Medium-sized nursery trees are most satisfactory for apple, pear, cherry, and plum trees. Large-sized trees are more difficult to train, require more severe pruning at planting, and are slower to recuperate from the shock of transplanting than are medium-sized trees.

Small-sized peach and nectarine nursery trees are preferred. These trees are trained to the open center type form in which the central leader is removed.

Small trees are easier to train and they start bearing as early as larger trees. The preferred size range of nursery trees is as follows: apples, cherries, plums, and pears—3 to 6 foot height with trunk caliper 5⁄8 to 3⁄4 inch; peaches, nectarines, and apricots—2 to 4 foot height with trunk caliper 5⁄16 to 7⁄16 inch.



Spring planting is preferred in all Illinois areas, but late fall planting is satisfactory for southern Illi- nois. The ideal time for spring planting is just after the soil thaws and before plant growth starts. This is in March for southern Illinois and in April for north- ern Illinois.



Soil, climate, cultural practices, variety, and rootstock all should be considered in choosing spacing distances. The closer spacings will require more careful pruning and management practices to keep trees within the allotted spaces. Spacings are within row and between row spacings. For example, with a 10 x 16 spacing the trees are planted 10 feet apart in the row with the rows 16 feet apart.

Fruit trees are often sold with bare roots, and the roots must be kept damp at all times to prevent them from dying. If trees are purchased from a local nursery, plant them immediately. If they are obtained from a mail-order firm, open the package as soon as it is received. Place the trees in a tub of water, completely immersing the roots, but for no longer than 2 days.

If planting must be delayed more than 2 days, the trees should be heeled in. Dig a shallow trench in a shaded area. Open the bundle, separate the trees, and spread out the roots. Place the trees so their roots are in the trench and the trunk makes a 45 degree angle with the ground. Cover the roots with loose soil and work in around the roots to remove air pockets. Add more soil, firm by tamping, and water if dry.

How to Plant a Fruit Tree

To plant in the permanent location, dig a hole large enough to accommodate the roots extended in their natural position.

  • Cut off any broken, damaged, dead, or diseased root parts.
  • Excessively long roots should be shortened. Shortening a root is preferable to bending it around in the hole.
  • For shipment, tree roots frequently are kept in a vertical position. They should be spread to their normal position in plantings.
  • Place the tree in the hole and spread out the roots. Hold the tree with one hand and work loose soil around the roots with the other hand.
  • Firm the soil occasionally as it is being put around the roots to remove air pockets.
  • Fill the hole to ground level, then tamp firmly.
  • Water the tree, and then fill in the remainder of the loose soil without firming.
  • Apply 1⁄8 pound of mixed fertilizer (such as 10-10-10 or equivalent) to each tree. Spread the fertilizer in a circular band from 1 to 2 feet from the trunk.
  • Fruit trees, except those on dwarfing rootstocks, should be planted so that they are about 2 inches deeper in the soil than they were growing in the nursery row.
  • Apple trees on dwarfing rootstocks should be planted with the graft union about 3 inches above the ground. The soil line on the trunk can be determined by noting the difference in appearance of the bark.
  • Pruning the top at planting time is necessary to start the training process.


Recommended tree spacing

Fruit or Variety Rootstock
Spacing in Feet
Apple M 9, Bud 9 8 x 14 to 10 x 16
Apple M 26, M 7 Interstems 10 x 15 to 14 x 20
Apple MM 106, MM 111 16 x 22 to 20 x 28
Apple Seedling (standard)  20 x 30 to 25 x 35
Apple (spur) Seedling (standard) 14 x 20 to 18 x 24
Apple (spur) Dwarfing stock 8 x 14 to 14 x 20
Use the wider spacings for Red Delicious and Winesap. These two varieties are vigorous growers.
Peach, Apricot. Nectarine, Plum Seedling (standard) 14 x 20 to 20 x 28
Peach, Apricot. Nectarine, Plum St. Julian A (dwarf) 8 x 16 to 12 x 18
Comp. Redhaven Seedling (standard) 8 x 16 to 12 x 18
Pear Dwarfing quince 8 x 16 to 14 x 20
Sour Cherry: Montmorency  Seedling (standard) 14 x 22 to 20 x 26
Sour Cherry: Meteor  Seedling (standard) 10 x 16 to 12 x 18
Sour Cherry: North Star Seedling (standard) 8 x 12 to 10 x 14
Sour Cherry: Suda Hardy Seedling (standard) 8 x 12 to 10 x 14
Sweet Cherry Seedling (standard) 20 x 26