Planning & PlantingGeneral Planting Directions for Trees and Shrubs
Choosing a Site for Fruit Trees and Berries
Spacing of Fruit Trees, Nut Trees & Berries
Fall Site Preparation for Fruit Trees
Feeding Older Fruit Trees
Initial Pruning at Planting Time
Staking and Crooked Trees
Raspberries and Blackberries
Planting Instructions for Bare-Root Perennial Plants
The basics of tree care outlined here are meant to get you going. Some specific information, like location or soil preferences of particular plants, is in the item descriptions. Our Soil Testing & Organic Fertilizer Recommendation Service is useful in determining the specific needs of your site. Reading, observation, trial and error, and talking with other growers and with extension agents can expand your knowledge of trees and shrubs. Consult our book list for recommended reference books, or take a look at our useful links.Back to top
The best way to ensure your plants will thrive is to follow our cultural requirements. Choose the right site for the plant. Add soil amendments only as needed. Many native plants don’t require any fertilization. Fruit trees may need more.
To reduce transplant shock, plant on cool cloudy days in the early morning or late afternoon. Soak roots of deciduous trees and shrubs for up to 24 hours before planting, but not longer. Keep the roots from drying out; even a few minutes in the sun and breeze can damage a tree or shrub. Keep them watered and covered until the moment you set them in their planting holes!
Follow these steps for planting:
- Dig a large hole, at least twice as wide and about as deep as the root system. Most roots grow laterally and need plenty of room to spread out. Your trees will benefit if the hole is at least 3' wide.
- Loosen up the soil at the bottom of the hole and especially around the sides. For fruit trees, if you haven’t already used some of our Fall Fruit Tree Prep Mix you may add our Tree Planting Mix in the spring, or well-aged compost; Rainbow Valley or Coast of Maine Quoddy Blend are both good choices, but not raw manure or other nitrogen sources. Incorporate the amendments into the soil, then make a mound at the bottom of the hole over which to spread the roots.
- Examine the plant for a “dirt line” or a change in bark color indicating nursery depth. Generally, you should plant trees and shrubs at the same depth that they grew in the nursery. (This is different from the graft line.) Set the plant in the hole and spread the roots out around the mound. Make sure the roots are not circling in the hole. It’s better to trim the roots a bit than to coil them. Hold the tree at the right depth as you backfill the soil around it. Tamp firmly to remove air pockets.
- Water immediately. Don’t skimp on the initial watering; make sure there’s plenty to settle in all the loosened soil. Wiggle the trunk as the water seeps in to ensure no air pockets remain around the roots. Leave a berm around each tree so water will not run off. Keep trees well watered throughout the first summer. They require the equivalent of 1–2" rain per week. Longer deeper soakings are effective; frequent sprinklings are not. If you’re planting a small orchard of up to 10 trees, consider using our Orchard Crop Irrigation Starter Kit.
- To remember which varieties you planted, paint a map of the orchard on your wall, or replace the plastic Fedco plant tags with permanent vinyl tags.
The best sites for fruit crops have well-drained fertile soils, protection from wind, good air drainage and full sun. A gentle slope and 6–8 hours of full sun per day is ideal. Good air flow will moderate frosts and fungal disease. If possible, avoid “frost pockets.”
Sunny south- or west-facing slopes are not advisable for less hardy varieties. These slopes tend to warm up before the danger of frost has passed. Trees may flower prematurely and then be damaged by frost, causing loss of fruit. South and west slopes may also have widely fluctuating early spring temperatures that can damage less hardy trees.
Soil pH for fruit trees should be between 5.5 and 8.0, towards the lower end for apples, the higher end for peaches, and in the middle for others.
Do not plant trees where power lines will interfere with them.
Fruit species have optimal space requirements. See chart below.Back to top
|between plants||between rows|
|Nut trees - orchard||
|Nut trees - forest||
|Pears, Asian Pears||
If you’re preparing locations for your trees in the fall, or feeding newly planted fruit trees, the following amendment recipe should address most sites in the eastern U.S., which tend to be acidic and moderate to low in calcium and phosphorus.
Deluxe Fall Preparation Method
Without digging the hole, cover an area 4–6' in diameter with:
- 5 lbs gypsum or Hi-Cal lime
- 5 lbs colloidal phosphate (short-term calcium and phosphorus)
- 5 lbs azomite (long-term minerals and trace minerals)
- 5 lbs granite meal (for improved soil texture)
- 2–3 lbs Hum-Amend Max (aids mineral and rock-powder breakdown)
For building high levels of humus, also add:
- 2 lbs alfalfa meal
- 2 lbs bone char or bone meal
- 2 lbs kelp meal
- 2 lbs blood meal
- 100 lbs compost (⅛ yard)
Cover with a 3–4" mulch of lawn clippings, leaves or brush chips, which will smother the sod, conserve moisture, prevent leaching and provide a habitat for soil organisms to break down the recipe. In the spring, pull back the mulch and dig your tree hole, incorporating the mineral supplements and compost into the backfill.
If you didn’t get around to fall prep, you can apply this same mix as a mulch to your newly planted tree in the spring.
Forgo the soil amendments and simply pile 1–2 wheelbarrow loads of compost, Rainbow Valley or Coast of Maine Quoddy Blend are both good choices, on each planting-hole site. If you live by the ocean, add a couple of wheelbarrows of seaweed. Then cover with mulch. In the spring, pull back the mulch and plant your fruit tree, incorporating the compost into the hole as you dig.Back to top
Cover the surface of the ground out to the tree’s drip line with the same materials listed above. For larger trees (five years and older) increase the mineral amount to 10#8211;15 lbs each. For ancient trees you can use up to 25 lbs of each mineral in a ring beneath the drip line.
For revitalizing older fruit trees, you could also consider using our Ancients Rise fertilizer mix. Mulch as described above.Back to top
All Trees and Shrubs
Prune any branches that were broken during shipping. Sometimes we need to prune a central leader in order to fit a tree into a shipping box; don’t worry—a new leader will grow from the topmost bud. Prune all dead or injured branches and roots. Further pruning of most trees is not necessary at planting time.
Do not prune tops or prune or bend tap roots of nut or oak trees unless necessary.
All Fruit Trees
Avoid excessive pruning on young trees, as it can delay bearing. It’s okay to cut off extra trunks and lateral branches to establish the tree’s basic shape, but keep in mind that every time you prune potential leaf- bearing branches from a young tree, you set it back. The tree will grow quickly and fruit sooner if you allow it to maximize photosynthesis. Once it begins to fruit, you can prune annually. Always remove suckers or root shoots.
On peaches and plums, the trees may want to develop 2–4 leaders, or an open-vase shape. Always prune just above a good strong bud that faces a direction you’d like your branch to grow. On apple and pear trees, you may choose to either leave the central leader alone and let it grow or cut it back according to the instructions below. Either way is acceptable; it’s a matter of personal preference.
Apple trees will almost always benefit from light initial pruning to establish shape. After that, refrain from pruning until the tree begins to fruit.
- Year one (initial planting time): If the tree is a branch-less “whip,” you may cut the top back to a strong bud about 3–4' from the ground. This will encourage branching. If the new tree arrives with branches, prune off all but 3–4 branches at the height you’d like for your first tier, about 3–4' from the ground, or higher if you prefer. The lowest scaffold (branch layer) should be very wide to collect as much sun as possible. If too low, these long branches will rest on the ground under the weight of fruit, and the deer will have a field day. Also, it becomes difficult to mow under and mulch. Some folks choose not to prune at the time of planting and wait to shape the tree in subsequent years. This method is fine, too.
- Year two: Trim off root suckers or other odd branches that come up from around the base. Otherwise, leave the tree alone and let it grow.
- The next few years: If something looks really crowded, broken or dead, prune it. Otherwise, leave your tree alone and let it grow. If you don’t fuss over it too much, you’ll get fruit sooner!
Keep weeds and especially grass away from new trees and shrubs. Apply a 2–4" mulch of composted material—leaves, wood chips or hay—out as far as the drip line. A ½–1" topdressing of alfalfa meal beneath the mulch may substantially reduce transplant shock. Keep mulch back several inches from the tree trunk. We lay down cardboard or newspaper and spread mulch on top of it. Mulch encourages earthworms, holds moisture, keeps down weeds, insulates against excess heat and cold, aerates and loosens soils, builds humus and fertilizes feeder roots, 90% of which are within 6" of the surface.Back to top
Newly planted standard-sized fruit trees and ornamental trees seldom need staking. If your tree is in a very windy site or develops a leaning habit, staking may help. Dwarf apple trees do require staking. Drive a stout post near the tree. Wrap the tree trunk with a scrap of burlap or rubber to protect against abrasion. Secure the wrapped part of the tree to the post with string or wire. Tie the tree somewhat loosely, as a slight rocking motion will encourage rooting. Once roots are well anchored, the stake may not be needed. Mark small trees with a stake with ribbons to warn operators of lawn mowers, tractors, cars, skidders and skateboards.
Some tree varieties naturally tend to grow a little crooked (like Redfield apple!), and they won’t grow straight no matter how much room we give them in the nursery. To mitigate this issue, you may try staking. You may also try planting the crooked tree so the roots are at a slight angle and the top is more upward-pointing, as if to split the difference. Most trees do not grow perfectly straight. Retraining your eye to appreciate a tree’s unique form may be easier than fighting nature.Back to top
Conifers tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, but prefer slight acidity. If you are planting in dry or well-drained areas, dip tree roots in a solution of Agri-gel® before planting to protect roots from drying out. Do not soak conifers in the Agri-gel solution; a good dipping is sufficient. Do not use Agri-gel in heavy clay soils or in wet areas.
Before planting, shear back the roots by about a third of their length. Dig a small hole or make an incision with a spade or planting bar and slip the tree in to the level it grew in the nursery, never below. Fan the roots out. it is much better to prune the roots than to crowd them in the hole. Water well and pack the earth down with your feet to remove air pockets.
Periodic deep waterings are far more beneficial than frequent sprinklings. Fertilization is not necessary in the first year. In later years you may fertilize around the drip line. To make evergreens dense and compact, remove the central leader and the center bud on the end of each side branch.Back to top
Woodsy dry poor acid soil (pH 4.0–5.2) is a prerequisite. Full sun is best for maximum fruit production.
Shallow-rooted plants like light acid soil (pH 4.0–5.2) with plenty of organic matter, good drainage, and plenty of water. Space them 3–6' apart (3' for the shorter varieties) in rows 8–10' apart. We suggest fertilizing each planting hole with our Blueberry Booster. If you do not use Blueberry Booster and your soil is lacking acidity, add peat, woods humus, or 1 cup elemental sulfur per bush.
Dig a hole at least twice the size of the root ball. If you use peat, soak it and then mix it with soil at a one-to-one ratio. We suggest dipping roots in Agri-gel®. Plant at the same depth as in the nursery. Do not let the roots dry out! Pack the soil firmly and water thoroughly. Plants require at least 1" water per week during the growing season. On most soils, highbush blueberries require regular applications of nitrogen.Back to top
Cane fruits have shallow perennial roots. They prefer full sun, good air circulation and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Avoid soils where tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, strawberries or wild brambles have grown. A well-kept patch can last 10–20 years. Raspberries and blackberries do not require a second variety for pollination.
Prepare planting holes by adding manure (15 bushels dry or 10 bushels fresh per 100 sq ft) or compost and make each large enough to spread out the roots. Do not allow the fine roots to dry out. We suggest soaking roots in Agri-gel® for 1–2 hours before planting.
Plant 1–2" deeper than in the nursery line. Mulch with a thick layer of woodchips. Fertilize liberally each spring with up to 100 lbs manure or compost, 8 lbs bloodmeal or 14 lbs soybean meal per 100 row feet. Plants require 2" water per week during the growing season.
- Everbearing raspberries: Plant 9–15" apart. Everbearing types bear fruit on first-year canes, so you can cut all the canes to the ground in late fall or early spring. New first-year canes will fruit in mid-late summer. In warmer districts, you can leave the first-year canes to overwinter after they fruit. The following year, you will get a light crop in early summer from those now two-year-old canes, followed by a larger crop later from the new first-year canes.
- Summer-bearing raspberries: To make a hedgerow, trellis between two wires about 3–4' off the ground and 18–36" apart. Space plants 2' apart. After harvest, prune to the ground the canes that carried fruit (or remove them the following spring). Thin the fresh first-year canes to about 3–4" apart. They will bear fruit next year. During the growing season cut back canes to 5' if they are bending over severely.
- Purple and black raspberries and blackberries: Plant in hills 3–4' apart, 3–4 plants per hill. Tie to a center post for support, if needed. Basic pruning is same as summer-bearing raspberries. As they fill in, thin to 5–8 canes per hill. During the early summer, pinch back tip of first year canes to 2½–3' tall. This will encourage lateral fruiting branches. You may run a wire between hills for lateral branching but this is not necessary. In the following spring, cut these fruiting laterals back to 8–12 buds.
Strawberries require good air drainage, well-drained fertile soil, thick mulch and full sun. Avoid soils where tomatoes, peppers or potatoes have grown in the past 4 years. Plant strawberries at the same depth as they were in the nursery, with the middle of the crown at soil level. Keep your patch free of weeds. Mulch with hay or straw in late fall to protect plants over winter. In the spring, pull mulch off plants and place between rows where it will keep fruit dry and clean during the summer. It can also be raked back over the plants if frost threatens flower buds. Floating row cover may also be used for winter and frost protection.
The 1895 Green’s Nursery catalog recommends setting out strawberry plants in the evening“Carrying plants about the fields in the glaring sun in the heat of the day, is a trying ordeal. If planted in the evening, the dews immediately fall upon plants and give opportunity for recuperation before the next morning’s sun appears.” We think this is good advice for all plants.
- Everbearing or Day-Neutral Strawberries: These heavy feeders benefit from 3–4" of manure worked 4–6" deep into the soil prior to planting. Plant 6–12" apart. Mulch with thick organic straw (some non-organic straw can carry broadleaf herbicide residue!) or other mulch immediately after planting. Remove flowers for the first 6 weeks, and remove all runners the first season. Mulch in late fall. Till under after the second year and begin again.
- June-Bearing Strawberries: Matted Row system: Set plants 12–24" apart in rows 3' apart. Allow plants to produce runners freely and fill in the row. Remove all flowers the first year. Harvest berries the second summer. Immediately after harvest, fertilize liberally with compost or aged manure and renovate the row. By hand or with a tiller, narrow the row to 12" wide. Thin plants to 4–5" apart within the row. By this method a bed can last about 5 years. Then plow it under and start again.
For the best grapes, provide moderate fertility, very well-drained soil and full sun. Every June we thoroughly weed the grapes under our arbor, then mulch very liberally with old hay. After that, we don’t do a thing to them except harvest in late summer and prune in late spring. Grapes do not require a second cultivar for pollination.
Space 8–12' apart in rows 8–12' apart. Spread the roots out, planting the crown even with the soil surface. Do not prune roots. Pack soil well. Water and mulch well. After frost danger has passed, prune vines back to 3–5 strong buds. Continue to mulch annually with hay or straw. Every few years fertilize liberally with granite meal.Back to top
Requires fertile soil with pH 6.8–7.2 and high levels of phosphorus. Plant 14–18" apart, 6–10" deep, in trenches 4' apart. Or dig your trenches somewhat deeper and fill the bottom with 4" of compost and rotted manure. Lay plants with crown up and cover with 2" of soil. Plants emerge very slowly. As young shoots grow, add soil gradually, just covering the shoots, until the trench is full. In late fall, remove dead stalks and mulch with 3" of manure.
Second summer: Add our Gungnir asparagus fertilizer mix. Control weeds but do not injure crowns. Cautious harvesting for two weeks may be possible.
Later years: Same routine but increase fertilizer. Be sure to leave some spears each year to grow stalks that will support the roots and give you more spears next year. Keep the bed weed-free and mulched heavily. Cautious harvesting for four weeks may be possible in the third year, and full harvest in the fourth and beyond.Back to top
Hops prefer full sun and rich light well-drained soil and full sun, but they are adaptable and will tolerate shade. Plant it where you’re sure you want it because the extensive root system can be hard to dig up. Dies back to the ground in fall and rebounds more vigorously each year.
Dig holes about 1' deep and at least 3' apart in rows. Add manure, compost and other slow-release organic fertilizers. Plant 2 rhizomes per hole, horizontally with the buds pointed up and cover with 1–2" of loose soil. The first year the hop plant requires frequent light watering and mulching.
Hops grow vertically, with lateral sidearms extending from the main vine and producing cones. Vines may grow up to 25' in a single season, and do best if they are trained onto strong twine 12–30' high, supported by a trellis, wire, pole, tree branch or south-facing building. When the young vines are about 1' long, select the 2 or 3 most vigorous vines per hill and remove the rest. Gently wrap the vines clockwise onto a string. Once trained, the vine will guide itself.
Cut the vines back to the ground after they have been killed by frost. Each spring apply a hearty topdressing of manure and compost. To help control vigor, prune roots by cutting a 2–3' circle with a shovel around the base of the plant in spring.Back to top
Plant the top of the root division level with the surface in well-prepared well-drained rich slightly acid soil. Add a bushel of well-rotted manure or compost to each planting hole. When plant is established, fertilize liberally with manure and a balanced garden fertilizer, such as our Vegemighty Mix or compost every spring, as it’s a heavy feeder. Harvest for 4 weeks 2 years after planting. Thereafter you can harvest for 8–10 weeks each year. Never remove more than two-thirds of the stalks from a plant. Water during dry spells for extended season.
Every 10 years or so, divide plants in early spring, leaving about a third of the crown in place. Cut up the remainder into fist-sized pieces to replant.Back to top
Shallow-rooted plants require light acid soil (pH 4.0–5.5), preferably cool, moist and high in organic matter, though will grow in dry locations. Plant them in spring once the ground can be worked. For a 5x5' bed for 10 plants:
- For acidic “blueberry” soils: If you’re fortunate to have a site where blueberries grow naturally, clear a spot of vegetation, cultivate the soil, add some peat and sand if you like, and you’re ready to plant.
- Sandy soils: Remove soil 10" deep and mix soil with 2 bales of damp peat moss. Replace mixture in bed and cover with 2" of sand.
- Clay or silty soils: Remove soil 10" deep and place it around the edge of the bed as a berm. Replace the soil with a 50-50 mix of soil and peat (about 2 bales of peat). Cover with an additional 2" of sand. Plant cranberries 12" apart, so the roots are in the peat and the sand is covering the lower portion of the stems.
Remove all weeds as needed. Water the plants weekly so that the peat is moist but not saturated. Add blood meal at a rate of 2½–7½ lbs (or 20–50 lbs of manure) per 100 sq feet each year. No pesticides should be necessary.Back to top
Roses prefer full sun (at least 4–6 hrs per day) and a pH of 6.0–7.0. Space them 4–6' apart, in moist well-drained soils with a good amount of organic matter. With poor drainage, add gravel at the bottom of the planting hole, or build in drainage. Pick a site with good air flow, but avoid sites with cold northwest winds. Avoid competition with tree roots.
Plant roses as early as soil can be worked. Most roses’ roots don’t spread beyond the original hole, so dig a bushel-sized hole, as deep as 2' or more. We recommend a bale of rotten hay in the bottom of the planting hole. Mix soil with liberal quantities of well-rotted manure and compost. Add True Love Rose Mix at a rate of ½ cup per plant.
Soak roots in water overnight or up to three days before planting. Prior to planting, prune roses back to 3 canes, 2–5" tall. Plant them 1" below the level they were in the nursery. Add water as you fill in the hole to puddle it in. Mound soil around branches to prevent them from drying out, and to encourage buds to sprout. As the buds open, pull back the soil to the correct level. Keep roses well mulched to retain moisture and reduce weeds. Roses are particularly high-maintenance garden partners; their preferred love language is gifts of fertilizer, so show your flowers you appreciate them by treating them to dinner now and then.Back to top
Lilacs are adaptable, easy to grow, nearly indestructible and practically maintenance-free. They prefer well-drained moderately rich soil. Sandy gravelly loam is perfect. Full sun is best, but they’ll tolerate part shade. Add a shovelful of wood ash or lime to the hole at planting time, then add another shovelful every three years. A yearly mulch of manure or compost will encourage spectacular annual blooming. Pink, lavender and blue lilacs color up best in soil with a neutral pH.Back to top
Click here to download Planting Instructions for Intersectional Peonies (pdf).Back to top
To receive our guarantee for our perennial plants, you must have followed these instructions:
When you receive your order, open the bags and check the plant stock immediately. Roots and crowns should be firm and pliable, not soft or brittle.
After danger of freezing has passed:
- Dig a hole 2 or 3 times bigger than the plant stock.
- Add a little compost if needed.
- Fan or spread out the roots to encourage root development.
- Fill hole with soil, pressing out air pockets as you go.
- Keep the planting area free of weeds.
- Mulch around the crown with straw or woodchips.
- Avoid applying mulch directly on top of crowns as they could rot.
- Mark the location with a plant label.
- Check your plants daily in the first 2 weeks after planting!
If you cannot plant right away, you have two options:
- Store bags of bare-root plants in a dark and cool (35–40°) place.
- Pot up plants in well-drained slightly moist potting mix. Avoid coiling the roots in the bottom of undersized containers. Set pots in a protected spot in part-shade until you’re ready to plant.
You must protect your herbacious perennials from:
- Sun-shock in the first 2 weeks
- Long periods of cold and wet conditions
- Too much or too little water
- Absentee gardening!