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Handy Guide to Prepare Different Types of Fruit Tree Mulch for Larger Orchards

Shutterstock Photo License - Vladimir Shulikovskiy
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Sustainability is becoming a greater focus in the agricultural sector. Many orchard operators are beginning to recognize the need to take more environmentally friendly approaches to preserving their land and growing trees.

There are a lot of important measures that eco-friendly orchard operators need to take to lower their harmful environmental impact. One of the most obvious is relying less on chemical pesticides. There are a lot of organic pesticides that can deter insects and rodents from getting into fruits without harming the rest of the environment. There is growing evidence that chemical pesticides harm the fertility of bees, which threatens the entire ecosystem. It is also important for orchard operators to use energy efficient equipment to harvest and take care of the vegetation under their control.

However, using the right pesticides and equipment is only a small part of the process. It is also important to use the right mulch and composts.

The American Society of Agronomy has reported that compost is very important for minimizing the environmental problems associated with orchards. By the same token, the right mulch can be very important as well.

Mulch is Vital to Creating an Eco-Friendly Orchard

There is no denying the the right mulch and compost can be very important for creating an eco-friendly orchard. But what steps can you take to make this possible?

Any time you visit a well-tended orchard, you will see some type of mulch carefully placed around the base of the trees. But there are so many different types of mulch, so how do you know which one is best for your trees? Also, how do you know what is best for your bottom line?

There are a lot of reasons that mulch is important for improving the sustainability of an orchard. Any mulch can prevent weeds and retain moisture. But the right mulch can do so much more than that! Some add organic matter and improve soil fertility. This minimizes the need for growth chemicals that harm the surrounding environment. Others insulate the trees’ roots to keep them warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. 

Some mulches can even attract beneficial organisms that boost the trees’ disease resistance and enhance their health while repelling pests that can do major damage.

Anything that keeps your fruit trees healthier also increases production, and that means more money for you. Here’s a look at some amazing mulches to consider for larger orchards to help you choose one that suits your needs.

Cost-Effective Nutrient-Rich Mulches

Nutrient-rich mulches provide your fruit trees with nutrition that releases slowly over weeks and months. They contain nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, which are all essential for the health of your trees.

  • Compost: Compost should be applied in a two-inch layer in the spring. This will insulate the roots and prevent weeds without depriving the roots of nutrients like wood mulch can. Compost also contains beneficial bacteria that build good soil, which is a benefit you won’t get from gravel or plastic.
  • Manure: Manure is very rich in nitrogen plus some potassium and phosphorous. It must be well-rotted to avoid burning the trees.
  • Leaf Mold: Leaf mold is amazing for fruit trees because it contains beneficial microorganisms and improves the soil’s texture and ability to retain water. Just be careful not to use leaves from diseased trees.

Other Cost-Effective Mulches to Consider

  • Straw Mulch: Straw mulch retains moisture and protects the roots of your trees from extreme heat and cold. It’s not as rich in nutrients as the options above, but it does add some nutrition as it breaks down. Be aware that straw mulch can attract voles, so you’ll want to avoid using it if voles are a problem in your area.
  • Shredded Paper: Shredded paper is incredibly economical and effective.  It knits together over time to prevent weeds and you can make your own from paper that would be sent off for recycling. It will add organic matter to the soil as it breaks down, but it’s low in nutrition so layering it with a nutrient-rich mulch will give you the best results.
  • Living Mulches: New technology in the world of agriculture is doing amazing things for commercial growers. Cover crops and green manures are becoming incredibly adaptable and versatile. Specialized living mulches are available to fight weeds, stabilize the soil, and/or add nitrogen. In large orchards, try planting one in the alley between your trees for multiple benefits.

The Problem with Wood Mulch

Wood mulches can have lots of benefits, but if they’re not prepared and used properly, they can actually harm young fruit trees. Soil bacteria move into newly laid wood mulch, igniting the decomposition process.

But these bacteria need nitrogen to survive, so they pull it out of your soil and away from the roots of your trees. Fruit trees need that nitrogen for healthy growth. Nitrogen-deprived trees are stressed and do not thrive or produce well – especially young trees.

But when used in combination with the nutrient-rich mulches above, wood mulch is fantastic for adding nutrients as it breaks down over time. Cedar is the best choice for fruit trees because it repels insects like termites and ants while preventing weeds, insulating the soil, and retaining moisture.

Wrap Up: Organic Mulches Are Essential for Eco-Friendly Orchards

Are you trying to make your orchard eco-friendlier? This is a worthy goal! However, you won’t be able to do so without the right mulch.

Landscape fabric, biodegradable plastic, and other non-organic mulches have their place for specific applications, but they don’t add any nutrients, beneficial microbes, or organic matter to your soil. They can also capture and reflect heat back at your trees and may even prevent moisture and air from reaching the soil.

Many orchardists choose to apply a nutrient-rich mulch topped with a layer of insulating mulch around each tree, with a living mulch in the alleyways. Layering more than one type of mulch allows you to add nutrients, build the soil, and prevent weeds and pests to boost the health of your soil and fruit trees over time and increasing your profits for the long haul.

Annabelle Short is a writer and seamstress of more than 7 years. When not working, she’s spending time with her family or putting pen to paper for her own personal pursuits. Annabelle is a mother and she likes to make crafts and eco-friendly DIY projects with her two kids. Annabelle is passionate about sustainable sewing and eco-friendly clothing. 

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