There is an area in my back yard that used to be part of a farmer’s pond. It does not drain very well at all but gets lots of sunlight. I was wondering if I could plant apple trees in a raised bed in this area, and if so what would be the recommended height of the bed?
The Gardener’s Answer
Hi, Bruce in Kentucky: I am sorry to tell you that unless you address the drainage issue, planting apple trees in this space is not ideal. Apple trees will not thrive in poorly draining soils; they really do not like wet feet. So you have a couple of options: you can fill in the space with top soil and amendments without dealing with the lack of drainage, and then choose plants that are tolerable of these conditions, or you can improve the drainage and then fill in the space with good top soil along with plenty of amendments. Unfortunately, just adding soil will not make the space suitable for any plant requiring well-drained soil. No matter how far down the drainage issue occurs it will always affect the surface layer as well. So it actually is a more complicated situation than just adding soil to fill in the space. If you are not interested in resolving the drainage problem then you can add soil to the level where it is flush with the surrounding landscape and then landscape with plants that are recommended for moist soil. If you are specifically looking for an edible fruit, a serviceberry (Amelanchier) would be a good option. Other sun-loving tree options that will tolerate these conditions include: red maple (Acer rubrum), bald cypress (Taxodium distilchum), ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostoboides), river birch (Betula nigra), and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua). There are also many ornamental grasses, shrubs, and perennials that are suitable for this type of situation. Please let me know if you would like more recommendations.