Six on Saturday: How to plant an apple tree

This week’s six come not from my own garden, but from the garden at Charleston Farmhouse in East Sussex where I volunteer one day a week. This week, we were joined by Zuky from Sussex Apple Trees, who showed us the best way to plant an apple tree. Charleston has bought a small collection of heritage Sussex apple trees for a new orchard by the car park.

I am joining in with The Propagator who each Saturday asks us to blog about six things that are happening in our gardens right now, and his merry band of followers from around the globe.

  1. Mattock
Mattock and spade

Zuky assured us that the best tool for digging a hole in which to plant your apple tree is a mattock like this one. You have to let it fall to the earth with your weight behind it, but once you have got the hang of it, it is actually easier than a conventional spade. It is also useful for hacking off the top layer of turf if you are planting in a grassy area.

2. Heeling in

Six young apple trees were delivered but we were starting off just planting two of these, as we also needed to construct deer proof wire mesh cages around them. The others we heeled in, digging a shallow trench, poking them in at an angle and then putting the soil back on top and firming it with our heels. The reason for putting them in at an angle is so that they don’t continue growing and putting down roots. For the same reason you shouldn’t water them. The soil should be enough to keep them alive until they are ready for planting.

3. Planting out

Then it was time for planting. We started off with an old variety of Sussex apple called ‘Forge’. We dug a big hole, twice the breadth of the sapling’s root ball, put in some ‘goodies’ (bonemeal etc) and then mixed in some compost with the existing soil to give the new tree the best possible start in life. Then we planted the tree making sure the graft was several centimetres above ground level, then we firmed in the soil back around the base. We used a rubber tie to secure the sapling to a tree stake, placed at an angle to allow for movement with the prevailing winds and prevent the young tree from toppling over. Then we hammered in three more stakes to form a protective triangle around the sapling, around which we wrapped chicken wire, leaving a small gate which can be opened to access for weeding. The young tree will need protecting from deer for its first few years.

4. Old apple

Here is one of the old apple trees in the walled garden at Charleston, underplanted with hellebores. It looks a bit like a gnarled witch after pruning to let in the light and air.

5. Down the garden path

Here is another view looking down one of the path’s in the walled garden towards one of Charleston’s trademark busts. The garden is starting to come back to life after the winter and was looking particularly lovely this week.

6. Not waving but drowning

A brigade of drowned zombie cleaners or a modern day alternative to the lady of the lake. You take your pick. Charleston, once home to the artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, is still a hub for artists and this week the gardens were overrun with young art students who had been created weird and wonderful sculptures in the garden and were being interviewed by local media on their prize-winning creations.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. One Man And His Garden Trowel says:

    That was an interesting read. Not sure about the drowning hands! I think I like them… in daylight anyway!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wonder whether the apple tree advice applies to a Crab- apple tree. I haven’t dug up the old, dead willow from the front garden where I hope to plant the Crab-apple yet, but am planning ahead. However artistic those hands are, I’m afraid I don’t really like them – but then I don’t have any artistic flair!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I think the advice is good for all hard fruit trees.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. tonytomeo says:

        Yes, crabapples are very similar. So are fowering crabapples. Only the pruning is different. Crabapples should be pruned as aggressively as apples, but do not need to while young because the fruit is not as heavy.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Keith says:

    What a rewarding day that must have been – planting trees that you can go back and see for generations to come. Not sure I would like to come across that pond late at night!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes looking forward to watching this tree grow!


  4. Heyjude says:

    Definitely Marigolds. And not the flowers! Art is so subjective!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love planting trees; it is such a special moment. I like the hands. I expect opinion will be divided though!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh that seems like hard work to me.


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