Do Fruit Trees Grow in Clay Soil? (It Depends)

orange trees in orange grove

If you plan to grow fruit trees in clay soil, you might have to face some challenges. However, with a little bit of care, you can help your fruit tree grow many delicious fruits, even on heavy soils.

Although most fruit trees will grow in clay soil. Stone or Pome fruit such as apple peach, cherry, pears, and nectarines have the best chances of thriving in clay soil. They require at least 3 feet of topsoil in order for good root growth. If clay soil is dense adjust it with gypsum and compost.

Fruit trees need deep soil to develop and support their root systems. This is why well-drained soil is best for fruit trees, especially with sandy and loamy textures, which means a need to amend clay soil if they are not up to par with these textures. For plums and apples, free-draining ground is required. Apples on MM 106 can deal with heavier clay soils.

Clay Soil

Fruits trees grow best in deep, well-drained soil with some sandy, loamy texture. They need profound deep soil to help develop their deep root systems. Clay soils can be the soil to foster these plants. They are tough to work with, but once you get the hang of clay soils, they can turn out brilliant results in your garden.

Clay soils are rich in nutrients and can hold a lot of dampness inside.

These are the essential things that plants need to grow ideally. At the same time, many plants thrive in these conditions.

What is clay soil?

clay soil

Before we go on what grows well in clay soil, we need to give you an overview of clay soil.

Clay soil is developed of different compositions depending on the location; you might get clay soil in your area or get mixed soil.

Different soils have different characteristics due to many external factors acting upon each ground. There are physical, chemical biological factors, as well. Factors like soil, fertility, the health of the land, quality are some factors that affect the growth of fruit trees, respectively.

Clay soil – the lowdown

Clay soil can be a blessing or a curse for you. Clay soil indeed contains many benefits within each particle. This soil type is very fertile, and it can help the plants stay moist.

However, it would help if you worked hard for the clay soil to keep it safe from the sun’s rays.

One main consideration for it, too, is that only individual plants will flourish in these conditions.  

For clay soil, you have to put in some effort to improve its texture and productivity. If this is the general soil type in your garden, it is best to mulch generously in the spring season with well-rotted organic matter, coarse grit, or bark – around a barrow load per square meter.

Important Information about Clay Soil

Here are some important considerations when working with clay soil that may help you foster fruit trees in it.

  • Do not walk over the clay when it’s wet. Try to keep off clay soil when it’s wet.
  • Place some wooden boards on the clay to walk over.
  • Do not dig or plant in the wet clay soil.
  • One great time to plant anything in the clay soil is during the autumn seasons.
  • Try to leave the soil surface in edges over winter so the ice can get in and break the clumps of clay soil if there are any.
  • Feel free to plant woody stuff like trees and shrubs on a slight mounds or hills. This can help the roots away from wet soil.

To understand the clay soil makeup, let us move on to its physical properties that might be more important for more detailed work with this soil type.

Physical properties of clay soil

broken fork on clay soil

Clay soil, more than any soil, has the 3 qualities in excess. It has the ability to be very compact, it may limit air inflow due to its compaction, and its holds water well due to these attributes. To aid you in forming your own conclusion if you would like these soil properties, check this recent article of mine on clay soil and how it affects plant growth. It covers these three qualities, clay soil caveats, and benefits, as well as possible amending methods for it.

Fundamental Problems with the Clay Soil

Listed below are some of the possible problems you can be exposed to when dealing with clay soil.

  • Clay soil lacks drainage
  • Clay soil is a harder soil type and is challenging for the roots to enter in
  • Calcium develops in clay soil and expands PH levels. These high PH levels make it hard for the plants to take the required nutrients correctly
  • There is insignificant organic material in clay soil
  • There are restricted amounts of microorganisms to build healthier soil
  • Virtually no worms could be found in clay soil

Of course, we won’t only be delivering drawbacks in this article. Up next are ways to properly improve clay soil to foster fruit trees and get the best produce.

Improving Clay soil for Fruit Trees

In some countries, people don’t have the most fertile soils. For instance, if you talk about the desert southwest, they don’t have the most fertile soils. Countries like the southwest desert have an arid, hot climate there.

In dry countries, soils can become dry and so compacted that it turns into a challenging experience to soften the ground by using a shovel to dig a hole.

However, some workarounds can improve clay soil for fruit trees, which we will be covering in detail in the next section.

Consider adding gypsum

This method is not a rapid fix; however, adding Gypsum can somehow improve the health of your Clay soil. The little clay particles are slightly negatively charged, and the calcium causes the particles to bunch together.

Adding gypsum adequately expands the soil’s molecule size, stops the clay from sticking, and improves its structure.

The EcoFlo Gypsum is incredible to utilize both while planting or can be utilized on planting fruit trees also. Just make sure to shake it well before you use it.

Give Life to your Soil

With some organic matter and feeding your soil with natural fertilizer, you can increase the number of useful microbes in the soil. Even only one teaspoon of healthy garden soil can probably have around a billion bacteria and yards of fungal strands.

This level of bacteria will eventually increase worm production, which will be beneficial for improving your soil structure as well; it will also help the plants feed well.

Keeping the plants protected from pests and diseases, try adding organic matter to your soil.

Do a Compost, Soil and Sand Mix  

planting a balled tree root ball

Look again, how you plant your trees. The way how you plant your trees can leave a massive impact on the development of your trees.

Only digging a hole and inserting the plant in to grow will not work for you. It will slow down the growth process.

Instead, try to fit the hole as deep and wide as your pot. Add a handful of Gypsum to the bottom of the hole and mix it in gently. Set aside the best soil, put the plant in, add some of the ground along with compost and sheep pellets, and save some soil for the best top finish. Doing so will greatly improve the structure of the soil.

Care for your tree by mulching and regular watering

Try to mulch regularly. Gently water your plants, leave the hose on each tree for about 5 minutes (if they look dry), and repeat that after a few weeks.

Try using buckwheat to boost the clay soil and fruit trees growth

By using Buckwheat as a form of green manure, you can have a shorter gardening season as it has the ability to mature quickly.  There are places in which Buckwheat grows well and is moist.

In cold climates like Pennsylvania north- Canada, buckwheat grows acceptably well.

If you are dealing with poor soil, Buckwheat can be the right grain choice for you. If your clay soil is sticky or dense clay, the buckwheat roots will eventually break that up and make a way to lose it.

Types of Soil for Growing Fruit Trees

There are many types of soil for growing fruit trees.

The first benefit of growing fruit trees around your home is that trees give you shade from hot weather and give you tasty fruits every year.

Gardeners know how to, where to, and when to grow a fruit tree or a plant. To have the right fruit tree in your garden, you ought to have the right soil. Right soil leads you to the proper fruits. Fruit trees grow best in soils that have good drainage and contain plenty of nutrients.

Ideal Soil make up for fruit trees

Fruits trees produce their best in well-drained soil which has a sandy, loamy texture. Fruit trees need deep soil to protect their deep root systems.

Soil Testing can be done to aid with fostering fruit trees

If you are in doubt and don’t know about which type of soil do you have in your yard, it is recommended that you take a soil test.

Take a sample of your soil and send it to the local laboratory or nursery for testing.

A lab will determine whether or not the substantial need for PH adjustments or any other nutrients. To aid you in this whole process, you can check my recent article on doing soil tests before planting in your garden as it covers the reasons why soil tests are important, the specific information that can be received from such tests as well as where to buy kits should you do it on your own.

If you need to maintain the pH level, you have to purchase pH testing strips from any online store. Many fruit trees prefer a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.5.

Do this if the soil tests show acidic results to aid your fruit trees growth

If the soil tests are acidic pH, you can add some lime to help the soil raise pH and make it more helpful for the fruit trees to grow. A layer of Mulch will help the sandy soils retain moisture. 

Tips on Planting Fruit Trees in Your Garden

Fruit trees are different from plants as they grow at different times of the year. For instance, apples can thrive in the early, mid, and late seasons. If you are thinking about growing fruit trees in your garden, we suggest selecting trees for the season you want. Just stay focused on how long it will be before trees bear:

  • Apples bear in 4-6 years.
  • Plums, cherries and peaches bear in 4 years.

Different kinds of apples, peaches, or cherries grow differently. The size of the tree is another consideration. Your local nursery will guide you about what trees will grow best in your area. Visit your nearest nursery and ask for advice.

Look out for self-sterile fruit trees

Many fruit trees are self-sterile, which eventually means that they will not set a crop unless other blossoming trees are nearby to help it furnish pollen. Some of the fruit trees are self-pollinating and need no other tree. Keep in mind to always ask this when you plan on buying a fruit tree.

Buy your fruit trees from local nurseries

large trees for sae in pots

Buy fruit trees from local nurseries. If possible, look for 1-2 years old trees. Usually, stone fruit trees are one year old. Apples and pears are about two years old at purchase time.

Work your soil and give it nutrients when transplanting

Prepare your ground with significant consideration and care. Try not to dig a hole and put the tree right in. Fruit trees require attention and extra care.

Before planting the tree, try to work the soil for half a month before planting it.

Add organic matter to existing soil. The organic matter can be compost (prefer to be in tidy sacks). To help the trees from transplanting, give the tree vitamin b12. You can get these at your local nurseries.

Plant the fruit trees during these seasons

We suggest you plant the tree 10-15 feet apart in fall or spring. The trees grow well when the land is warm. The sun helps the plants to get them going. Always make sure to plant the trees in the area where the plants can capture enough sunlight.

Best Trees to Plant in Clay Soil

Now that you know how to work with clay soil to get the best results, let us move on to the actual trees (especially the fruit-type trees) that you can consider growing with clay soil.

Some studies declare that native British trees are well suited to clay soils, including oak, ash, and elder.

Some Fruit trees can reproduce without any hatchet like apples, and pears will grow well in clay. However, the soft bushes might struggle a little bit.

If you want this specific tree and factor …Consider growing this tree type.
For high and tall treesBirch, Eucalyptus
For garden decoration and aestheticSorbus, Hawthorn, Magnolia, Amelanchier
For conifer treesPine, Thuja, Juniper, Chamaecyparis
Best fruits trees for clay soilCitrus trees, Fig, and Stone fruits are the best fit to live in Clay Soil.

Of course, not only big trees can thrive in said conditions. The next section will also cover plants and flowers that are sure to bloom in the clay soil that can further boost the state and beauty of your garden.

Plants and Flowers That Grow Happily In Clay Soil

honeysuckle blooms

If you want to dabble with not only trees, here are some of the plants that you can look into getting and planting into clay soil.

Blazing StarPlatycodonHostaMiscanthus
AthyriumRussian SageYarrowLittle Bluestem
FountaingrassSwitchgrassCanna BluestarIronweed
CoreopsisPurple ConeflowerFalse SunflowerSea Holly
HeucheraFalse SunflowerBee balm

As for flowering plants, the specific flowers, perennials, and bulbs that you can look into having are as follows:

FlowersFlowering bulbs and perennialsFlowering bulbs and perennials
FoxgloveAstersAlchemilla mollis
Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfeniiCoreopsisRudbeckia
Hydrangea macrophyllaJapanese anemone.Hellebores
Lychnis coronariaGeraniumsPrimulas
Chinese lanternKniphofiaSolidago

There are many plants that you can grow in clay soil, with a little bit more effort and tender loving care to the soil and plant. Doing so will assure healthier plant wellbeing and better blooms.


Conclusion on fruit trees growing in clay soil

Clay soil needs to be nourished and cared for from time to time. You can amend the soil with some care and enrichment, just like any other soil, to ensure the best healthy for your fruit trees and harvest the best produce from it. It will surely make your gardening experience more rewarding and worthwhile.

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter, and professional gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 46. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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