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David Humphries

To Mulch, or not to Mulch?

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So the mulch has been in place for six years? What were the average readings, roughly, mulched to un-mulched?

 

I know this will sound a bit arsey but I won't be sharing the readings of the penetrometer tests or the last 5 years bud extension growth until the research project has been submitted for marking.

 

I'm sure being on the level 6 you can appreciate that.

 

 

 

The mulch went down in 2008 then topped up in 2010 & again in 2012

the first reduction work was in 2009 & then again in 2013.

 

The picture is of Nick measuring the distance between terminal bud scars over the last 5 years growing seasons.

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Hi, I've been reading through this thread and at times it's had my head spinning, however I find it really interesting and would one day love to have your guys knowledge. Recently we were working on a housing estate in Somerset and we came across a pear tree, it looks to be fairly old, has a large amount of decay starting at the base going up a couple of feet. It looks like it was here before the estate, and was maybe part of an orchard as there are other pears of a similar age growing near by. Recently a car park was put in around the tree, it's just left on a little island, it has also been heavily reduced( topped) over the last few years.

An older lady came out and asked if I'd mulch around the tree I said yes thinking that mulching would help as the tree had dead wood in and the ground around it had been heavily compacted due to cars driving over the island. I put the mulch over grass at around 2-3 inches deep, it was fresh willow mulch.

Basically I was wondering if it will help in any way or if it was a bit pointless?, the work is on- going over several years so I can re mulch the area again.my knowledge is extremely limited so any help would be great.ImageUploadedByArbtalk1399054763.529146.jpg.f030b49507869431626f60c2da600467.jpg

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Blimey, that's gonna take some kind of miracle to overcome it's ailments.

 

I'd imagine that most people would be of the opinion to fell & replace. But personally I like the idea of holding on to urban orchard remnants especially if there are others in the local area. There may well be a specific eco-system being shared amongst them. Some species of invertebrates are very often living on a fragile knife edge and rely on these types of isolated (but connected) habitat islands.

 

Fairly surprising that its still standing with that degree of decay associated.

Probably a good job it was topped to reduce the sail of the canopy.

 

I think that the mulch is a good idea, though I suspect the grass & weeds will continue to grow through it.

 

It looks like its maintaining a vascular (water/nutrient) flow from what's left of the root sections up through into the canopy, so perhaps still has some sort of life expectancy.

 

Does it flower & fruit?

 

Although they often look unsightly I would look to keep & maintain any lower epicormic shoots & continue to remove the die back up in the crown.

 

 

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It's in flower now, not much but there are a few.

With the island being so small will the mulch have that much of a difference?.

At a guess going by the pics how old would you think it is?.

Is the mulch likely to encourage honey fungus, like I put earlier my knowledge is really limited, but I read that this can happen.

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Even if the mulch just adds a visual nod to the root plate that may help keep the cars away from it then that would be a benefit in itself.

 

I don't think that I would particularly worry about honey fungus as it may well be in attendance already.

 

 

I've witnessed honey fungus be implicit in the failing of pears that have gone over, which have been left in situe and then kept growing.

 

 

I'd hazard a guess at your pear being around 60 years old.

 

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It's in flower now, not much but there are a few.

With the island being so small will the mulch have that much of a difference?.

At a guess going by the pics how old would you think it is?.

Is the mulch likely to encourage honey fungus, like I put earlier my knowledge is really limited, but I read that this can happen.

 

I wouldn't claim anything like David's level of knowledge, but do have some knowledge of aged fruit trees.

 

It's hard to get an absolute sense of scale on that, but it looks to be about a foot to 15" across?

 

The leaves around the base look like pear - this would put it on pear rootstock, which used to be the norm for standard grown trees (6' of clear trunk before the branches). Coincidentally, these want removing on a regular basis as they are not the same variety as the tree itself - break them out with the 'heel' if you can (a sharp knock downwards), otherwise cut them off as low as possible, preferably underground. I use a mattock for this.

 

If it is on pear stock and around 15" across then it is probably around 100yrs old, depending on growing conditions locally. It may well be a perry variety.

 

I would be inclined to keep a clear trunk to a height, to keep it looking like a fruit tree - probably somewhere between 4' and 6'. Despite the damage, growth looks pretty good, so I would look to keep and develop a framework of branches, spaced evenly round the tree to avoid imbalance, and kept well thinned out to avoid wind resistance. I would then let laterals grow off the framework branches and cut some of these back each year, to the lowest side-branch (closest to the framework branch) or if nothing is available then cut well back to encourage lower growth and cut out the following year.

 

I wouldn't worry too much about small pruning wounds - the structural wood is gone anyway, so I would use drop-crotch pruning where necessary to keep the structure small.

 

The above is a method known as renewal pruning and can keep aged fruit trees going indefinitely. It keeps them very thin and making regular growth, so they don't build up wind resistance and maintain some vigour. It has quite a lot in common with 'proper' old fashioned pollarding in that respect.

 

With regard to the mulch, I would be inclined to rake it aside and stick some cardboard down first if you can, then put the mulch back. Cardboard suppresses the weeds, mulch keeps the moisture in and stops the cardboard blowing away. Also the worms eat the glue and help aerate the soil in the process.

 

Alec

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Hi Alec,

 

I'd still be inclined to retain the lower growths as the assimilates produced by their photosynthesis will go straight to the roots without being diluted by the travelling down process due to the shorter distance. Surely the roots are the most critical part of the tree to encourage before the canopy ?

 

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 ?

 

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I've witnessed honey fungus be implicit in the failing of pears that have gone over, which have been left in situe and then kept growing.

 

These two pears have had (and still have) Armillaria (honey fungus) in attendance.

 

Both are still functioning albeit one of them in a different orientation.

 

 

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