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David Humphries

To Mulch, or not to Mulch?

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Hi Alec,


Is your suggestion not more about maintaining a flowering unit for production & asthetics rather than the basic premis of developing a healthy root mass to keep the tree functioning ?


Hi David,


This would be a consequence of my suggested approach, but not the objective.


The foliage looks to be a good colour, with good sized leaves. Although the exposed area within the carpark is small, it is comparable to the canopy and although it has been compressed by cars driving over it etc I am presuming (and I acknowledge this to be a presumption) that the desire lines will be more likely to be over the hard standing, for both car and foot traffic, so the damage may not be that great. The above suggests to me that the tree is not in need of desperately urgent intervention to prevent imminent death. As such, cardboard mulch to suppress the weeds and encourage the worms to improve the soil structure would probably be sufficient to keep the root system going.


Again, counter to 'arb' practice, I might be inclined to apply some general purpose balanced fertiliser - Growmore or blood, fish and bone at about 4oz (one good handful) per square yard. This is because extension growth is not fantastic and being a fruiting tree will have taken specific elements out of the soil in a way that a non-fruiting tree won't. This variety has not developed through natural selection - it will have been specifically selected to produce heavy, reliable crops of much larger fruit than the original wild form, ie the fruit mass will be significantly higher, so will deplete the soil of specific nutrients much more rapidly as a consequence.


There are three zones of foliage growth to consider - suckers from the roots, low level epicormic growth on the trunk and 'top growth' above the clear trunk height.


I would definitely remove the suckers because, unlike a seed-grown tree, they are not genetically the same. 'Free stock' (ie seedling grown, for pear or coincidentally crab for apples) were grown by planting out rows of seeds and selecting the vigorous seedlings, whereas selections for fruit tend to be weaker. As such, the suckers, if left, will out-complete the existing tree which may accelerate its demise, with consequent loss of habitat etc. I acknowledge that a very thorough management programme of keeping them cut out before they reach a certain size could work but I suspect it is more likely they will get out of hand, leading to a twiggy mess and a dead stump. It would also, in theory, be possible to select one to develop as a replacement trunk, but this would defeat the object in my view (see end).


Epicormic on the trunk - fairly harmless but has a tendency to get rather dense if all left - being under the canopy its natural growth will be straight up, which will lead to a dense mass of weakly attached material on a compromised base - which loses first, the attachment or the whole lot?


Top growth - I would treat as above. This is a tree which, in its prime, would have been quite capable of reaching 40' in height. Keeping it down to 15-20' will keep it vigorous enough and match the available root zone to the canopy.


The overriding premise though is that the management of fruit trees -as- fruit trees had advantages in preserving them. It's rather like pollarding at Burnham Beeches or in the Basque, in that the tree is not a natural form but the management technique used has created a specific environment and the coincidental effect of keeping the main structure going indefinitely - certainly much longer than a maiden form would. I will take some photos tomorrow at Mum's place of some heavily compromised apples on Paradise stock, which passed their commercial life over 60yrs ago and yet with regular management should outlive me.


Treating fruit trees as such is also part of the cultural reason for the tree to 'be'. There are other management techniques which may work equally well, but I prefer to avoid them as they don't fit with the tree's purpose.


Sorry, not much about mulching in there. I'll take some nice pictures of mulching too!



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Is there any useful info to add to this thread?


Today I was working in a country park that contains the remains of a Victorian pear orchard. The trees thus far have been pruned and new growth has been stimulated but they're surrounded by long grass and 3' brambles; now they're little more than dotted specimens in a slightly maintained surround.

I've suggested the mulching thing and am about to point a supervisor in the direction of this thread.



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I'll update on the Pear from the beginning of the thread later this spring when it flushes.


A significant crack has developed from dysfunctional roots up toward a trunk cavity.


Will probably mean further reduction.





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Apart from having completely failed to take pictures as promised, as it happens I was pruning last weekend at Mum's. We haven't lost any trees in the recent storms and, thinking about it, I don't think we have lost any in the last decade. When you consider that the trees on Paradise stock would generally have been expected not to exceed 60yrs and are now a couple of years away from their century I believe management as fruit trees is a viable approach and they are still making good, steady extension growth in most cases (I was able to find some suitable wood for grafting from all of them). They do not produce anything like commercial crops, not a problem for us, but they do produce a reasonable yield all things considered.


Growth and overall tree vitality are much improved by mulching. I attribute this to a combination of reduced competition, improved moisture retention and an improvement to soil structure courtesy of the worms. The latter was very notable last weekend - pruning off steps and the legs kept sinking in in the mulched areas but not where the sward remained.



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Aging cherry that's subjected to cyclical mower damage to its surface roots and has started to diminish in vitality.


Mulched to see what it does
















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12 minutes ago, Steve Bullman said:

Whats with the cardboard David?

Did you not read the beginning of the thread ? 9_9


Stick with it man, this thread's only 9 years old, what's your excuse ? Lol 



Advice given by Arbtalk member D Mc back in 2008 suggested that cardboard could be utilised to suppress the grass and weeds.  By the time the card decomposes, it should have done the job of killing the grass roots, so no more grass to manage through the mulch.


Apparently the glues in the cardboard also attract worms and other decomposers.


I've found this to be true over that time.

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