When it comes time to plant a fruit tree, patience pays for itself many times over. Most of the problems we see with tree fruits come from two sources: failing to select appropriate crops for a site and failing to prepare the site before planting. We dealt with crop selection in Tree Fruits: Crops to Grow. Now let’s consider site preparation.
Poor soil drainage is a very common cause of problems in a home orchard. Fruit trees on wet soils often fail to thrive, growing slowly, and eventually succumbing to root diseases. Peaches and other stone fruits are especially prone to problems on poorly drained sites.
Gardeners often add compost or other organic matter to heavy soils to improve drainage. In reality, most organic materials have high water-holding capacities and increase drainage problems when added to already heavy soils. Likewise, adding sand to soils on a low-lying site does nothing to improve drainage unless there is a way for water to drain away from the site.
Drainage tiles (buried pipes with holes along the sides) can be used to drain excess water away from a planting site, provided you have a lower-lying area for the water to drain to. For one or a few trees, raised planting beds twelve inches or more high can significantly improve drainage, particularly when heavy native soils are amended with sand or a lighter-textured soil is brought in to create the beds. For a fruit tree, a bed ten feet in diameter should suffice. The beds can be contained within walls or sloped from the centers outward. Apples and pears on dwarfing rootstocks and peach genetic dwarfs have been successfully grown in large (approximately 20 to 50 gallon) containers. Container culture requires great care to ensure adequate irrigation and fertilization, and to prevent girdling roots.