Last year I planted 3 flowering pear trees. For those who have never heard of the tree (or do not grow these trees) they look like this:

enter image description here

For 2 out of the 3 trees it was very simple to plant the tree as the soil was very good and to this day both are living very well and growing very well. The third one I planted was very difficult to plant; not only was there a LOT of clay but there was a TON of poured cement / crushed concrete. It appears (since this was a newly built house) that the builder just dumped either crushed concrete or concrete itself in this one area and covered it up with some dirt / clay / soil. I tried as best I could to dig a hole and was so tired in doing so I finally got enough dug to place the tree in the hole. This tree was always much weaker then the other two trees and eventually this year died.

So because of the design of these three trees this is the first one in a row that has died. So just taking it out and growing grass would look really odd as I am missing the first out of three trees. So I have to replant one...so I dug this one out and have been using a huge pick to pick as much concrete out of this hole but it appears I am surronded by this crushed concrete.

I guess my question is how far deep or along the sides do I need to keep digging in order to plant this tree correctly? I do not want to end up with the same mistake the first time of my tree dying again. Is there some sort of limit in depth or width I need to go before I can say stop then plant the tree and surround it with good dirt?

With this in mind besides top soil should I add some peat moss / wood chips to enrich the health and promote growth on this tree?

  • Do you have a grackle problem? Ornamental pears are notorious for grackles here in Texas. People plant them because they look nice (shape as well as flowers) and then wonder why they get so many grackles!
    – winwaed
    Jun 13, 2011 at 0:17
  • No grackles here in Michigan...still wondering how much concrete to chip away to plant this...anyone?
    – JonH
    Jun 13, 2011 at 0:48
  • @bstpierre that sounds ok, I did end up digging much deeper and around it (width wise) and planted a new tree. So my question is answered.
    – JonH
    Jun 14, 2011 at 13:39

3 Answers 3


That tree isn't going to be able to break through the concrete itself. (Maybe some trees can, but your flowering pear's probably not going to thrive.) So I'd say you need to at least give it enough room to get into some real soil. You also want to make sure it has good drainage. It sounds like what you may have had before was a concrete bowl? It's possible you were drowning the roots a bit every time it rained.

Keep in mind that (roughly speaking) the tree's roots are like a mirror image of the branches. So you want to know that it can spread its roots approximately how the branches are going to form.

It sounds like the spot where you're trying to plant is where the concrete trucks washed out after pouring your foundation. Depending on how big your foundation is, it's possible that you've got a bit to dig through. You may also encounter other construction debris -- I've heard of builders dumping/burying some of their scrap onsite to avoid having to haul it away and pay the landfill fee.

  • @bstpierre, I guess my question is what are your thoughts on this matter given the design of one row of three trees and the first tree is the one that died. I dont want to leave it empty I want to plant another tree, and it will be really difficult to move it to another place. I guess my question remains unanswered, how much should I continue picking at this cement / concrete bowl in order to plant this tree?
    – JonH
    Jun 13, 2011 at 12:40
  • My first thought when I saw your question was to adapt the design and "make lemonade" (ie. a rock garden) but if you've dug a lot of concrete out then perhaps some lower shrubbery?
    – winwaed
    Jun 13, 2011 at 13:20
  • @winwaed - But imagine the awful design this would look like. You would have a small shrub / bush, then 2 trees in a row..it would seem strange no ?
    – JonH
    Jun 13, 2011 at 13:42
  • Perhaps - I think only you can be the judge of that. You've got to weigh up the work clearing the concrete vs. the compromise to your original design. Personally I think I would have given up on the concrete at an earlier stage than you have - but perhaps I'm lazy!
    – winwaed
    Jun 13, 2011 at 15:29
  • @JonH - Like winwaed says, you have to judge whether it's worth the extra effort to make it look nice. I'm the last person to ask about matters of design/aesthetics -- two trees next to each other sounds nice to me. If you really want to get that stuff out of there and plant your tree, consider going to your local equipment rental shop and renting a jackhammer. The job will go faster. Here, I frequently hit bedrock after a foot or so of depth, so I'm used to having to look around for an alternative site for a tree...
    – bstpierre
    Jun 13, 2011 at 16:39

I ended up digging about 2 1/2 ft deep and 2 1/2 ft around (width wise). Filled it with very good top soil, a little organic matter (cow manure), and a little peat moss. The mix looked really good (from a landscaping perspective :) ). After this I went to the local Joe Randazoo nursery and purchased a flowering pear tree, fairly large for only 29 bucks.

I placed it on top of the good soil and then covered it with more good soil mixture and fertilized it and added a tree spike to it. It looks great.

UPDATE - 5 years later

The tree is still growing strong...I think it worked out for me.


Check the pH of the soil. Concrete can add too much lime and make the soil too alkaline for your tree. Tree roots are primarily the top 6" of soil so depth isn't a problem unless the concrete is stopping drainage.

I don't advocate peat moss but the use of peat moss probably brought the pH down to a level the tree needed.

Try to never plant plants in a straight line. Staggering helps tremendously. This also gives them more room to grow while providing the look you want (fence). Those pears in your picture are too close! Ok for a nursery but if they had been staggered (triangle formation) they'd be healthier and you wouldn't notice if one or two died.

  • 1
    I think the pic in the question is an example, not the OP's actual '3 flowering pear trees'. Hmm, I've seen quite a few tree roots over 2" thick 6' down, and that was 55 feet from the trunk, but I suppose a mature black walnut can be considered differently than a flowering pear.
    – J. Musser
    Aug 6, 2014 at 19:17
  • 1
    Funny you...grin. If roots get lower than 6" they are primarily for support. Feeder roots by necessity are only within 4-6" of the surface. I'll bet you are a hoot to live with, J.! You really get your hands dirty! Thus, I listen when you speaks!! And I got that picture was an example...'Chanticleer' Pears?
    – stormy
    Aug 6, 2014 at 19:22
  • 1
    Stormy, :) black walnuts use the deep roots for mineral and water intake, as well as support. Just thinking, in a case like that, the tree will have a limited mature size, which may end up being smaller than is typical.
    – J. Musser
    Aug 6, 2014 at 19:26
  • huh...maybe. Walnuts are survivors, that's for sure. Do you do woodwork? Let's go to our 'room', grin!!
    – stormy
    Aug 6, 2014 at 19:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.