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How to Plant Fruit Trees and Grapevines

Planting bare root First Kiss apple trees in
Otsego, MN in April 2019.
Photo: Annie Klodd
Once you plant fruit trees, fruit shrubs, or grapevines on your property, they will be there for many years. Where and how you plant them will have important impacts on their long term success.

Follow this process to plant fruit trees:
  1. Choose a site with full sun. Most fruit types require full sun exposure. A few types, like currants and elderberries, can produce fruit in partial shade but have better yields in full sun. Therefore, select a site that is fully sun for most or all of the day. If planting fruit shrubs or vines along the side of a building, they will be most successful on the south-facing wall. 
  2. Choose a well-drained site. Avoid areas where water tends to accumulate, or areas with heavy clay soil at shallow depths.
  3. Do a soil test to determine whether your soil is suitable for fruit. Based on the soil test results, amend your soil accordingly by spreading or incorporating the appropriate amount of fertilizer and organic matter prior to planting. For more information on taking and interpreting a soil test, visit this article in the Fruit and Vegetable News.
  4. Plant dormant bare root plants in late April or May. It is best to select plants that are dormant or only in early stages of bud break, and to plant them in the spring. If it is necessary for you to wait until June to plant, the tree will still survive but it may experience more transplant shock and may not acclimate as well to the next winter. If planting container-grown plants instead of bare root plants, there is more flexibility to plant the tree later.
    A bare root apple tree seedling, showing the graft
    union and root ball. Photo: UMN Extension.
  5. Soak the roots of bare root trees briefly in water. If you have purchased bare root plants, soak the roots in water for approximately 20 minutes before planting. This helps ensure that the roots do not desiccate after planting. 
  6. For potted trees, water the tree before planting to lessen the transplant shock.
  7. Dig the hole: For bare root trees, use an auger or shovel to dig a hole several inches deeper than the length of the tree’s roots, and 2-3 times wider than the width of the root ball. If planting a large number of trees, it is most efficient to use a gas-powered or Bobcat-mounted auger to dig the holes rather than a shovel. If only planting a small number of trees, a shovel is sufficient. It is helpful, on a small scale, to set out a tarp or bedsheet to collect the soil as it is taken out of the hole. Otherwise, the soil has a tendency to disappear into the surrounding grass, making it more difficult to re-fill the hole. This tarp method is not efficient if planting a large quantity of trees. 
  8. Adding compost to the hole: If your soil is low in organic matter, you may add a small amount of compost to the hole. Often, this step is not necessary. In regards to fertilizer, it is not necessary to add fertilizer to the hole. Fertilizer should be incorporated before or after planting.
  9. Plant the tree and back fill the hole: Suspend the plant upright in the hole, making sure that the base of the stem is roughly at the top of the hole. If planting a grafted tree (dwarf and semi-dwarf apple trees are grafted to a rootstock), the graft union should be 2-3 inches above the top of the hole. Never bury the graft union. Back fill the whole and very lightly tamp the soil into the hole as you fill it. Avoid placing large clods of soil or blocks of clay next to or directly onto the roots. Large clods will cause air pockets in the soil and cause drainage issues, and clay is difficult for roots to penetrate. Break up large clods before back filling them into the hole.
  10. Water the tree thoroughly after planting. The soil will settle somewhat when watered.
For more information on planting and growing specific types of fruit, visit the UMN Extension Yard and Garden Fruit pages. 

Author: Annie Klodd, Extension Educator - Fruit and Vegetable Production


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