for improved rooting.  Then I backfill the hole with the soil mixture, stick the little tree in and cover everything with more soil mixture, pack down and put in a growing stake.  Make certain the hole is nice and deep, partly to ensure good drainage and water thoroughly.



I'm going to be doing this as well as your wine cap suggestion and also mulching with hardwood as Redhawk suggested. Planting a Contender, currently in a pot and about 5'-6' tall. I'm wondering how deep and wide I should amend the soil to prevent the root circling issue mentioned? I have very heavy clay/loam for about a foot down, and then solid clay. I was thinking of roto-tilling pine bark and/or shredded mulch into the clay starting at the depth of the solid clay to 12" below that (maybe adding a slow release source of nitrogen to counteract the decomp), then doing your 50/50 mix of clay/manure/topsoil from the surface to where the clay starts. Good idea or should I go deeper? Asking for failure? Any alternate suggestions? If that plan is feasible I'm not sure if I should worry about settling as the bark/mulch/solid clay mixture broke down.
 
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Brent Montgomery wrote:

Eric Hanson wrote:Whenever I plant a tree I always dig a nice, deep, broad hole.  In my case I was planting rootstock so digging was a bit easier.  I dug my holes, brought over a few bags of topsoil and manure (I get this from the big box store), and then mix the clay I dug up 50:50 with a mixture of equal parts manure and topsoil. I try to break up clay clumps as much as possible.  I also add in a bit of bonemeal for improved rooting.  Then I backfill the hole with the soil mixture, stick the little tree in and cover everything with more soil mixture, pack down and put in a growing stake.  Make certain the hole is nice and deep, partly to ensure good drainage and water thoroughly.



I'm going to be doing this as well as your wine cap suggestion and also mulching with hardwood as Redhawk suggested. Planting a Contender, currently in a pot and about 5'-6' tall. I'm wondering how deep and wide I should amend the soil to prevent the root circling issue mentioned? I have very heavy clay/loam for about a foot down, and then solid clay. I was thinking of roto-tilling pine bark and/or shredded mulch into the clay starting at the depth of the solid clay to 12" below that (maybe adding a slow release source of nitrogen to counteract the decomp), then doing your 50/50 mix of clay/manure/topsoil from the surface to where the clay starts. Good idea or should I go deeper? Asking for failure? Any alternate suggestions? If that plan is feasible I'm not sure if I should worry about settling as the bark/mulch/solid clay mixture broke down.



My opinion, after planting literally hundreds of trees, is that the best way to prevent the root circling issue is not to amend the hole at all.  If you create a fertile hole with native soil all around, the tree will root well through the fertile hole, hit the sides where you stopped amending, and be stunted from that point forward.  If you plant in native soil, the tree grows in it and can deal with it.  I have heavy clay soil and all my trees are doing very well since I stopped amending the holes at all.  Now I plant the tree, mulch around it heavily with wood chips, and if it looks like it needs some help, I put some compost on top of the wood chips and let the water wash it in.  I used to be one of the guys that believed "it's better to put a $5 tree in a $100 dollar hole than a $100 tree in a $5 hole."  I ruined a  number of trees that way.  No need to take my word for it.  Plant one tree in native soil and one in a heavily amended hole and compare your results in a year or so.  I would do it with cheap trees though, and plant your good ones like I suggested :)

For your tree that is coming from the pot, I would wash the good soil off it and plant it bare root.  
 
Brent Montgomery
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Ok thanks. In regards to mulch, I've read that the wine cap spawn I've ordered needs hardwood mulch, which I'll be layering with straw. Can I put some shredded pine bark mulch on the bottom of my 6" deep mulch layer in order to incorporate something that decomposes faster? I also do not have access to aged wood chip mulch, only fresh, not sure if that would be a problem. Thanks for the help!
 
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