Planting apple trees is a fun way to grow delicious fruit in your backyard. To have the best success with your apple tree, it’s important that your tree has the proper growing conditions. Poor soil will produce a poor harvest, while making sure you have the best soil for apple trees will give you the best-tasting apples!
If you’re trying to decide where to plant your fruit tree, keep reading to learn more about the best soil for apple trees.
Types of Soil for Apple Trees
First, it’s good to know the different types of soil you will run across. You may find that your soil is predominately one of these types or a combination of two or three.
Clay soil, also known as heavy soil, will be comprised of at least 25% clay. The particles that make up the soil are tightly packed together with little to no air space. This type of soil can make drainage difficult. It also prevents apple tree roots from spreading easily.
Sandy soil, also known as light soil, is made up of a lot of sand and little clay. This comes from the breakdown of different types of rocks like limestone and quartz.
Sandy soil doesn’t hold moisture very well, which can easily dry out a tree if not tended to properly. On the flip side, it works great for drought-tolerant plants.
Silt soil is made up of rock, but the particles are finer than sand. Silt soil sits between clay and sandy soil. It drains fairly well, unlike clay, but it still holds moisture better than sandy soil.
Loamy soil is the holy grail of soil. It is made up of all three types of soil: clay, sandy, and silt. Loamy soil drains wells, holds moisture, and is easy to work with. Farmers prefer working with loamy soil because it has all the best characteristics of each type.
Best Soil for Apple Trees
So, what is the best soil for apple trees? Apples can grow in anywhere from medium-clay soil to sandy-loam soil. Apple trees have to have well-draining, fertile soil.
Ideally, apples prefer loamy soils, but that’s not often the case in most backyards. Luckily, no matter what type of soil you have, you can amend it to better fit your apple tree!
Amending Your Type of Soil for Apple Trees
You will want to amend your topsoil at the planting site before digging any holes.
For heavy clay soil, you will want to add organic materials to your soil. Different organic materials include compost, peat moss, bark, and manure. Spread them about two inches thick across the desired area, then work them into the top six inches of the soil with a cultivator or tiller. This will create the best soil for apple trees.
To amend sandy soil, add in lots of well-rotted compost and composted manure. This will help with the soil’s water retention. Similar to amending clay soil, work the compost into the top six inches of the soil.
Best Soil for Apple Trees: pH Level
Now, it’s time to consider the best soil pH levels for apple trees. The pH scale goes from 0 to 14 with 7.0 (the midpoint) being neutral. Anything below 7.0 is considered acidic. Anything above 7.0 is considered alkaline.
The best soil for apple trees tends to be neutral to slightly acidic. This means the ideal pH range for apple trees is between 5.0 and 7.0.
Testing Your Soil pH
It’s always a good idea to get a soil test. Soil tests will tell you everything you need to know about your soil such as soil type, soil pH, and its nutrient profile (what nutrients it has and what it needs).
You can get at-home soil tests that will give you results within minutes. You can also purchase send-off kits that will test your soil in a lab and send you results via email.
Amending Soil pH
Once you know what your pH level is, you may need to amend it to get the best soil for your apple trees.
If you have very alkaline soil, you will want to choose add-ins that make the soil more acidic. Adding elemental sulfur or sphagnum peat moss is a great option for this. You will want to work this into the topsoil similar to when amending your soil type.
If your soil is too acidic, you can add lime to raise the pH level. Just be careful not to add too much because raising the pH is much easier than lowering it! Also, apple trees prefer slightly acidic soil, so it’s okay to not overcorrect your pH here.
Equipment List for Amending Apple Tree Soil
Soil Test Kit
Luster Leaf Soil Test Kit
Walt’s Elemental Sulfur Pellets, 10 LB
Organic Peat Moss Sphagnum, 3.0-Cubic Foot
Jobe’s Garden Lime Additive De-Acidifier, 6 lb
Fruit Tree Fertilizer
Dr. Earth Organic Fruit Tree Fertilizer, 4-Pound
Preparing Soil for Planting Apple Trees
Digging the Hole
An important part of getting the best soil for apple trees is digging the proper hole. The hole should be twice as wide as the apple tree’s root ball, and it should extend a foot deeper.
Wait to dig your hole until the day you are planting the tree, so the hole does not become waterlogged. Similarly, it is best to plant the apple tree on a dry day, so you are working with loose, not compacted, soil.
For heavier soil, use a garden fork and loosen up the base and side of the hole to help with drainage.
Planting the Tree
Before planting a tree, make sure the roots are soaked and well-hydrated. If the fruit tree is root-bound (meaning the roots are dense and tangled), break up the root ball, so that the roots will spread into the soil after being planted.
Once you’ve set the plant into the soil, backfill the hole with the original soil that was removed from the hole. Make sure to firm the soil as you backfill to remove any potential air pockets around the apple tree roots.
For more about how to plant the apple tree, look here.
It’s important to remember: don’t put any fertilizers into the hole with the roots. Soil amendments (compost, peat moss, bark, etc.) should be made before planting a tree, and fertilizers should wait until the apple tree is planted and established.
It’s best to wait two to four years when the apple is bearing fruit to begin to apply any synthetic or organic fertilizers. Any soil amendments you made with compost before planting the apple tree will be sufficient until the apple tree is mature enough to bear fruit.
Best Soil for Apple Trees: Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can apple trees survive in poor soil?
Technically, apple trees can survive in any type of soil that has proper drainage, but you can run into a few problems. Planting into heavy clay soil will likely cause root rot. If you plant the apple tree in purely sandy soil, the apple tree will likely not get enough hydration to the roots. Having the best soil for apple trees means less maintenance for you!
2. Where is the best place to find compost?
You can find compost to add to the best soil for apple trees at most garden centers. If they sell mulch, they usually sell compost.
You can also check with large topsoil and mulch companies. They often have delivery options for free or a small surcharge if you purchase a large amount.
Another option is to check with different online gardening groups near you to see if they have any recommendations for finding local compost.
3. Can I amend the soil after the apple tree is planted?
Yes, you apply compost around the apple tree every year. You don’t want to disturb the roots of the tree, but it’s helpful to make additions to the top of the soil every year.
You can also mulch around the apple tree yearly to help insulate it in the winter and preserve moisture in the summer. It also helps with weed control around the tree, helping preserve nutrients for the apple tree roots.
Note: make sure to leave a few inches around the trunk exposed. Piling mulch against the trunk could lead to rot or fungal infections.
4. Should I amend the soil or fertilize it during a specific time of year?
The best time of year to fertilize the soil is springtime right before the tree begins to blossom. Avoid fertilizing in summer or early fall. The tender, new growth encouraged by the fertilizer could be damaged by wintertime.
Compost or other soil amendments can be applied around the tree at any time of year.
Wrapping Up Best Soil for Apple Trees
Preparing the best soil for apple trees will eventually give you a great harvest. You can start with any type of soil and make the proper amendments to grow a healthy apple tree. Just remember that loamy soil that is neutral or slightly acidic works best for apple trees.
Excited for more apple content? Visit our apple trees page to learn more about apple planting, growing, harvesting, cooking, and more!
Shopping for your orchard can get overwhelming, fast. So if you’re looking for advice on tools and supplies, then you’re in the right place!
James R Siess
Friday 16th of September 2022
We have a clay soil. Would it be good to have sawdust mulch for acid. What type of fertilizer could be used to help the tree grow and set on apples.
Monday 19th of September 2022
I'm not sure about the sawdust mulch for acid. Careful with the fertilizer too. Too much and the tree will just grow grow grow and you'll be waiting longer than you'd like for apples.
If you really want to amend the soil, have a soil test done first.