Community Fruit Tree Care and Planting Guide – Bare Root Trees

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How to be a Community Fruit and Nut Tree Steward

Congratulations! You are the host of a Community Fruit Tree! Through love and care, you will be able to provide a priceless amount of fruit for the people of your community including you and your family. We are so excited to be on this journey towards a happier, healthier, and more sustainable community with you.

Hosting a Community Fruit Tree is pretty easy and requires minimal work, but it does come with some responsibilities. We have written this guide for you including planting, watering, mulching, pruning, when to harvest fruit and nuts, and more resources to help ensure that the trees grow healthy and produce a bounty of fruit or nuts.

We are here to help you along the way. Please join the Community Fruit Tree Facebook group to stay up to date as well as ask questions to us and the community. If you have any problems or questions with your tree you can always email us at or post in the Facebook group. Please post photos of updates on your tree as it grows, flowers, fruits, and adds joy to your neighborhood.

All Community Fruit Trees need stewards to help them establish and grow into bountiful fruit trees. The time commitment for fruit trees is extremely minimal considering the potential they have. 


To be an excellent steward: choose good locations – plant at the right time – plant well – protect young trees from animals – weed, mulch and compost as needed – water – make signage to invite others to enjoy the bounty!

The trees you are receiving are dormant saplings that are about one year old. Once planted this fall, they will remain dormant in the ground until spring time. 

If you are not planting right when you receive the trees in the mail, take the plants out of the box and take care of them by digging a trench and “heeling them in”. When you are ready to plant them, you can take them out of the trench to plant. Water the trees after heeling them in as needed to keep the soil moist and keep the roots from drying out.

Here is a guide from Arbor Day and a video on how to heel in trees.

In this video we share an easy step-by-step guide on how to plant a Community Fruit or Nut Tree:


When to Plant

The best times of the year to plant bare root saplings are in the fall and spring. This is the time of year when there is a combination of less intense sun and more consistent rainfall. This weather is easier on young trees and increases success rates. In the fall, trees can be planted as long as the ground is not frozen. In the spring, trees can be planted once the ground is soft enough to dig.


How to Plant

Dig a hole slightly deeper than the length of the roots and approximately 12” in diameter. 

Use a digging fork, pick axe or even a large screwdriver to aerate the compacted soil that forms on the side walls of your hole.

Position your sapling in the middle of the hole and at the level so that the base of the stem is slightly above the surface of the soil line. 

Make sure to keep all the roots pointing downwards, you do not want the roots to “j” or curl upwards at any point. 

Carefully fill the hole back in ONLY with the same soil that you took out of the hole, even if the location you are planting in is nearly completely sand or clay. Do not add any amendments such as top soil, manure, fertilizer or peat. (Instructions on top dressing later in instructions). This applies to whatever the native soil is, even if it is almost exclusively clay or sand. 

Make sure to remove the roots, grass and vegetation from the soil that you are using to fill the hole back up.

Water after planting just enough to keep the soil moist and keep the roots from drying out.

Once the hole is filled, firmly press down the soil to eliminate any air pockets. You can use your foot to press it down, gently but firmly, but not put full force to pack it in too tight.


Weed Suppression, Mulch and Compost

Burlap, cardboard or even newspaper can be used to help keep “weeds” down and improve the effectiveness of your mulch layer. Lay this layer down first. 

(If you want to reduce weeding later, also remove all grass for approximately a two to three foot radius around the hole and mulch this as well.)

Add a 1-2 inch (3-4 inch is ok) layer of compost if you want to give your trees some extra fertility. This is not absolutely needed, but is ideal.

Top dress with a minimum of a 1 inch (ideally 3-4 inch) layer of mulch (wood chips, shredded leaves, straw or grass clippings) around the tree in a donut shape. Place the mulch so that none is touching the trunk of the tree. We recommend mulching about two to three feet around the tree. Remember it should be a donut shape, not a volcano shape. When watering the tree, make sure that the water doesn’t push the mulch up against the tree. If mulch is pushed up against the tree, pull it back away. If doing larger layers of compost or mulch it is imperative to do it well so that it does not come in contact with or cover the trunk of the tree.

If you want to have a continual source of fertility and weed suppression, you can plant root cuttings of comfrey, nettles, yarrow or any other low growing herbaceous plant. This would be planted in the compost layer.



Trees generally do not need to be staked. 


Animal Protection

It is important to protect the young trees from animals. This can be done with tree tubes, chicken wire, hardware cloth or fencing. If resourceful this can be done for free.

When trees have grown to a height where the canopy is above where deer can reach you can remove your tree tubes and fencing. 

Tree tubes tend to be more affordable than installing deer fencing around large areas of land. 

To practice resourcefulness, seek out stakes and hardware cloth or chicken wire. These can be found free for or cheaply online and at yard sales. Use these materials to create tree tubes made of recycled materials

Tree tubes are plastic tubes that protect the tree while it establishes. Here is a product we recommend if you’d like to purchase. These tubes stay on for the first couple of years. These can be reused for future planting.

Watch this video for information:

How to Water a Community Fruit Tree

With bare root saplings, that are planted dormant, your trees will establish themselves naturally and develop root systems that make them resistant to droughts. If you water too much you create a weak plant that ends up needing irrigation. 

Depending on your climate and the rainfall you may need to irrigate a few times during the first summer. If approximately 10 days of no rain is accompanied by high temperatures (generally this happens only in the summer and early fall) the trees can become stressed and require watering. Check on your trees in periods of drought and water if the leaves begin to droop or wilt. 

There is no exact formula for watering. Observation is the key.

With fall planting, water the trees after planting just enough to keep the soil moist and keep the roots from drying out.

When you do water: water carefully to ensure the water soaks into the ground. Dumping a bucket can result in water that just runs off. A slow watering that allows it to soak into the soil is key.

After the first year you should not have to water the trees again. These are tough, easy trees.


Maintenance – Mulching and Composting

Trees will benefit from being re-mulched every year, with fall being the best time.

(Shredded leaves collected from your neighborhood is the best mulch their is.)

3-4 inches of mulch is a good goal. 

Make sure that the mulch is never touching the base of the tree.


Maintenance – Weeding

Keep the mulched area weed free. Weeds compete for nutrients and water. It’s best to pull the weeds out from their roots, to keep them from coming back. Weeding once per week will only take a few minutes and will prevent weeds from establishing.


Choosing Locations

We plant Community Fruit Trees in many different locations where the public can access them including residential front yards and businesses with access from a public sidewalk, in the medians between streets and sidewalk, at schools, in public parks, in churchyards, along bike trails and along the edges of farms. Ideal locations are where people walk every day and where they are highly accessible.

Choose a location that is fully accessible to the public, preferably near a sidewalk, road or path. (but far enough away to not crowd the sidewalk, road or path).

See the “Tree Spacing and Size” section

Each tree should receive a minimum of 6 hours of full sun. The more sun these trees get the more fruit they will produce. We recommend only planting trees in locations where they will receive full sun.

When selecting a location for tree planting the most important factors to consider are: 

The water tolerance of the tree type and

Drainage capacity of the soil

(Freeze tolerances should also be considered, however we are only sending trees that are a match for your climate.

Most trees enjoy well drained soil and some require well drained soil to survive and thrive. Some trees tolerate “wet feet.” This means damp bottom land located near creeks and rivers or locations with high water tables that are slower to drain. All trees that can tolerate wet feet can also be planted in well drained soil.

Well drained soil needed to thrive: shagbark hickory, chestnut, apple, pear, hazelnut

Tolerates “wet feet”: pecan, shellbark hickory, hecan, persimmon, mulberry, elderberry, pawpaw

Pecan prefers lowland, loamy, rich, neutral to alkaline soil

Chestnut prefers upland, well drained, acidic soil


Tree Spacing and Size

Each type of tree grows to different sizes and prefers different conditions. Proper planning must be done to ensure the survival and thrival of each tree.


Pecan, hican, hickory and chestnut are very large trees. At full maturity they grow to 80 feet wide and 110 feet tall.

We recommend planting these trees 20 feet apart from each other for maximum productivity and at least 10 feet from any sidewalk or road.

After 15-20 years or whenever the crowns overlap too much to be managed by light pruning every other tree can be removed to achieve a spacing of 40 feet. 

This should keep the crowns from overlapping for another 15-20 years. 

Then remove every other tree again for a final spacing of 80 feet. These trees can live for 500 to over 1,000 years!


Persimmons, pawpaws, apples, mulberries and pears tend to be medium sized trees. They can grow up to 30 feet wide and 40 feet tall but they can all be pruned to be kept at a desired size. For example, front yard trees can be maintained as dwarfs that never grow more than 10 feet wide and 10 feet tall. Apple trees in an orchard are generally maintained at 20-30 feet apart.

We recommend planting these trees 15 feet apart for maximum productivity and 10 feet from any sidewalk or road. If planting on medians take care to make sure they will be well-harvested trees.

These trees can live to be 100+ years old (pawpaws being the lower exception)

They can be thinned out after 15-20 years to prevent overcrowding. 


Hazelnuts and elderberries can be pruned to grow into more of a tree form or they can be left to grow in their wild multistem, shrub form. They can grow to 12 feet wide and 15 feet tall. 

For tree form we recommend planting these trees 15 feet apart.

For shrub form we recommend planting these trees 6-10 feet apart for a hedgerow/living fence or 15-20 feet apart for an orchard situation.

These trees can live to be 100 years old.



Below are links to resources for pruning nut trees and fruit trees. Generally, none of these trees require any pruning during their first three years of growth. In the early years, dead or damaged branches are to be pruned. 

When will they be fully grown?

Elderberry: ~15 years, Hazelnut: ~15 years

Apple: ~20 years, Pear: ~20 years

Persimmon: ~30 years, Pawpaw: ~30 years, Mulberry: ~30 years

Chestnut: ~50 years

Shellbark hickory: ~60 years, Shagbark hickory: ~60 years

Pecan: ~75 years, Hican: ~75 years


When will These Trees Start Producing Fruit? 

Fruit trees are a long term investment, with a large focus being on future generations. For most nut trees expect a few decades before meaningful production. For most fruit trees with large fruit (such as apples) expect 12 years before meaningful production.

We have created a chart here that gives general ideas of when the trees will start producing fruit and nuts. First production means any fruit at all. Medium production means enough for a handful of people to enjoy. Full production means the tree is capable of producing maximum yields. 

First fruit / medium production/ full production (from planting)

Elderberry: ~2/5/8 years

Hazelnut: ~3/8/10 years

Mulberry: ~3/10/15 years

Pear: ~5/9/20 years

Persimmon: ~5/12/20 years, Pawpaw: ~5/12/20 years, Apple: ~5/12/20years 

Chestnut: ~5/25/50 years

Pecan: ~7/30/60 years, Hican: ~7/30/60 years, Shellbark hickory: ~7/30/60 years, Shagbark hickory: ~7/30/60 years


Survival Rate

If you select locations well, protect your trees from weeds, animals, and drought, and plant them properly you can expect a survival rate of greater than 80% for your trees. If you plant 20 trees, it is successful if 16 live. If you plant 100 trees, it is successful if 80 live.

Don’t be hard on yourself if some trees die, as this is inevitable for those of us who plant dozens of trees every year. Remember that the “best compost” is the gardener’s shadow so be sure to visit and love your trees often to help ensure their success and maximize your learning experience.


Signage and Map Updating

Please place signs by your Community Fruit Trees and add them to the fallingfruit map to let people know that they can enjoy the bounty.

We have created a few PDFs that you can download and print for your convenience. If you use one of these, you could laminate the paper and put it up on a post.

Download the printable simple version here. This option is a simple sign that you can print and put up.

Download the printable version with blanks for information This option has blank spaces where you can fill in a little more information about the tree.


Best Resources

We are adding resources soon

The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation. Check out the resource page including a guide to planting fruit trees, how to prune fruit trees, a hardiness zone chart and more.

A special thanks to the Live Like Ally Foundation for providing financial support.

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