Soil prep before tree planting

It’s time to do some soil preparation before you plant your fruit trees.

Lush green manure crop
Lush green manure crop

It’s a great idea, if you have time, to plant an autumn green manure crop. This is particularly important if:

  1. you have poor soil
  2. you don’t have enough topsoil
  3. you’re planting a tree into an area where a tree has died or you’re aware there has been disease, or
  4. you’re keen to give your new trees the best possible start in life.
Clover is a great addition to a green manure mix
Clover is a great addition to a green manure mix

Here’s how to do it. You can either buy a green manure mix, or make your own—you can find both autumn and spring plant lists in our short course Build Soil Fertility with Green Manures.

We buy the seeds separately and mix them together in a bucket before sowing. You can also add some fine sand into the mix to help spread it evenly.

Mix the seed well before sowing
Mix the seed well before sowing

It’s a good idea to lightly work the soil up (by machine or digging with a shovel) before you spread the seed, then rake lightly to cover the seed with a fine layer of soil.

The idea is that you wait until the ‘autumn break’ before you plant, i.e., after the first decent rainfall event that signals the end of the summer dry. Depending on your area and climate, hopefully this has already happened and you’ll get enough natural rainfall for the crop to grow. 

If you live in a particularly dry area or are currently experiencing drought, it’s still worth trying to get a green manure crop started, but it’s only really practical to do this on a small area, because you’ll have to irrigate the crop to get any benefit.

Select your tree sites first, and then work the soil and plant the green manure crop in an area at least 1 square metre at each tree site.

Once the crop has grown (ideally to at least a few inches tall), turn it back into the soil. It’s good to do this a few weeks before you plant your fruit trees, to give the green matter a chance to break down in the soil.

It’s a pretty straighforward practice, but the benefits to the soil are enormous. If you use the right mix of seed you should be adding a wonderful nutritional boost, as well as some bulk material to increase the organic content of your soil and provide lots of lovely food for the soil microbes.

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