Ideas for low maintenance orchard, weeds edition

We have a small orchard at our family cabin with about 100 apple trees on G41 + M7 rootstocks. Most are only a few years old. All have 6’ of thistles and weeds among the tall grasses (which I guess is ok).

We’ve tried mulching just around each tree but even then its too much material. Living mulch would be a much simpler approach and to that end we’ve started planting out comfrey and figs to reclaim the area between trees. The lanes will still need to mowed but maybe there’s a cover crop that makes that less often as we’re 3 hrs away.

My hope is to find a natural balance and encourage things that do not need to be mowed down as much. Would love to hear suggestions on things that will come out early and out compete the weeds. Low growing, not thorny…things we can add in to gradually turn the tide. Diversity is also important. Here’s some photos:


You might want to try planting cereal rye grass in the asides in between this fall. It will establish over the winter and in the spring will shade out a good portion of the weeds. Around June time frame and scythe it down and it will be a great for weed suppress the rest of the summer. It won’t make it weed free but it will get you part of the way there plus create some good organic material.

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Thanks John! So something like this should work?

Red clover or birdsfoot treefoil
are some I’d consider for covercrop/understory.
You could also plant rape/mustard/clovers to attract deer…so that they might leave the trees alone (hopefully).

The overgrown fields do keep deer from eating the apples I suspect.


That will work along with some clover and you will be all set.

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not a fan of herbicides but spraying carefully on a calm day with roundup to kill the weeds and their roots will keep them from returning so quickly and allow your cover crop to get a jump on establishment. did this to my bank near the road and am finally winning the battle with the weeds. i replanted lupines and wildflower mixes from 2 different sources. looks great and helps the bees. just reseed into the dead weeds in a few weeks after spraying and your seeds will grow. in the 2nd year some grass somehow survived so i just spot sprayed them in the spring. by mid summer my flowers filled in the spots. now it looks like a meadow. 4ft. cardboard circles covered with at least 4in. of green mulch on top will kill any weeds around the trees. as long as you top it off every spring the weeds cant get established under them. buy a small scythe and chop and drop the weeds under there during the summer will also help keep the weeds from growing and feeds your trees as it breaks down. good luck!

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Thanks for the suggestions everyone! I added a food plot mix of rye, oats (90%) and other cereal grains in between the rows. Kept some long and some short to gauge the difference. Initially had cardboard and mulch but there was too much ground to cover. Ill try to remember to update thread with my observations.