We compared conventional and alternative systems for the establishment of apple trees on a replicated, whole-orchard scale. The alternative system consisted of a K-31 fescue sod rotation followed by planting of trees directly into sod that had been kitted with herbicide. The conventional system consisted of a standard corn rotation, accompanied by application of fertilizer and nematicide. Orchard floor management in the three years following tree planting was based on the use of both pre-and post-emergence herbicides in the conventional system and only contact herbicide in the alternative system. The study documented tree growth, pest incidence, and nitrate mobility in the two systems. The alternative system compared favorably with the conventional system for the growth and establishment of four apple cultivars. Many advantages accompanied the killed sod system, including less subsurface leaching ofnitrate-N and lower costs (largely from decreased herbicide use). The alternative system provided an economical alternative to the problem of soil organic matter depletion in conventional orchard soils without requiring increased use of commercial fertilizers. Grower concerns regarding increased potential for vole damage and poor initial tree growth were unsubstantiated.