Fruit Trees: How To Prepare Soil For Planting

How To Prepare Soil for Planting Fruit TreesHi dear friends!

Thank you for being so patient awaiting the next post in my Fruit Tree series. In my last post I covered the all-important topic of how to dig a hole in the desert for your beloved baby fruit tree(s). Now, we’ll take a closer look at how to prepare your soil for the big planting day. This process can be used for both bare root fruit trees as well as containerized fruit trees.

An important note before we begin… For those of you who live in a similar climate to Las Vegas, Nevada (a.k.a. hot, arid and windy), your bare root fruit tree planting opportunity has come and gone for this year. No need to fret though. After following along with my Fruit Tree series this year, you will be well-equipped with the knowledge you need to be successful and fully prepared for next season’s planting in February.

Still want to plant a fruit tree this year? You can certainly plant containerized fruit trees this season, but I highly advise against planting them now or during the heat of summer. I’m also not a huge fan of containerized fruit trees, but that’s just me being super protective of my orchard. Be sure to check out my three-part post on bare root fruit trees vs. containerized fruit trees to see the pros and cons of both. Planting now allows very little time for your new trees to recover from the stress of planting and to settle into its new home before getting blasted by our heat and wind. The best time to plant containerized fruit trees is in the fall when our weather begins settles down.

For those of you who wish to review my Fruit Tree series at a later date, it’s easy! I’ve setup a blog navigation page dedicated to this series and placed a convenient link in the top navigation bar under Home Orcharding. As I fine-tune my current processes or discover and test out new techniques that support growing delicious and uber-healthy high brix/nutrient dense fruit, I’ll be sure to share that info with you by updating the appropriate page in my Fruit Tree series.

Tools and Supplies

Before you begin, be sure to gather together all of the supplies you’ll need to complete this step and set up everything near your planting site. The items I listed out below will help to make the soil preparation process go along smoothly.

  • Compost ~ Forest Waste / Green Waste Compost ~ buy the best quality compost you can afford (approximately 1/2 to 1 yard per fruit tree) ~ avoid compost that has additives or chemical fertilizers added (such as Ammonium Sulfate)… these do quick work of killing off precious microbiology for your soil and sets up a huge roadblock in growing nutrient dense fruit.
  • Wheel Barrel (or two)
  • Something to sift dirt through ~ a few years back, hubby put together a large sifter using 2×4’s and 1″ welded wire screen. It’s held up wonderfully and has taken lots of abuse over the years. It really does the trick sifting out rocks.

Soil Sifter for Fruit Trees

  • Three or Four 5-Gallon Buckets ~ 1 bucket to cart off rocks, 1 bucket to hold and measure out native soil, and 1 bucket to hold and measure out compost. Having that extra bucket helps save your back ~ will share more about that below.
  • Shovel
  • Steel Bow Rake
  • Standard Garden Hose with a Spray Nozzle Attachment
  • Local / native soil ~ you should have a nice big pile after digging your planting hole.
  • Heavy Duty Gloves
  • Mask ~ helps to keep the dust out of your nose and lungs.
  • Protective Eye Wear
  • Plenty of water ~ stay hydrated.
  • High Brix/Nutrient Dense Amendments (see below)

A special note about compost

When it comes to buying compost, be sure to select the highest quality compost your budget can afford ~ your soil and fruit trees will love you for it. Need to buy a budget-friendly manure compost? Organic is always best with this type of compost and it should be free of GMO’s including GMO-corn/grain fed cattle or poultry waste. It may still contain antibiotics and other veterinarian-type pharmaceuticals along with organic pesticides, etc. Even some forest waste/green waste compost can contain contaminants you may not appreciate in your compost. Just make sure you do your research first before buying. When buying bulk, always ask to see soil testing results of the compost you wish to purchase and pay careful attention to the section where they list the acceptable levels of contaminants such as biosolids, harmful bacterias and pathogens, etc. Also ask for sodium levels. High levels of sodium/salts can lead to soil issues later on.

When estimating how much compost to purchase and how much native soil you’ll need to use, keep in mind a couple of things: 1) how many bare root fruit trees you’ll be planting, and 2) how deeply you dug your hole(s).

Our time-tested soil preparation process uses a soil mixture of 50% non-amended native soil and 50% compost. You may also need extra compost if you plan to ‘heel-in’ your newly purchased bare root fruit trees shortly after their arrival.

How to Prepare Your Soil For Planting

What I’m about to share with you is our “go-to” process, but you can certainly accomplish this task using whatever approach works best for you. We tend to be on the, well, picky side. For those of you who prefer a more flexible and “loose” approach, by all means, do it your way as long as the end result is the same.

Let’s get started…

Step 1 ~ Get Those Gloves On

You’re gonna need em’.

I’m gonna be upfront with you. This process is work. I wouldn’t say grueling hard work, but work all the same. And for us, well worth it. Soil prep makes a huge difference and our orchard speaks volumes to this fact. Our trees are very happy, healthy and fruitful in part to this preparation step.

Step 2 ~ Load Up The Compost

After setting up all of the tools and supplies needed to begin, we usually start off by loading up one wheel barrel with compost and placing it near the planting site. Chances are your pile of compost is elsewhere on your property, so plan on making a few trips to grab more. With this in mind, its helpful to keep a clear path for your travels back-and-forth.

Soil Preparation for Fruit Trees

Next, we place a second wheel barrel near the first one and set the homemade sifter on top. By looking at the photo below, you can see our setup… wheel barrel with compost on the right ~ wheel barrel for sifting on the left. Makes the process go along smoothly. Easy peasy. Planting Fruit TreesAs I mentioned earlier, hubby put together a sturdy sifter when we first started planting fruit trees on our property and it’s held up admirably through many fruit tree planting sessions.  The 1″ squares on the welded wire screen works beautifully to sift out unwanted rocks and debris. Keep in mind that you do not need to remove all of the rocks, just the larger ones. I also remove any obvious caliche chunks, which are creamy or whitish in color.

Step 3 ~ Start Sifting and Mixing

This step is a no-brainer. To do a 50/50 mix of native soil and compost, we simply grab a 5-gallon bucket full of native soil and a 5-gallon bucket full of compost and mix/sift them together through the sifter. Just do equal amounts of each as you go along. The result… a 50/50 mix 😀

Tip: Lifting several buckets full of native soil can quickly become exhausting. To help with this, hubby usually fills two buckets 1/2 way up with the native soil vs. full buckets to offset the weight.

To help blend things up better, we alternate the compost and the native soil when we load up the sifter. When the mixture gets close to the top of the wheel barrel, we remove the sifter and do a quick final mix with either a shovel or by hand. This is something that we do, but you could certainly skip this extra step. As the mixture is poured into the planting hole, some natural “mixing” of the native soil and compost will automatically occur and is probably sufficient.

Soil Preparation for Fruit TreesSoil Preparation for Fruit TreesSoil Preparation for Fruit Trees

Step 4 ~ Start Filling The Planting Hole

With the first batch of 50/50 soil mixture ready-to-go, we simply roll the wheel barrel up to the edge of the hole and pour the mixture in.

Now, using a bow rake, we roughly level out the 50/50 soil mixture then water it in with a hose. Make sure your hose has a sprayer nozzle attachment. The goal here is to help the soil settle by wetting it down versus flooding it.Soil Preparation for Fruit Trees

Soil Preparation for Fruit TreesWe continue the process of sifting, dumping, smoothing, and wetting until the 50/50 soil mixture is a few inches above the soil surface to allow for settling. At this point, be careful not to step on the soil of your freshly filled hole. If you plan to plant your fruit tree immediately after filling your hole (which I do not recommend ~ see below), avoid saturating the top 12 to 18-inches or so with water to make it easier for digging and planting.

Be sure to mix up one to two 5-gallon buckets full of the 50/50 mix to set aside for building up a water well around the base of your fruit tree.

Step 5 ~ Kick Start Those Soil Microbes!

Note ~ This Is The Foundation For Growing High Brix/Nutrient Dense Fruit

An important part of growing high brix/nutrient dense fruit is to build up the soil microbiology within the soil your fruit trees grow in. Why? Bottom-line is this…

“If you want to maximize yield, plant health, and nutrient density (quality) then you must maximize the nutrition/energy given to the plant.”

~ Jon Frank, International Ag Labs

To accomplish this, one must build soil health which also means building the soil microbe population. These miraculous microscopic soil super heroes breakdown important nutrients in the soil and pony-express this nutrition directly to your beloved fruit trees. Though more complex than we have time to discuss here, this symbiotic relationship brings so much more to your fruit trees than any type of hand-delivered “fertilizer” ever could.

In this super hero group I also include earthworms. These small organic matter munchers are a powerhouse in and of themselves, bringing a multitude of benefits to the health of your soil and boosting your microbe population with their beneficial nutrients.

So, here’s how we kick-start our soil for planting…

One of the best ways we have found to do this is by using the John & Bob’s suite of products. For our orchard and garden, we purchase the Lifeless Soil kit. The 4,000 square foot quantity will last us about two years. A little goes a long way and is only required 2x per year. The application of this product alone has resulted in a very high microbe population in our soil ~ confirmed by recent soil testing through International Ag Labs + our own Brix testing. Just follow their instructions to apply.

Another way to boost the microbes in the soil is to use a high quality microbial tea. Just spray it on or water it in lightly onto the surface of the soil and let these soil super heroes do their work. We have just recently started incorporating home-brewed tea into our regimen and our trees and garden are responding quite favorably so far. This topic is certainly worthy of a dedicated post, so stay tuned. Interested in learning more about this topic? Leave me a comment below.

For those of you who decide to purchase a pre-mixed microbial tea blend make certain that the manufacturer is able to provide proven results. Steer clear of folks who “talk-a-good-talk”, but fail to deliver actual data on the number and types of microbes from tested brew. Again, more on this important topic to come.

Now might also be the perfect time to introduce some worms into the soil if you feel so inclined. We’ve tried to incorporate worms after the planting process with little success in the past. Probably a result of the wrong type of worms, heat of summer, etc. For future soil prep, we would like to try Alabama Jumpers. Hopefully they will do much better then their predecessor. What types of worms are you using successfully in desert conditions? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below.

Plan to do one or all of these high brix/nutrient dense kick-start recommendations a couple of weeks before planting so you can super-charge your soil with microbes and be well on your way to growing high brix/nutrient dense fruit!

Ready to Plant Now?

Personally, I like to wait a few weeks to let the microbe population build-up and for the soil to settle before planting. Certainly, the tree can go in the ground just after filling. Just kick-start your soil at the time of planting or shortly afterwards.

Soil Preparation for Fruit Trees

Next up in the Fruit Tree series I will be discussing what to do once your tree(s) arrive. Until we talk again, be sure to visit your garden and orchard often 😀

Be sure to check out the next post in my fruit trees series ~ My Trees Arrived, Now What?

God Bless,




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Filed under Fruit Tree How To Series

12 responses to “Fruit Trees: How To Prepare Soil For Planting

  1. Jeff

    Great blog. I’m new to backyard orcharding. So if I understand you right, you do not add any fertilizer throughout the year? You just add the lifeless soil kit twice a year with compost tea? Or do you add more compost during dormant season? Thanks

    • Hi Jeff. So glad you enjoy my blog. I apologize for the late response ~ I usually try to respond sooner. Yes, that is correct. I refrain from applying fertilizers during the first year of planting. That first year I focus on building the soil and life beneath my trees to facilitate the microbial/root connection. I also want my baby trees to push root growth and top growth versus flowers and fruit. I also try not to hasten the top growth by applying lots of nitrogen. I want steady healthy growth.

      To encourage soil life/health, I do add the John & Bob’s lifeless soil kit 2x each year ~ a little goes a very long way with this product. And yes, I do make up my own compost tea with fresh worm castings and add in some cold pressed liquid fish (nitrogen), cold pressed neem oil (some minimal nutrients ~ insect protection), and blackstrap momlassses (to feed good bacteria in the soil and on the tree). I do this every 14 days or so throughout the growing season. Yes, I do add a layer of compost (green waste ~ not animal manure) on top of the soil under each tree in late fall as the leaves are dropping.

      I will be writing a post with more of these details.

  2. I really liked the combining of the compost and dirt. I have used a homemade sifter like that with wheels on a track. It makes it go so much quicker and is easier on the back. Thanks for all the information on planting a great tree.

    • Thank you so much for visiting my blog 🙂 I’m so glad you you like the info I’m providing on planting fruit trees. More to come! Sorry for the delay in response ~ I do try to respond much sooner than this. Just been busy harvesting my delicious fruit 😀

  3. Margaret Rosin

    Thank you for this fruit tree blog, very informative. I also have a garden and orchard here in the Vegas desert, which I planted just last year.. I have about ten different fruit trees, and I am eager to get more in, although space is limited. I have yet to get more than a few fruits per tree, as they are still very young, but my fig and pomegranate look promising. The high winds took my 20 or so plums and pluots away : ( . Maybe next year.

    I was interested to see that you add amendments to the native soil. There are so many differing views on how to plant, I get so confused. I was advised to not add any (although I did dig a big hole and removed the majority of biggish rocks before replacing), because the tree roots will stay in the improved soil instead getting accustomed to the native soil, and thereby staying in the hole instead of spreading out (or so goes the theory). I am also using a deep mulch of wood chips over my entire yard, and they are transforming the native sandy soil into a beautifully dark and rich humus. I was told that this addition should bring in all the microbes and worms just by itself, and I have noticed that it has- although my chickens are loving it and making a terrible mess! I do make compost tea that I use as a soil drench and foliar spray. We’ll see my results when my fruit are ready to harvest. I’m so excited!

    Again, thank you and I will glue myself to any posts you write- they are so much appreciated. Your garden and fruit trees are amazing, so no doubt that what you are doing works! The next few trees I plant this fall will have amendments. plus a thick layer of tree mulch. I will compare the growth rate. Looking forward to future posts.

    • Hi Margaret,

      That’s so awesome you’re growing fruit trees here, too! I’m quite impressed with what you’re doing with your trees. Keep up the great work.

      As I’m sure you already know, home orcharding is a test in patience. My trees are now five years old and the wind still helps to thin out some of the fruit. Mine are now in full production, so the fruit lost to wind hardly makes an impact… it’s just helpful at this point.

      Re: amendments. I’m not sure where the urban legend started about trees not wanting to grow past amended soil, but my trees are proof that this belief is false. Perhaps they meant commercial/chemical N-P-K amendments added to soil (which I do not use)? Who knows. There have been a small handful of young trees that we’ve had to take out for one reason or another (part of orcharding), and every single tree had plenty of strong roots well established into the surrounding native soil.

      You’re definitely on the right track. Keep doing what you’re doing.

      • I’m a fellow desert (Las Vegas) grower (newbie but quick study)
        Excellent post on how to plant trees in the desert!
        My guess is that the ‘tree roots staying in the amended soil’ has more to do with water/moisture than amending the soil.

  4. Ranka

    Great information, can’t wait to read more. I wish I could buy John&Bobs Products over here. And YES, I definately want to hear more about . microbial tea. I have never tried to make one (and never heard it is possible to buy one), very interesting. I love to try new methods to enhance the soil. Recently I bought some kind of homeopathic fluid especially for plants in order to get them a good start. I will try to inoculate the soil in my herbs pots and in my tomatoe pots (I have to wait to plant them till mid May). Soil microbes are such an interesting topic.

    • Hi Ranka. It’s always nice to hear from you. John & Bob’s is awesome ~ they’re an on-line company but not sure they ship international? Shipping would probably cost a fortune. Not all microbial teas are made the same. I personally would steer clear of any “pre-packaged” microbial tea mixes (usually powder and you still have to brew it) ~ unless I absolutely trusted the source. A lot of companies are getting on the microbe band-wagon these days making product claims that they cannot support with data/testing. Also, using an small aquarium pump and an air stone does not produce a quality tea. You can make a highly effective “brew” for your soil and plants at home by using quality vermicompost, organic black strap molasses and the right equipment. Check out this link I absolutely trust this source.

      That is very interesting about the homeopathic fluid. I’ve heard of homeopathic brews using different herbs ~ we also make up a homeopathic foliar spray for our fruit orchard. You’ll have to let me know how this works for you.

  5. I found a guy selling Vegas red wigglers on craigslist for $30 per 1000. He claims they survive year round temperatures. I’ve yet to try but I will once I get to my trees in the fall.

    • Hi Chris,

      Thank you for the tip. My hubby and I purchased some “homegrown” worm castings a month or so ago here in Las Vegas. Probably from the same guy you’re talking about. Decent stuff, though I would not put his castings out directly into my garden ~ that’s just me. There were some weeds growing in it and a variety of bugs living in the castings ~ I think his operation is all done outdoors. I’ve been using the castings to brew microbial tea that I use in my orchard. The brewing process kills off the unwanted things. I also strain it really well using a very fine mesh.

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