Tree Fruit: Horticulture

Site Selection and Preparation in Vermont Apple Orchards

Terence Bradshaw, University of Vermont Apple Program Research Specialist

Selection of the orchard planting site is the most important decision an apple grower will face in maintaining the profitability and sustainability of the operation. Somewhat poor soils can be amended or drained, but a truly bad site, especially if waterlogged or frost prone, will plague the grower until the orchard eventually is abandoned or pulled out. Remember that the best site for your future orchard may not be the land you presently own! Important site considerations include:

Of all the decisions you make in establishing your orchard, choosing the correct site and location has the greatest long-term impact. An orchard is a long-term venture; it may be productive for 30 to 75 years, and in some instances, even longer. It is necessary to make educated and well informed decisions in selecting the location and site of your future orchard.

Selected links that provide weather and soils data for Vermont locations:

USDA Web Soil Survey

NOAA Burlington VT

Searchable NOAA Online Weather Data

Soil Preparation

Soil preparation should be done at least by the summer before planting. This is the time to do a soil test to determine the needs of your soil and to provide time to correct any deficiencies and improve soil fertility.
Correcting the soil pH is one of the most effective nutrient management practices to improve fertility in an apple orchard. Try to maintain the soil pH in the range of 6.0 for the subsoil to 6.5 for the topsoil because the pH influences the availability of the various elements to the plant. For example, as the soil pH becomes acidic (pH <5.5), the phosphorous in the soil becomes unavailable to the plant. It does not matter if there is an adequate amount of phosphorous in the soil; the roots are unable to uptake it, or some elements become toxic at high or low pH. Correcting the soil pH needs to be done before planting because once the trees are in place, it is very difficult to change it. In regions with acidic soils, lime, preferably dolomitic for apple orchards, is usually used to raise the pH.
Other ways to improve soil fertility include:

Specific orchard site preparation plans are included in the New England Tree Fruit Management guide, available from the Cooperative Extension Service of each New England state. Further information on orchard site preparation can be found in the Penn State Tree Fruit Management Guide.