7 Best Fruit Trees for Rocky Soil (And How to Plant Them)

Old large olive tree growing on rocky soil

Rocky soil can seem like a deterrent in growing fruit trees. But thankfully it doesn’t have to be. There are 7 very hardy, delicious fruit trees that you can grow in rocky soil, with no problem. You may be pleasantly surprised by the ones that made the list!

Rocky soil can be a challenge for many gardeners. Finding the right fruit tree that will thrive in a rocky environment is key to a successful harvest. The best fruit trees for rocky soil include cherry trees, olive trees, apple trees, fig trees, peach trees, plum trees, and apricot trees.

In this guide, we will discuss the trees that will grow well in rocky soil, ways to improve soil, and how to care for them. Let’s get to it!

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Why Are Rocky Soil Areas Bad for Plants?

If you have ever tried to hand-till a rocky area, you know how labor intensive this is. Now imagine plant roots. These roots can struggle at gaining the leverage they need to get deep into the ground. However, there are some pros to rocky soil.

Another disadvantage to rocky soil for fruit trees is that sometimes plants struggle at absorbing nutrients and water. Due to rockiness, water goes further into the ground, causing a lack of available resources.

Some of the pros are that some plants need rocky soil in order to survive. This is due to their adaptations to the harsher environments that typically come with rocky soil.

What Grows Well in Rocky Soil?

Rocky soil can be a challenge when gardening. Not only is it difficult to dig and it can be lacking in nutrients and too dense for the root systems of plants to thrive. This can create a challenge for many gardeners when picking the plants for them. 

Plants with more shallow root systems do well due to their ability to access water closer to the surface. They usually have fewer water requirements and are hardier than most plants. Plants such as aloe, for example, do well in these conditions.

Perennial herbs like Lavender love rockier conditions. They thrive in dry soil. Another good herb for these conditions is Rosemary.

Can You Plant Trees in Rocky Soil?

Growing cherry tree into ground

Trees can be planted in rocky soil with careful consideration. Some things to consider are:

  • Climate
  • Nutrient requirements for the trees
  • Care requirements
  • Are there any pipes under where you want to plant?
  • What kind of fruit do you like to eat?

After thinking these over, begin planning locations of trees and researching the best for your climate.

Rocky soil can help even heat distribution to the roots of the trees. Check your local growing zone to make sure whatever trees you choose are compatible with your area, and research local pests as well. This will help ensure that your planting is successful. 

Researching your tree’s nutritional requirements is a must. For a tree to produce fruit, it must have its nutrient needs met. Every species is different, so knowing what it takes for your tree to be healthy is important. 

Do you know the layout of your plumbing? Chances are probably not. It is important to know where piping, wires, and anything buried around your property is. Especially plumbing. Tree roots can grow into your pipes and cause expensive damage to your home. 

Just like every other living creature, trees have specific needs based on their species. Different seasons mean different care requirements for your trees. Having knowledge of various maintenance for the tree is critical for a healthy and happy tree. 

What fruit do you and your family eat? That is a big factor in deciding what to grow. If you are only growing a few trees for personal use, it makes zero sense to pick trees nobody will eat the fruit from. 

What Fruit Trees Grow Well in Rocky Soil?

Trees have very specific needs. We now know of various kinds that will do well in rockier soils compared to others. Many factors play into this and each tree has its own care requirements and zone requirements. 

Cherry Trees Can Handle Rocky Soil

Close up of cherries on a cherry tree

Cherry trees grow well in zones 5 through 8. They like a colder environment compared to other trees like citrus. They can live between 10 to 20 years when properly cared for. 

Aphids are a major pest for cherry trees. Along with aphids, other insects target cherry trees along with fungal diseases. Trees should be monitored and treated accordingly.

They are often loved for their beautiful blossoms and fragrance. Many people also love the fruit. Cherries grow in two types: sweet and tart. 

Tart cherries self-pollinate and sweet cherries need another tree for pollination to occur. This is a factor that should be considered. If you only want one tree, tart cherries would be the way to go.

They love well-drained soil since their roots are susceptible to rot. Rocky soil is typically good for drainage as it does not retain water as well. Cherries also, like sunny areas as well. They should be pruned in late summer and fertilized in spring.

Pruning dead branches and branches that inhibit fruit production is important to the overall health of the tree. You can use a commercial fruit tree fertilizer, like Dr. Earth 708P Organic 9 Fruit Tree Fertilizer to fertilize the tree.

Olive Trees Grow on Rocky Soil

Olive tree orchard

Olives grow well in zones 8-11. Olives make a great ornamental tree as well as a fruit bearer. They love sandy, well-drained soil. This can make rocky soil a suitable environment for optimal olive growth. 

Olive trees do not like fertilizers. They do well with low nutrients. However, this does not exclude nitrogen which is needed for proper foliage development. Too little can affect the oil quality within the plant.

Olives should be brined to have the classic olive flavoring. Most olives grown on a tree will have a pit as well. 

Pruning should only be done as needed since olive trees never produce fruit in the same spots. Not pruning can make the tree more susceptible to fungal diseases. 

Olives should appear after three years. These trees typically produce fruit every other year. 

They are pretty sturdy and resilient trees. Besides the occasional issue with fungus, these trees typically do not get pests or diseases. This is a good tree for individuals who want a low-maintenance tree!

Apple Trees Will Grow in Rocky Soil

Apple orchard in summer, covered with colorful apples

There are hundreds of varieties of apples. These are specially designed for various zones, soil compositions, uses, and many other factors. This means there should be an apple variety for you.

Apple trees do fairly well in rocky soil, especially if the soil is amended with rabbit manure. Once the tree establishes, the watering requirement is typically only 15 gallons a week. You can help decrease watering needs with a water bag, like Greenscapes Tree Watering Bags.

These trees need another tree to pollinate usually. Some individuals can self-pollinate; however, so take special consideration when choosing your varieties.

These trees love fertilizers. Some say to use manure to help feed the tree’s needs. Commercial fertilizer can work as well. Mulch around the tree to maintain moisture, keep weeds at bay and fertilize the tree. 

Pests like apple maggot flies, moths, bores, and a few others can affect apple trees. Combat these with fruit tree safe pesticides. 

Rocky Soil Won’t Deter Fig Trees

Fresh figs fruit  hanging on the branch of tree

Fig trees are very hardy and resilient. They prefer sandy soil but can really live in any soil type. They grow well in zones 5-8, though anything under eight needs to be a hardier variety. They grow well in rocky soil because of their hardiness. Regular watering and mulching may be required.

Fig trees can be grown in containers and do well without regular fertilization, though if growth is slow, you can fertilize with nitrogen. Most varieties are pollinated by species-specific wasps. 

If you live in a drier climate, a weekly heavy watering may be needed. To combat this, mulch around the tree. This will also help combat weed growth as well. 

Fig trees do not get many pests or diseases. They do get nematodes, rust, and a few others. Regular maintenance will help combat this or a commercial spray like the Bonide BND022- Ready to Use Neem Oil!

Stone Fruits Grow on Rocky Soil

Stone fruit peach tree

Stone fruits do well in rockier soils because they’re roots like to be shallow for better watering. Stone fruit varieties include: peaches, plums, and apricots. These are called stone fruits due to the pit or stone in the center of the fruit.

Zones vary between varieties but are typically zone five and above. 

Growing stone fruit trees can be a bit of a challenge without proper knowledge of their needs. Many beginners do not understand that they need a second tree to pollinate them.

These fruits can be rewarding to grow, as many enjoy eating them. The flowers on the trees are equally as beautiful and they make wonderful landscape trees. 

They vary only slightly in care requirements but usually have the same needs. The majority harvest in the late summer and need to be fertilized early spring. You can fertilize with either compost or commercial fertilizer. 

Water regularly when establishing the new tree. Moths, flies, and bores are common pests. Watch the trees for any signs of pests. These trees require less pruning than apple trees. 

How to Plant a Tree in Rocky Soil

Though, it varies based on variety on how to plant a tree, it is a simple concept. Most every tree has similar needs regarding putting it into the ground.

Here’s how to plant a tree in rocky soil:

  • Choose the best spot to plant
  • If planting multiple trees, figure out the correct spacing for your species
  • Dig your hole twice as deep as the root ball of the tree.
  • Add in a layer of compost as deep as the root ball 
  • Loosen the roots and place into the hole 
  • FIll hole in and pat soil down
  • Add any extra compost to fill the hole 
  • Mulch and water the tree well

Adding compost will help to ensure proper nutrition for your newly planted tree. This should only be done up to ground level. You should allow 2 inches from the base of the trunk and ground level. 

Mulching helps maintain moisture within the soil. You should mulch about 6 inches deep around the tree. Leave around 6 inches around the trunk bare to prevent excessive moisture around the trunk.

Making sure you dig a deep enough hole is key to ensuring proper health of your tree, if it is too shallow roots can be exposed during soil erosion. Roots being exposed to the surface can cause a tree to fall as they do not have enough land to hold them in place; too deep can cause rot and improper air flow.

To choose the best spot for your tree, consider a few factors: sunlight, any pipes nearby, windiness, and finally how the tree will look in that spot. Thoughtful planning is key to successful growth. A tree is like any other living thing and needs specific things to thrive.

Caring for a Newly Planted Fruit Tree

Damp soil at base of fruit tree

The first year after planting a new tree is crucial to helping the tree establish itself. Every species is different so additional research based on your species is needed.

Make sure your tree has adequate water for the first year. This is crucial to ensuring proper root development. A new tree can need up to 20 gallons of water a week.  

Make sure to prune any bad limbs. Though be conservative with any pruning to prevent stunting growth. Wait until the tree is well established to do any major pruning.

Pruning established trees is important for airflow; improper air flow can cause too much moisture on the leaves and subsequently fungal infections.

Watch the tree to make sure it does not need any added support. Sometimes saplings can be blown by the wind. If this happens, you may need to add stakes to help support the tree as it roots itself in.

How Can I Fix Rocky Soil?

Soil erosion and the lack of fertile soil in the United States is a growing problem. Amending soil to become a healthier growing medium is easier than you think. 

Familiarize yourself with soil types to correctly identify soil types you may have. Different soils require different things to help fix any issues.

The first thing you should do is take your soil for a soil test. Your local extension office can provide information on their free soil testing. Once the test comes back, you will know the composition within your soil.

If you do not want to take your soil to be tested by the extension office, there are some at home kits available online like the Luster Leaf 1601 Rapitest Test Kit. This will give you an answer quickly!

Testing is important for every gardener. Like our bodies, plants need a certain ratio of everything; too much of something can harm them and too little can do the same. 

The next step is to build compost. Compost is important in creating fertile soil. Layering the compost around is important. Continue mulching and adding compost until you have feet of fertile soil. 

You can also purchase compost locally or online, such as Michigan Peat 5240 Garden Magic Compost and Manure. Soil additives are also available online once you determine the requirements your soil needs. These will help you balance out your nutrients and pH. 

That’s a Wrap!

Fruit trees are a great investment for homeowners! They improve property values and the quality of your overall life by providing fresh produce. There are many factors you should take in before investing in a tree.

Some of these factors include location, climate, and your personal preferences. Take careful consideration when deciding the best trees for you, including your soil type. 

Some plants and trees do well in rocky soil. Choosing the best tree for your soil type helps to ensure you have the best outcome for production of fruit. Providing the best conditions optimizes the health of your tree. 

Making sure you amend your soil can help combat any rockiness within your soil. This will also help feed your trees and help them grow. 


Davis, J.G., and D. Whiting. “Choosing a Soil Amendment – 7.235.” Extension, 2013, extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/choosing-a-soil-amendment/.

“Olives – Gardening Solutions – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.” Gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu, gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/fruits/olives.html. Accessed 5 Nov. 2021.

“Soil Types.” Murraystate.edu, 2016, www.murraystate.edu/headermenu/Offices/esh/OccupationalSafetyHealth/TrenchingShoring/SoilTypes.aspx

Roussos, P. A., & Gasparatos, D. (2009). Apple tree growth and overall fruit quality under organic and conventional orchard management. Scientia Horticulturae123(2), 247-252.

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