Haphazard mulching of fruit trees
What's the best way to
manage the ground beneath your fruit trees? If you ask ten
people, you may get ten different answers, but the most widespread
choice (at least in the backyard, if you can find enough mulch) is to
smother out weeds using a well-rotted wood chip mulch so the tree roots
don't have to compete with anyone else. The forest gardening
alternative is to use dynamic accumulators that bring up micronutrients
from deep in the soil and make the minerals
accessible to your trees (although this
option can be problematic if your soil is less than stellar). Over the last few
years, I've stumbled across a third option that might work even better
--- haphazard mulching.
A few years ago, I
started dumping wheelbarrows full of garden weeds around a certain
apple tree throughout the summer. The reason behind my actions
was pure laziness, but at least it killed three birds with one
stone. I'd accidentally let some perennial weeds pop up around
the tree's roots, and the summer was too busy to take the time to root
them out and mulch the tree properly, so I figured dropping some
biomass on top would at least slow the competitors down (which it
did). Meanwhile, I was thinking ahead to the winter when I'd need
the tree's raised bed
(an effort to keep the roots above high groundwater), and I figured
garden weeds deposited around the edges of the tree's bed would slowly
rot down and expand the planting mound. My final reason was even
simpler --- the tree was at the junction of two vegetable gardens, so
this was an easy spot to drop off weeds rather than running them all
the way to various compost piles.
To my surprise, this
apple tree took off and grew faster than any of my other apples.
Now, you have to take this data point with a grain of salt because no
two apples in my garden are quite alike. They're all different
varieties, and each one is in a different microhabitat. It's just
as possible that this apple did well because it was located where the
groundwater drains into the gully, so it was subirrigated during summer
droughts. But no matter why the apple was doing well, the
haphazard mulching didn't seem to hurt.
So this year I tried the
method around several more fruit trees. I also used haphazard
mulching to drown out weeds coming up through the brush
pile (my equally lazy approach to hugelkultur around another apple
tree), and around the stump that is adjacent to a third apple.
The haphazard mulch
allows some weeds to keep growing, but slows them down so they don't
seem to be competing with my trees. It doesn't look as manicured
as a well-managed wood chip mulch, but I'm more interested in results
than in beauty.
At the moment, I
consider haphazard mulching more of a hypothesis than a proven
technique, but I'd be very curious to hear from anyone else who's given
it a try. And from others who've come up with equally easy
solutions to managing the ground under their fruit trees. What do
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