Fertilizing, irrigation, and weed prevention

First off I can’t say how invaluable this forum has been, and it’s guided a lot of the changes I’ve been making to my “orchard.”

The big change that I’m finishing up has been to remove a lot of earth surrounding the trees, in order to retroactively create elevated mounds for each one. Now the base of each tree, in particularly the graft, is at least 6 inches above the surrounding area, and that area will be sloped in a way to get water away from the trees as it falls.

The next part of my project is putting an actual underground irrigation system. I’m honestly not 100% on how I’m going to do this, as the differing needs of each tree is leading me towards putting a tap at each tree that I can then put timers on for individual schedules, but I have 20 trees and that seems rather excessive. It also leads me to my next question.

I never really fertilized anything I’m not quite sure how to do it now. I had a temporary irrigation system set up with four to six half gallon/hour emitters for each tree. The fertilizer I have is granular and relies on water to wash the nutrients in. With drip emitters, the water doesn’t really touch the granules.

I’m also considering cardboard around the trunks topped by mulch. I imagine the fertilizer goes on top of that, or are people removing all the cardboard and mulch each time they fertilize? Does the fertilizer just go through the cardboard? What about the drip emitters? Under the cardboard? Over?

So I guess what I’m trying to figure out, in order, is:

  1. Drip irrigation? Bubblers? Mini sprinklers?
  2. Does cardboard and mulch for weed prevention require special watering considerations?
  3. Do I fertilize above or below the weed prevention?
  4. Should I occasionally water with a hose to get the fertilizer moving?
  5. As far as I can tell I just throw some fertilizer around the trunk of the tree going out as far as the branches do, right?

I had absolutely no idea that fruit trees would be this much work, though I do enjoy it.

My thread on irrigation might be a good place to start. I would figure out which trees need similar irrigation and put them in the same zone, and figure out how many zones you have. Some drip emitters are adjustable so you can have different amounts of water to trees in the same zone.

Brady has a great writeup on fertilizing.

And Mike recently made a thread on sheet mulch you can reference!

Thanks, those threads are super helpful!

I’m still a bit unclear on the “how” of fertilizing with drip irrigation. If I’m using slow release granular fertilizer, the drip emitters won’t effect that, so will occasional rain be enough, or should I water in the fertilizer with a hose on a schedule?

And should drip emitters go under the cardboard? Or are drip emitters wrong in the first place? Hmm.

Drip emitters can be good for low water trees, but I wouldn’t recommend it especially as trees get bigger and need more water. If you put drip emitters under the cardboard, you wouldn’t notice when they clog (and they do clog). If you put them above, the cardboard will soak the water up, and cause it to run away from the tree. As trees get older/bigger and need more water, you would need to add drippers to each tree, or change out to the highest rate possible (i think i have only seen 5GPH). So it will take a lot longer to water with drip as well.

Bubblers would be better, however, this keeps you looking at different water needs for different plants.

Something like a Rachio controller and putting like trees on one zone would work, but your layout may not allow for this.

Personally I use a Rachio and I water my lawn with my trees, so i set my zones for the trees, then just use rotor sprinklers to water everything (i’m lazy). I have tried to keep liked fruits planted together, so most my apples and pears are together, persimmon and pom are near each other, etc. Then i can program my sprinkler controller for how often/much to water each area. I do have gravity fed drip irrigation that i use to supplement some areas during the summer. I tried to use this as the only water source for my peaches, but i had/have citation roostock and it wasn’t sufficient.

For fertilizer, i wouldn’t use granules for fruit trees in the ground, just a personal preference. I just use the spikes in the late winter just before bud break, and then spray fertilizer throughout the year.

Since you are just down the road from me (Wise County), I would also be cautious with cardboard. When we get light rains during drought, the cardboard is going to soak up water and have to become saturated before the ground gets any water, so you wouldn’t be able to skip or delay watering when we get a little rain. Just thinking positives and negatives to sheet mulching with cardboard (heavy rains wouldn’t be an issue).

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Thanks, that’s a lot of good points. I guess this brings me to another point I don’t understand too well… How do I know the water needs of individual trees? Look at the leaves? Touch the soil? I’ll do some searching, I’m sure it’s been discussed.

you will want to research each type for a general idea, different varieties can even have different water needs, and of course rootstock makes a difference too.

Peaches in general need about 2"/week (talking mature trees). During the last month of fruit production, water needs go up with a single tree able to drink 40 gallons a day. Again, this is just general, fully matured trees. (this info is from Rutgers, so may not be accurate for us, since we don’t know if they are talking clay or sandy soil. NJ has a lot of sandy soil)

Apple trees can survive on 1" of water a week, ideally more as the fruit is being produced, but keeping the water low also controls vigor, and this helps against fireblight and other diseases.

Persimmon can withstand drought pretty well when established. But they do like consistent water as well. Figs are also very tolerant of drought, but with Figs, you want minimal water when the fruit is maturing or it will crack and split.

These the numbers you get from your research are really just going to be starter points. The Texas sun can be brutal, so you will have to account for evaporation, but we do have clay soil which holds moisture pretty well. if you do a good job with mulching you keep evaporation down, and build the soil quality which will also keep water needs down.

I only just found out about it this year, but Denton has a really good compost program. you can buy DinoDirt for $4 a cubic foot (1 bag), or by the yard. a good routine for trees would be to pull back the mulch lay down an inch of compost and re-apply your mulch on top of that compost. This helps feed the tree, adds a layer in to keep moisture down, and improves soil quality over time. I would do this in the spring, you can hammer in the fertilizer stake, and apply this at the same time. Should keep the trees nice and fed throughout the growing season.