Planting Trees


In the past week or so, Ross and I have planted 16 trees. I’ve never planted a tree before and neither has Ross, so we were pretty much the Keystone Cop tree planters. I ordered most of my trees from Stark Brothers. The trees came in big narrow boxes. I guess I was expecting something that looked like a tree.

They mostly looked like big sticks.

Ross said, “We’re planting sticks?”

The sugar maples came first. I planted them along the strip of grass between the two access roads. I studied the little tree planting guide that came with the trees for two hours while the trees soaked in buckets of water, realizing I didn’t have what you were supposed to have to plant trees. As in, some nice rich topsoil and peat moss, not to mention some mulch.

Oh, well, I was sure it would be okay. Only the soil there turned out to be some quite ugly clay. I went back to the house and got a bag of potting soil, which contained topsoil, peat moss, and fertilizer. I mixed that into the clay and we went ahead and planted the trees. Probably, I shouldn’t have put potting soil with fertilizer directly in the holes, so maybe I killed five sugar maples.

I told Ross he could explain to everyone in 40 years why they had no maple syrup. Or I’ll just get some more trees next year if these die. There is a one-time replacement policy, which is helpful if you’re stupid.

Before the next batch of trees arrived, I stocked up on topsoil, peat moss, and mulch.

I started soaking my sticks and studying the guide again. I was determined to become a super tree planter!

Some of the trees came in pots, and other were bare root, like the maples.

I searched the internet for more advice. I studied the guide again. I fretted over identifying the bud-union where the trees were grafted. Most of my fruit trees are dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties. If you plant the bud-union beneath the ground, your dwarf or semi-dwarf tree will forget its destiny and revert to a full-size tree.

I’m sure I make all this tree planting sound more difficult than it has to be.

Ross dug the holes for me. He dug all the holes in about 30 minutes. He’s a powerhouse with a post hole digger, shovel, and spud bar (for breaking rocks).

I meticulously mixed buckets of topsoil and peat moss. I studied the guide again. I fretted over the bud-unions. I sat on the ground, holding the “stick” in one hand, filling in topsoil with the other, tamping soil down, watering in the hole, adding more topsoil and peat moss, tamping, watering, and finally mulching, being careful to keep the mulch an inch away from the trunk and not to mulch too heavily. Or too lightly.

Then I’d move my little operation to the next hole.

Several hours later, Ross came outside to check if I was ready for the next step in which he would be involved. (Driving the t-post and cutting the fence wire.) He said, “You’re not done yet? Are you taking 45 minutes to plant each tree?!”

I’m sure that was an exaggeration!

By evening, we were on task with the t-posts and fence wire. Each tree was wrapped and secured. And re-mulched because the chickens dug up the mulch under nearly every tree.

The chickens really enjoyed the day’s activities.

We planted ten trees that day. Fig–on the south side of the house, where it will be protected from the coldest temperatures in winter. Two paw paws (because they need a pollinator) in the side yard from the studio, where they can get some shade during part of the day. On the hillside between the studio and the upper pasture, where they will get full sun and good drainage: One peach tree, one apricot tree, and two plum trees (because they need a pollinator).

The apricot tree is my favorite because it looks like a tree. It has leaves. (It came from a garden center.)

Down by the creek where the apple trees are: One mulberry tree, and two hazelnut trees.

The guide said to lop off 1/3 to 1/2 of the hazelnut trees and paint the remaining trunks (trunks? sticks?) with a white latex to protect them from the sun the first year. I had to put white latex paint on the shopping list because I didn’t have any, and I wussed out on lopping the sticks. Though when I go back to paint them, I will try to gather my courage.

My sassafras tree arrived on a later day. I have sassafras trees in the woods by the upper pasture. They’re hard to get to and you can’t see them from the house. I decided it would be fitting to plant one near the gate and the farm sign. Sort of like signing my name in ink rather than pencil on this farm.

I realized I forgot to get a pear tree. I thought I’d gotten one. If I get out to the garden center soon, before Ross the hole digger is gone, I’ll pick up a pear tree. There’s room for more in my little “orchard” on the hillside above the studio. I might try one of those cold-hardy kiwis. Will see what I find at the garden center. (Anyone tried those cold-hardy kiwis?)

Meanwhile, I walked around this weekend admiring my nicely-planted fruit and nut trees, feeling smug about my assiduous tree planting study. I feel proud managing my farm myself, making plans, carrying them out, and I am really enjoying it. I’ve got BIG plans for a garden (I’ll go over those sometime in a future post) and I want berry bushes, but I was adamant with myself about sacrificing everything else this first spring to getting trees in the ground. I’ll get my garden set up sometime this summer, and I may not plant anything in it this year but a fall crop, and it may be next spring before I plant berry bushes. I’m focused. I want trees in the ground. And I want to take on each task and do it right (er, brief lapse with the maple trees notwithstanding, which is a fine representation of my former rampant impetuosity). I had some guys out here the other day, by the way, to go over my milking parlor. SarahGrace and her little team of helpers on her farm are sure BP and Glory Bee are both bred! Like studying beekeeping a year in advance of my plan to get bees, I will have a fantastic, under-roof, lighted, ever-dry milking parlor in a stall in the barn with a strong headlock cemented in the ground, and I will have it in place months before they calve. I do not have any chicks or ducklings or goslings because I don’t have a chicken house or a brooder yet. I’m not bringing home anything I’m not ready to support.

Such patience and planning! (Who are you and what have you done with Suzanne?) Not that all my fine planning always works out. Case in point: Patriot’s escape from the field carefully secured by an experienced farmer and horse owner himself.

Anyway. Back to my admiration of my tree planting work. Then I noticed that I’d planted one of the paw paws directly under a power line. All that careful study……. LOOK UP, SUZANNE, LOOK UP!


We’ll be moving that one here in a few days.

I’m sure the chickens will be there.


  1. NancyL says:

    You make me tired. I haven’t done anything today – but you wore me out! I wish you fantastic success with all your wonderful trees, including every single sugar maple. And I love the idea of a sasafras tree by the gate!

  2. margiesbooboo says:

    I love Stark Bros.! Everything I ever ordered from them is doing wonderfully. Exception being the cherry tree the kids killed sleigh riding it’s first winter. You have to get the weeping peach from them, it’s a beauty. Don’t over think the trees, they’ll be great. I want their wisteria tree too. I used to have a neighbor that got one of their apple combination trees and he was tickled with it. I’ve got paw paws in my backyard in Beckley. Fight the squirrels for them every year. Don’t you love planting? Remember that you’re supposed to plant like you’ll live forever and love your family like tomorrow is your last day.


  3. bonita says:

    There is nothing so satisfying as inspecting a tree you’ve planted 3 to 5 years on. (Trees and other landscaping were in before the kitchens!) I never expected to be at this address so long, but it’s over 20 years, holy cow, I have mature trees! Of course, I’ve lost mature trees, too—age, insects, wind storms. Luckily I’ve not lost any I planted. May I suggest a (dwarf) lilac tree and a red bud both are early spring color and both are ‘understory’ trees.

  4. liz2 says:

    You are so fortunate that Ross is helping you with the tree planting. It’s hard work! I don’t know if you are a strong proponent of organic gardening methods. If you are interested & have the time, perhaps you would like to check out Some of the advice is focused on the north Texas area where the website author lives, but many of his recommendations are appropriate to all horticultural zones. He offers a number of recipes for homemade fertilizers & gardening problem solutions.

  5. judydee says:

    Hurray for all the tree planting! We are still enjoying a bountiful harvest of pears every year from the tree my father planted in 1961. Consider deciding where you want your pear tree and let (pretty please, Ross?) that boy go on and dig the hole. Cover with a board or two and then whenever you get the tree the hole will be ready. Good luck with all your plans.

  6. CATRAY44 says:

    How about a pretty garden shed for chickens? You could divide it in half for broodies to brood in! (Sorry, unreformed chicken pusher here, lol. ) Your farm is gorgeous. How amazing to see all that has been accomplished in a few short months.

  7. maryellen51 says:

    Don’t forget to gather some of the natural fertilizer around there courtesy of the cow and the horse, and put around your trees.

  8. angkm67 says:

    When in doubt call the great folks at Stark Bros! We live about an hour from their main location in Louisiana, MO. This is actually the first year in quite a while we have not attended their Customer Appreciation weekend. Those sticks will turn into trees in no time. And, their replacement policy is awesome. I know because we have had to use it. 🙂

  9. Cheryl LeMay says:

    You will need two pears for cross pollination. Bartlet and Seckel don’t cross pollinate each other, but anything else will be fine. What about apples? It’s good to plant nut trees too because they take a long time to produce. I wish I had planted mine at least ten years ago which is how long it takes to produce nuts. I think hazelnuts don’t take as long though. I planted my nut trees just a couple of years ago so I have a while to wait. I envy you your fig. Can’t grow them up north. It’s good to hear about BP and GB. I was wondering how they were doing.

  10. Chickenlady62 says:

    Suzanne, I have gotten most of my 15 fruit trees from Stark Bros. I have mainly dwarf and a few semi dwarf. I am glad I was lucky to start over 10 years ago so most trees are putting out fruit.
    I have 3 apple, 4 peach, 3 pear, 3 plum and 2 cherry .

    Let me pass on a pruning tip given to me by a local farmer that has many orchards : once your tree is of a size and shape you like ,you do not need to wait for “winter ” to prune them back. you can prune all season long, clipping off the new growth . This way the energy goes to the fruit , not to putting out new branches. Also ,on most varities it is the horizontal branches that bare the fruit , not the vertical . So , if you clip off branches clip off the vertical growth. Some fruit types like an open center pruning wise , to increase air circulation. I recommend getting a orchard pruning book before you do your first pruning .


  11. langela says:

    We have Stark Bros trees, too. They are about 6 years old and we have been harvesting fruit from them for about 4 years. Ours are dwarf and semi dwarf, too. Another resource for trees is your local DNR. Ours offers native trees for almost nothing. We got a Jonathan apple tree a couple of years ago for $10 and it started producing in 2 years and has awesome apples. I also ordered non-fruit trees and they are gorgeous! Make sure you cut the “sticks” like they recommend. I know it’s hard, but it’s the right thing to do to ensure good root growth and a good start for your trees.

  12. Linda Goble says:

    Yes we have Kiwi’s make sure you really want them they should be planted somewhere where you don’t mind they take over. they like grow a foot over night sometimes it seems. We have ours near our fruit trees and it will grow huge and likes to wrap around every thing. My husband this year had enough and tore out most of it and only down to main root section. We at one time had it grow on a wood fence but that all rotted away. He is going to put new fencing in and he will make sure it stayed on the fencing. We only really got very small kiwis never did any thing with them but eat them here and then. Hubby would grab some on his way through with the lawn mower. For years I would do a natural Christmas tree and would go out an cut the vines to go around my tree. It look really pretty. Hubby and I bought tons of trees and berries last year from Miller’s We went to there place and bought when season was almost over and they were on sale 1/2 off. We planted lots. They didn’t come with any guarantee but for the price we got them for. Every thing is doing great this year. We will see now after all the snow that fell last night. A very heavy snow it broke a huge part like 1/2 of our Bradford pear tree that was just so beautiful. Our grandson will be so disappointed, that was his climbing tree. Good luck with your trees. 🙂

  13. bonita says:

    Agree with Langela about the DNR. Great source for ‘sticks’ suitable for your area. Especially useful if you have areas on your farm susceptible to erosion.

  14. PJS48 says:

    Suzanne, you had me laughing so hard! I know what you mean about “Look up, Suzanne”. I’ve made so many little mistakes over the years in planting trees around my property. One of the worst was thinking that the cute little white pines would be a great idea! Yikes! They grew into monsters and shed prodigious amounts of pine needles, yellow pollen, and after wind storms, some seriously big limbs. Now, out in areas where that doesn’t matter, no big deal, BUT along the driveway, not so good. So, sadly, they are going to white pine heaven, cause the mess and the worry about the limbs has got to end. I love watching the farm grow and change. You’re doing a great job.

  15. stacylee says:

    I am also so excited about GB and BP!! What about Pokey??? Babies, yea!

  16. jinxxxygirl says:

    :fairy: I can just imagine those chickens following you from tree to tree. LOL! Its so nice to see you making your dreams a reality. Not everyone gets that opportunity and i’m glad to see it happening for you.
    You know why you have to trim that tree back don’t you?? because the roots are not large enough to support the growth on top. I know it will hurt but i would at least cut 1/3 off. Best wishes with your little orchard. Hugs! deb

  17. KRingsrud says:

    Love your description of your tree planting adventure. I’m sure you’re buried with suggestions all the time, but here’s one more from a 2nd generation commercial apple and pear grower. Lop off that whip — yes, “whip” is the term (at least in WA state) for those sticks/twigs. If you don’t, all the tree’s energy will go to support the extra length up top instead of developing a healthy root system down below. Without a healthy root system, the tree will be less vigorous and more susceptible to disease and weather. No wimping out — you’re doing the tree a favor.

    Second, is your pear tree close to your cherries and/or other fruit trees? Pear blossoms can have almost a sour smell to them, which can make it difficult to attract bees for pollination. In commercial orchards, we interplant an apple or cherry tree, at a ratio of about one for every 20 pear trees to entice the bees to come on in, check out the blossoms and set a spell. You’ll have better fruit production if your pear is close to your other fruit trees.

    Good luck! 🙂

  18. holstein woman says:

    Suzanne, I will tell you this, the cold hardy kiwi is a vine and needs lots of space and a pollinator. My parents bought a house in Scappoose Ore amd mom didn’t like the fruit (best ever) so she took them out. They will grow on fences, but would do better on a STRONG trellis by themselves. They get very BIG and grow like a wisteria.

    I love the trees, your Sassafras Farm is beautiful. I can hardly wait to see all the trees in bloom in a year. When your sugar maples get big you can sell starts to everyone you know and anyone you don’t. The seeds fall to the ground and grow freely by the 100s if they are anything like the maples we have.

  19. mds9 says:

    My chickens follow also. I have trouble keeping them out of the hole I’m digging.
    What verity of fruit trees? I mean not just what type of fruit but what name. I’ve enjoyed Sunset Garden Guide reading about what verities there are.
    It helps talking to the trees.

  20. Jan Hodges says:

    O I remember that. Except I had to dig the holes myself. I think there is one tree left from that first year, the apricot. It is generally too cold here for apricots, the ag agent said once in six years. I think that might be about right. I have apricots this year, for the third time in 18 years, right on schedule. I sure hope your bare root trees do better than mine did (the apricot was potted, like yours), it sounds like you have done a much better planting job than I did.

  21. rhubarbrose says:

    Suzanne – you sure should be proud of yourself – you are doing a terrific job. Ross is always going to remember doing this with you and when the trees have matured they will be enjoyed by you and your future generations!!!!! What a perfect Earth Day post!!!!!!!

  22. kellyb says:


    Isn’t it wonderful to have a shovel/digging bar gifted son? We planted 34 fruit trees as well as dozens of berry bushes and it would not have gone as well as it did without my son. He’s strong and not afraid to work. We don’t have a house yet but we’ve got our fruit trees planted.

    I love the idea of the Sassafras near your sign. That’s just perfect.

  23. Murphala says:

    Tree planting is so affirming of permanence. I loved planting the few trees I planted. I found that with all the clay (it’s all clay) in this neck of the woods, my hole digging was painful and what I was doing was actually carving out a flower pot in the ground and filling it with topsoil and peat and fertilizer and mulch, and praying that those intrepid roots would penetrate. They did.

    Do persimmon trees grow well in WV? Think about delicious persimmon pudding with dollops of whipped cream at the holidays! Plant a persimmon tree!

  24. LisaAJB says:

    So now I feel really cool because I planted a bare root apple tree from stark last week! I also had no idea what to do with a bare root tree with not a single leaf. Mine has 2 knobs so I had to guess where the actual graft was. A also ordered 2 elderberry bushes for the front yard, I’m excited for them to bloom. Happy tree moving!

  25. Rose H says:

    I’m VERY impressed Suzanne, :yes: what a wonderful orchard you will have.
    I don’t know if the kiwis I have are cold hardy, but they were supposed to be a make and female…I have beautiful flowers each year and plenty of insect activity but as yet (15 years on) no fruit! (Well, except for the year I bought a tray of kiwis and wired them on to fool my OH who had been away for a couple of weeks 😆 ) They do grow like wildfire though against the south facing wall, and still bring me pleasure.
    Just a thought, could you grow walnut trees there?
    Best wishes
    Rose H

  26. Rose H says:

    Oh! Drat, that should read MALE and female.

  27. copgrrl says:

    I live in Oregon and have Kiwis. They are wonderful and viney. I used a wisteria trellis putting the male on one side and the female on the other. You have to have a male and female in order to have fruit. Here in OR it will take about 5 years after planting to reap fruit. So far I am going on two years. Since I will be moving soon it looks like the new residents will get the fruit from these kiwi. Oh well, I will just have to plant new trees at my new house! Love your gardening/orchard. You have such a beautiful farm!!!

  28. Stick Horse Cowgirls says:

    I think maple leaves are toxic to horses as are black walnut–you might want to check up on that.

  29. DaleNofziger says:


    KRingsrud is correct in cutting off 1/3 of the whip as it forces the root system to develop first. On the trunk (though you may not be able to see it), dormant branches will grow out below this lopping.

    Now, not to alarm you to much:
    Digging holes with ether a shovel or post hole digger are not the best tools to use, as they leave a smooth side which is hard for your tree roots to break through unless, you have scratched the outer walls with something sharp.
    By placing peat and top soil in the hole with clay soil, the roots will take the avenue of least resistance, and will wrap around themselves in a tangled mess in the hole, with the result “strangulation”.
    I also have clay soil where I live in Texas. When I planted the few trees on my little .24 acre I used a spade fork to dig the holes (which leaves very little scaring in the soil).



    If you you want to place something in the bottom of your planting hole, use a table spoon of Epsom Salt which will help your plant absorb the minerals lock in the surrounding soil.

    PS: Make sure to place some soil over it first before planting your tree on top!

    1) Always make the hole twice as wide as the ball or bare root system and as deep as it was field planted.

    2) With a container bought plant, take a sharp knife and slice down the side of the root ball in several place to encourage the roots to grow outward (instead of continuing their growth AS IF in the planter).

    3) For bare root trees: Trim off any broken roots.

    After digging your hole (for your bare root dormant tree(s), make a mound in the bottom of each hole in which to spread the root system over and around the bottom of the hole.

    4) Then while holding the tree with one hand (as straight as possible), start filling the hole up (with the same soil you dug up) pressing down on the soil as you go. This assures that the roots will make good contact with the soil.
    When the hole is half full of of native soil, water it in to help settle the soil around the roots, and continue filling the hole up the rest of the way with soil.

    When your all through, trickle water in each planting hole for approx. 30 minutes, and then mulch around each plant.

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