Fruit Tree Site Selection
By: National Gardening Association Editors
Most fruit trees need 8 hours of sun each day, so a planting site that receives full sun is your first priority. Early morning sun dries dew off the foliage quickly and minimizes diseases; midday and early afternoon sun improves fruit flavor. Plant fruit trees far enough from shade trees to provide adequate light and to minimize root competition. Your site should have good air drainage. Avoid low spots and areas enclosed by buildings or shade trees, where cold air settles, causing trees to suffer from winter cold and spring frost injury.
The North Slope
A north-facing slope or north side of a building is a good site for frost-sensitive crops such as peaches, Japanese plums, sweet cherries, and apricots. The shadow cast by the slope or building in winter keeps the plant cooler, which delays bud development and bloom in spring, while the higher summer sun angle provides enough light during the growing season. Fruit ripening will also be delayed on a north slope. A south-facing slope or wall hastens both bloom and harvest, and requires extra protection from frosts as well as from winter sunscald. In areas with short or frequently cloudy growing seasons, the hardier fruits (apples, pears, tart cherries, and European or American hybrid plums) do better on a south-facing slope or wall, which receives more intense light.
Fruit Trees in the Heat
Where summers are very hot and dry, avoid south or southwestern slopes, or give the trees plenty of irrigation. East- and west-facing slopes have intermediate effects. In areas with strong winds, choose a site protected by existing plantings or buildings, or plant a windbreak. Windbreak trees can also serve as border plantings or screens, provide shelter and nesting sites for insect-eating birds, and may lure pest birds away from your fruit trees. In addition to the right amount of sun and air, soil type should be a major consideration in choosing a site. Once you plant a fruit tree, it will remain in the same spot for many years, so it pays to examine and prepare soil carefully before you plant. Even if this means delaying tree planting by a year, you'll gain back that year in increased tree growth and health.
Conditions Fruit Trees Like
Your Extension Service agent can provide useful soil survey information. Fruit trees need well-drained soil. Avoid low areas where water puddles during rains. If you don't have any well-drained sites, you can install drainage tiles or build raised mounds or beds (6 to 8 inches high and as wide as the mature tree's spread) where you'll plant the trees. To make mounds, mix equal parts soil from other areas of the yard with compost. If you bring in topsoil of a different texture, mix it into your own soil well.
You will also need to build raised beds if your soil is not deep enough for the trees' roots--at least 3 feet of soil for trees on dwarfing rootstocks, and at least 5 feet of soil for standard-size trees. If you think your soil is shallow, dig a hole or use a soil auger to the necessary depth. While digging, look for an abrupt change in soil texture. Watch for soil that suddenly becomes very clayey; this type of soil will restrict water drainage and root growth into the soil below. Although good soil drainage is one of the most important factors for fruit trees, soil texture will influence their growth. Loam soils, clay loams, or sandy loams are better for fruit trees than very sandy or heavy clay soils.
Different fruit tree rootstocks are adapted to different conditions. Some rootstocks tolerate clayey soils well and others withstand sandy soils. In general, peaches, sweet cherries, Japanese plums, and apricots do better in sandy soils; apples, pears, tart cherries, and European plums do better in heavier soils.