The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Feeding fruit trees in the fall


I figured it was a bit of a gamble to topdress my fruit trees in November last year instead of waiting until spring.  The danger is that if you feed them too early, the trees might put out extra top growth, which would winter-kill.  On the other hand, feeding and mulching your trees in the fall can promote root growth during the period between when the leaves fall and when the ground gets cold enough to make the trees truly dormant, in essence extending your growing season.  Plus, putting compost and mulch over possibly-diseased tree leaves that have fallen to the ground prompts the latter to decompose quickly so the disease doesn't overwinter.  And, from a purely human point of view, November is a less-busy gardening month than March is, so anything I can do now lowers stress later.

Budding hazel

And the gamble paid off.  I didn't see any winter-killing last year, so fall feeding definitely didn't hurt.  I might as well lather, rinse, and repeat this year!

First, each tree gets weeded or kill mulched (depending on how bad the weeds are), I scatter a bit of rotted horse manure around the base, then I top it all off with leaves raked out of the woods.  As you can see, rye out beyond the trees' canopy is growing well and will give me some supplemental mulch come May to carry us through the year.

(And, look!  It seems like my hybrid hazel will fruit for the first time next year if the number of flower buds is any indication!  I'd better get Mark at work designing a nut cracker.)

Bark lichen

Getting to spend time around my fruit trees is always a treat, no matter what the season.  I always notice something new, like the lichen coating the trunks of my apple trees.  My peaches don't seem to grow lichen, maybe because they grow more quickly, or perhaps the bark is just the wrong texture?  Either way, the eye candy is appreciated.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I have a nectarine tree that fruits like crazy but the fruit rots every time before a single fruit can be harvested. The tree just seems sickly and I'm thinking I might just have to remove it. However, I was watching a video by Alex Ojeda and he said he dug a circle around a sickly lemon tree, placed sticks and such in the trench, and recovered it with the dirt (in essence, creating an "after the fact" hugelkulture). Have you ever tried this (I know you planted your trees in hugelkultures but it's too late to do that with this tree)? If so, would I dig the circle at the drip line or further in? And would it help with the fruit issue or is that just a fungus issue (I was hoping if the tree was healthier, it could fight off the fungus better, if that is the problem)? Thanks for any help you can give.
Comment by Karyn Wed Nov 20 09:12:24 2013
We have a terrible time with voles and ground squirrels digging around our fruit trees and in the garden doing quite a bit of damage in the process. I'm worried that mulching around our new fruit trees will just encourage the tunneling especially with the weather turning off cold. Do you have any suggestions?
Comment by Elizabeth Wed Nov 20 13:15:45 2013

Karyn --- My answer got so long, it turned into a post, so stay tuned to the blog tomorrow. :-)

Elizabeth --- A lot of people add rodent guards around the trunks of their fruit trees to prevent the rodents from gnawing on the trunks, which is the biggest danger with small mammals in the orchard. I've never had enough trouble to make that worth my while, but it seems pretty simple. Just a ring of hardware cloth can do the trick, as long as you remove it in the spring so the tree can grow.

Comment by anna Wed Nov 20 16:32:26 2013

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