Fertilizing a non-bearing fruit tree
One of our readers wrote in a few weeks ago to ask about fertilizing a non-bearing fruit tree. The truth is that if you did a good job building your soil's organic-matter levels early on
in the tree's life, it might not need to be fed at all until it sets
fruit. Instead, you can get away with mulching well to keep down weed
competition while also making sure you're only drawing on the
organic-matter interest rather than using up the capital.
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It's easy to tell whether
you should have fertilized by assessing the next season's twigs. Did
you see sufficient new growth or did the tree seem to stand still? At
the other extreme, if you see lots of long watersprouts like the one I'm
pointing out in the photo to the right, then you probably
over-fertilized and need to cut back on your feeding campaign next year
so your tree doesn't wear itself out making branches you're just going
to have to prune off.
If I had access to
unlimited resources, I'd mulch heavily with rotted wood chips and/or
autumn leaves for non-bearing trees. In the real world where I'm
carrying most organic matter half a mile on my back, I make do with a
solid cardboard kill mulch weighed down with old boards or punky
firewood. The cardboard directly under the weights will rot away
relatively fast, but the uncovered cardboard sometimes sticks around for
nearly a year, especially when sheltered by a leafy tree canopy. And
the wood eventually breaks down to --- you guessed it --- feed the soil.
The only trouble is I've
now used up all of my Christmas cardboard, both the stash from Mom and
the pick-me-up delivery that Kayla's husband Andy treated me to earlier
this week. (Thank you!) Maybe I can talk them into wrangling a little
more cardboard to finish up the last of my unmulched trees....