Mulching home orchard and fruit trees

Yesterday I drove past a crew that was cutting down some beautiful, old, healthy, sweet-gum trees. They were chipping all of the smaller branches and scraps. I drove past, then turned around and drove back. I asked the crew if they need to pay, to dump the chips. They said yes. I asked if they wanted to dump them in my driveway. They said yes. I wound up with about 3 cubic yards of good quality wood chips for mulch, for free.

We have had notices from utility crews who are going around trimming under power lines. They offer to dump a load of chips on the driveway. Unfortunately, someone always gets to them before I do.

Some writers recommend `wood chips as one of the best mulches.

Wood chips last longer than many other mulches, and keep the ground soft, moist, weed free, and cool in the summer.

If there is a large area to mulch, cheap sources can be helpful.

I have read concerns that chipped tree mulch can spread disease. I suppose that is possible. I don’t think it has been an issue in my yard.

I also save cardboard food packaging for mulching around my fruit tree, especially spots that were grass and weeds before planting the tree. I tear the cardboard into pieces that are less than a square foot, and lay it overlapping on the entire area around the tree - usually about 4 foot by 4 foot. The cardboard kills the weeds, and the smaller size pieces allow water to drain. Then I mulch on top of that with chopped leaves, or straw, or wood chips. The straw doesn’t last long, but when the cardboard and straw is broken down, it leaves a nice soft soil and the area has few weeds, so easy to much again.

Sometimes I mulch with grass clippings. I usually use them in a circle around existing mulched areas to kill grass, since the do a good job of that and break down quickly. Then I use something longer lasting, such as the wood chips.

I’m sure everyone has their own method, or not mulching at all. You might not like my method but it works for me. I really liked getting the free wood chips which work well for me.

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I’ve always wondered about the chips created from the utility crews. Historically I spent way too much on that pretty red or brown mulch to put around my shrubs and flowers near the house. I’ve heard that natural chips can house termites so I’ve been hesitant to use them.around the house.

This source debunks the termite issue -

Even so, I don’t put them next to my house either, for the same reason. I have an area now that will probably get gravel instead.

I do pretty much the samenthing. I got in contact with an arborist that is always looking for places to dump the chips. Drops them off by the dump truck load

Thanks Bear thats good to know. Next time I see the tree trimmers I’ll talk to them about getting a load.

Bear,

I’m a pretty big fan of wood chips too for all the reasons you mention. A disadvantage is that it can make the soil so fertile as to cause excess vigor in trees. Still, I use them extensively. They can be difficult to obtain.

Around here, there are so many places who will take the chips for free (nurseries, other fruit growers, local farm marketers, places which sell topsoil) it’s hard to get wood chips.

The crews have been working close to me lately, so I’ve been able to get a few loads. Here is a pic of my mulch pile about a week ago.

Bear, because you live where not much rain comes during the ripening season I can see no likely bad results from generous mulching to keep weeds down.

Here in the east an important part of getting high quality fruit and annual production is maintaining MODERATE vigor in ones trees. By around the 8th year of annually depositing say a 3-4" deep 6’ diameter ring of wood chips around individual fruit trees you will have vastly increased the water holding capacity of your soil along with its production and release of nitrogen.

If the site has decent orchard soil to begin with this can become a problem of excessively juicing up your trees, and when there is ample rain leading up to ripening, creating conditions that produce bland fruit.

That, at least, seems to be the results I’ve observed at some sites. Now when trees reach near the desired size I stop mulching and let the lawn takeover the mulched areas and leave it that way as long as vigor doesn’t drop too much.

Go for that Goldilocks zone, not too hot, not too cold.

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Alan, what are your thoughts on using yearly mulch in areas with fairly heavy soil? the area I’m putting my new trees is fairly heavy and I plan to plant my trees acording to some of the nursery videos I’ve seen for heavy soil. Basically digging up my soil pit and breaking up the heavy soil and replacing it back in the hole. Then basically planting the barefoot tree on top of that and then mounding top soil up to the original soil line on the tree. At this point I’ll add mulch. I’m wondering if after several years of adding mulch the general soil in the area will be lightened. Make sense?

Olpea, that’s an impressive pile of wood chips!

At GW we discussed mulching a lot over the years, and although I don’t think I’ve experienced it yet, I agree with the problems Alan mentioned because the reasoning is sound.

Nevertheless, I wonder if those potential problems can be mitigated in different climates. This is just a theory, but I wonder if the problems can be mitigated in my climate.

For the last couple years I’ve not been able to get wood chips at my house, so the only chips I have, are what I bring from the farm. It’s pretty labor intensive to bring chips from the farm, so I only mulch areas where I’m germinating peach or other seeds. The wood chips have broken down, so that, on many trees there really aren’t many wood chips left.

Last year I noticed a few of the older trees didn’t have enough vigor. I’d like 2’ of growth, but instead got closer to 1’. I had assumed it was simply because the trees were older (older trees require more N to maintain the same vigor).

Upon further reflection, I wonder if there was something else coming into play. Namely, last summer I did a poor job of weed control under some of these established trees. Weeds suck up both N and water. They are so efficient at it, they can literally choke a young peach tree. Plant a small peach tree in an area with no weed control and the tree won’t grow at all, or die. Plant the same tree in a weed free area with good soil, good drainage and that tree will put on 4 or 5’ of growth.

Based upon what I saw last year, I’m thinking the same principles, to a lesser extent, come into play on mature peach trees. If so, this may be a useful tool to control vigor, for those of us who like to use mulch (i.e. slow down the mulch and let the weeds grow)

If so, the usefulness may depend on how much summer rain one receives. I suspect too much summer rain may partially over-ride this type of mitigation attempt.

As I mentioned, I only noticed this on a few trees, so this is all theory at this point.

Bear,

Like you, I have to work pretty hard to get wood chips. I stop and talk to them when I see the crews trimming around power lines close to me. I give them each a soda pop when the dump.

A couple days ago, one of tree guys stopped by and needed help. They had a chip truck stuck in a field close by and wanted me to pull them out with the tractor. Of course I did. I would have done it for anybody, but I’m thinking that will help get a few more loads of chips. :smile:

As I said, where mulch may eventually create issues is where and when it creates conditions of excessive vigor in trees and this only is likely to happen where trees get about as much water as they want to use. I am also talking about trees on vigorous rootstocks, I don’t have the experience to speak with any authority on the affect to dwarfing rootstocks but I’d guess this would reduce or eliminate the problem I’m speaking of.

As far as where trees aren’t showing adequate vigor after discontinuing mulching, I’d certainly be inclined to begin the mulching regimen again until things swung the other way. It is always a delicate choreography between too much and too little vigor- the point is to find and maintain the sweet spot as much as possible.

As far as heavy clay soils, I’d be inclined to use a heavy layer of wood chips underneath the soil I was planting my trees in to produce raised beds for them and then maintain mulch from above until the trees were established and beginning to show more vigor than I wanted. The gradual sinking of the mounds as the chips decomposed would likely gradually reduce the vigor of the trees unless the clay had adequate oxygen regardless of whether it was raised of not.

Some of my very small young trees were in spots where weeds got ahead of me. I wondered if they did not grow faster because of the competition. They did not do as well as ones with better mulch. Different varieties, but think if I mulched better I might have had fruit a year or even two, sooner. That was persimmon, pawpaw, sweet cherry, sour cherry, plum. Have not yet tasted persimmon or pawpaw from my yard. There are flower buds on the larger pawpaw. The larger persimmon is 7 foot so maybe this year. This year I am mulching better. I can’t keep up with the weeds otherwise.

I also suspect lawn grass close to the trunk competes with trees. I have a couple of older larger trees that I let the grass grow under and don’t mulch, so they won’t be as vigorous.

The summer here is very dry. My theory on mulching is it evens out the soil moisture so it doesn’t go through so much drying out. If I don’t mulch the soil is so hard I can’t get the shovel into it.

I always stress that I am a novice.

Grass is extremely competitive to establishing trees, just check out the root systems of a clump of grass. Plus it is a heavy N feeding species. Also exudes poisons to fight against tree roots.

We have to mulch here in S. California, especially with our severe drought conditions. In fact, I just mulched all my walk & pick orchard yesterday, added some stones along the western side of the walk, due to Towhees that like to scratch the mulch onto the walkway, when looking for little buggies. I’ll post up some photos, once I go through all of them and resize them (I think this sort of a pain - wished the forum software would just resize them). My entire 1 acre property stays mulched. My soil is mostly DG, so adding organic materials is almost as important as conserving soil moisture. I know my soils are improving as my earthworm population in growing every year:-) For us here in S. California, unless you’re on clay, then mulching is a good thing. Helps to reduce the amount of fertilizer you need, which for us here in N. San Diego county close to the ocean, is a concern, as excess fertilizer gets washed into the ocean, and can cause an increase in unhealthy algae blooms, killing sealife and making swimmers sick. So, I mulch every year. Not cheap, but less expensive than tons of fertilizer for my thin soils, and certainly keeps my outrageous water bills low enough to still have all my fruit trees. If I could only find someone to sink a well for me, for less than $10,000, I could keep my water bill in a more reasonable range and still enjoy all my gardening.

Okay, so here are a few photos of our walk & pic orchard we just fertilized (yes, I late, but better late than not at all), and mulched this weekend, even though it was in the high 80’s/low 90’s here, ugh:



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Simply Beautiful.

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Thank you, Olpea. This is one of my most favorite places in my yard. I wish my Italian grandparents were still alive to see this. My Italian mother-in-law says it’s her little piece of Italy. :it: Don’t look too closely at my pruning. For some reason, I’m a terrible pruner. Some of you are so excellent and so scientific. And, being a long time rose grower and Master Gardener, you’d think I’d be a pruning expert. Not. However, I am getting better. The challenge here, as you can see, is we have (purposefully) intensively planted. So, the trees are almost espaliered in their pruning, plus, keeping the height down as much as possible. I must have pruned out 5’ off the top of my Arctic Star. It’s on Citation, which can make for very precocious trees here, but also creates some incredibly good tasting fruit, so worth the hefty investment in an excellent pruning saw. I forgot to snap a pic of our lower patio and pergola, which is where I was standing in the photo that snags a part of the fountain. What we were after here, was lot of variety, and not heavy production from any one tree. We used permeable pavers so any water we get will transfer down to the roots. If we get any lifting, it’s a fairly easy matter of pulling up a few pavers, trimming roots, then leveling and putting them back down. Better than DG, and extremely easy to maintain and reasonably priced. The only complaint I have is the crib wall you can see. Those holes between the stackable blocks makes for execellent ground squirrel homes. So, I get two issues - ground squirrels trying to move in, and then rattlesnakes following after. Our next project when we feel like we need a huge amount of physically exhausting labor is to dig out some of the dirt, and backfill with rocks that we may also blow in epoxy sand and then water in. Enough to hold the rocks in place, but not so much to block any drainage. And, keep the unwanted “guests” out :hamster: :snake:

While we are talking about mulch, I have a question that may be silly but I’m still learning and I’ll ask it anyway. I’d like to get a load of mulch from the tree trimmers but that may not be possible. If not I’ll have to buy some from a nursery or big box store. In the past, prior to my attempt at growing fruit trees I’ve only mulched for landscaping purposes. I’ve always bought the sleek looking dyed mulches that look nice around your house. I assume there are better options for fruit trees. I noticed at Lowes in addition to the dyed stuff they also have cypress mulch and cedar mulch. My question is are these appropriate for fruit trees? The reason I ask is because neither cedar or cypress trees grow here in the mid Atlantic and I’ve heard of cedar apple rust disease that occurs on fruit trees. Is there a chance that using cedar mulch could cause cedar apple rust disease? And what about cypress mulch? Any problems using it? If there are no advantages I’ll just use the dyed stuff as its generally cheaper.

Yes. Stay away from the colored stuff. Who the heck knows what they use to color the mulch, and I don’t want those chemicals seeping into the soil and water table, and then into the fruit I eat (or out to the ocean, either). Cedar mulch is excellent, very long lasting and has some ability to repel certain bugs. Cypress mulch is less durable but also perfectly find to use as mulch. I use both all the time. In fact, what you’re seeing in my photos is Cypress mulch (store didn’t have any Cedar mulch when I went to pick up mulch.)

Speedster, disease issues are not likely to be a problem with mulch and it is not something I’ve ever encountered as a problem although sometimes something crops up in certain regions that gets notice. The consensus in literature I’ve seen is that it is not something you need worry about.

I personally don’t like the dyed mulch for ascetic reasons- they just look fake to me, but if you are concerned but attracted, here is some info on them. http://blogs.extension.org/gardenprofessors/2010/05/25/is-black-the-new-brown/. It looks like red is relatively benign.

If you have a leaf disposal issue on your land, next fall you can shred your leaves and use that. There is no better mulch than shredded leaves. Dried grass is good too.