Growing Trees (Any Trees!) By The Grandma White Method

From “The Complete Book of Composting” Copyright 1960 by J. I. Rodale

plant trees
Fruit trees will get off to the best start if fed a steady diet of compost. Humus is important if trees are to be productive, disease-free and fast-growing. Use your compost as a mulch as well as a steady source of nutrients to your growing trees.


Start right from the very beginning. Use compost to start and nourish your tree. We cannot recommend commercial, chemical fertilizers which do not add humus to the soil. You must add organic matter to the soil if you want productive, disease-free trees. Soil that is well supplied with humus retains moisture and has good drainage and aeration.

As humus decomposes, it releases a continuous supply of plant food in contrast to the “flash” action produced by chemical fertilizers. It encourages the existence of beneficial bacteria and earthworms. It fights erosion and over-compactness of the soil.

Every tree grower must have a compost pile. Use your compost as a mulch around each tree. Your trees need nitrogen, phosphorus and potash and your compost pile should contain these nutrients in good proportion.

When organic expert Herbert Clarence White of Paradise, California, plants a tree, he doesn’t even glance at the little instruction sheet that the nursery sent with the stock. He proceeds to plant the tree using an unusual method handed down to him by his grandmother years ago. Grandma White’s method has worked so well for Herbert over the years that he has used it to plant hundreds—possibly even thousands—of trees. He has seen fruit trees planted by Grandma White’s method show 3 or 4 feet of new growth in a year, and start bearing crops in only a couple of seasons.

You start out by digging a hole 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep in which to plant your young tree. That size hole is much bigger than is usually recommended, but a big hole is the heart of Herbert’s method and he insists on it. Separate the topsoil from the subsoil that is dug from the planting hole. In the bottom of the hole place a couple of pieces of 4-inch drain tile and plug up the ends with stones. Fill up the bottom foot of the hole with a mixture of equal parts of topsoil, peat moss and finished compost, plus about five pounds of phosphate rock or colloidal phosphate.

The top 12-inch layer—consisting of a mixture of compost, thoroughly soaked peat moss, leafmold, colloidal phosphate and rich topsoil, is most important. This is the immediate “seedbed” where the tender young feeder roots will be working. No raw manure or chemical fertilizer should ever contact this area. Such materials will seriously burn the roots, and perhaps even kill the tree outright. Even raw manure, used as a mulch at the top has often proved disastrous to newly planted trees. So go slow on the manure!

On top of that mixture place a layer of small rocks. The next one-foot layer consists of pure topsoil. Now put into the hole a large stone. Spread the roots of the tree over that stone, then fill the rest of the hole with the compost-topsoil-peat-phosphate-rock mixture. As mulch over the planting, place one inch of compost, 3 inches of leaves, plus a layer of stones if desired. White also advises putting 250 to 500 earthworms in the top compost layer, and adds this postscript to the description of his method:

Does all this sound too weird and grotesque? Too utterly fantastic? If so, far be it from me to try and convince you. But if you are just a wee bit interested in watching a miracle, just try it out on one little tree—following the planting plan as indicated in the diagram carefully—and it will be hard for you to believe your own eyes when that baby tree starts growing.”

planting trees
Here is the “Grandma White” method for planting trees. Start out by digging a hole that is 3 feet wide and deep, separating topsoil from subsoil. Place drain tile, stones at bottom, filling hole with topsoil, compost, peat moss and mineral powders.

In treating a sick tree, or one which has failed year after year to produce a crop, use the same formula as used in planting a baby tree. In other words, make a “blend” or mixture consisting of: ½ yard (12 bushels) topsoil; 2 bushels compost (completely decomposed) ; 2 bushels leaf mold (completely broken down) ; 20 pounds colloidal phosphate (or rock phosphate) ; and 20 pounds of rock potash. The above formula will be sufficient for a young tree of from 2 to 6 years of age that has shown little vitality and below average growth. This enriched earth will be used to fill the 20-inch holes that encircle the young tree. (Dig 8 holes, 8 inches in diameter and 20 inches deep, around the tree at the drip line.)

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The next step in “treating” a sick tree is to level off the land around the trunk a little beyond the drip line of the branches, and to build a sturdy dike just outside the ring of 20-inch holes. Ten pounds of each of the two above-mentioned minerals should then be spread from the trunk of the tree out to the rim of the basin, and worked lightly into the soil with a rake. One inch of compost and leaf mold (mixed) should then be added to the area within the basin, and spread out evenly.

If domesticated earthworms are to be used in this “health-building” program, they should be spread over the compost (from 500 to 1,000) and covered with a 3-inch leaf mulch. A little corn meal or coffee grounds spread on the compost before spreading the leaves would help to give the worms a good start in their new environment (via

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