Ground cover for new orchard?

rosieo(7 NC)May 6, 2013

What would you recommend? Since all the 'sticks' are ~18' apart the orchard looks like a sea of mud. I feel like I should plant some kind of ground cover, but what?

I have some Pro Time 702, would that be good or do I want to stay away from grass? I'd rather minimize mowing chores, but I would like something (clover?) to build the soil. If I do nothing it'll be full of weeds shortly. Not good weeds either, lots of wild blackberries and multiflora rose.

Any suggestions would be most welcome!

Here is a link that might be useful: ProTime 702

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Clover is the easiest available perennial ground cover. In the sprng and fall you could use cold weather grains ( cant remember what ones off the top of my head). Some people interplant nitrogen fixing trees a long with their fruits, some of those can be coppiced a few times a year and used as mulch. Dandelion is a good ground cover as well. The best thing you could do is use a combination of perennial and annual crops (using things liek alfalfa may also give you another viable crop?)

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 9:48AM
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Lots of choices. Clover will build the soil and attract deer. So will grains. Dandelion is NOT a good cover if you have apples, as it carries an apple disease whose name escapes me. Weeds are generally tap rooted, thorny enough that the deer will not eat them, and well behaved when mowed. I think thistle or brambles re not bad at all in an orchard.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 10:08AM
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Wood mulch keeps weeds down and improves the soil. Available from tree service, utility companies or city.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 10:59AM
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I am planting some garden crops betwwen rows of young trees. I woould not plant tomatoes though. I have mentioned this before. If you ever spray an insecticide, you do not want the floor of your orchard covered with blooming legumes.. Very hard on bees.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 1:39PM
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Wood chips use up nitrogen as they decompose.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 8:15PM
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if you keep a mulch zone around your trees I would plant a short grass. Maybe a blue grass. If you have dwarf trees, even grass is competion. but can work if adequate water, and fertility is provided.

I hope someone whho actually is more experienced than me helps you, but I noticed many me included only said what not to do.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 10:16PM
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What is the size of the orchard? You're going to have to mow, whatever you put down, so I'd keep that in mind, unless you have a tractor. Have you considered a thick mulch, such as hay or pine straw. The mulch will help to retain moisture, and reduce the amount of watering, and as the mulch breaks down, it will add nutrients to the soil, and help feed your trees.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 4:19PM
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rosieo(7 NC)

Thanks for the replies. The orchard is roughly 85' by 60'. And it's fenced. Too small for the tractor to manuever easily (I'd get hives watching my husband trying to turn around without running over my Red Sheepnose apple) but it's bigger than I'd want to mow by hand. It would take too many woodchips to cover.

The trees are mostly apple, peaches, plums, and pears. All are on semidwarf rootstocks.

I've solved the deer problem so I'm not adverse to putting in clover. Or even garden crops for the first few years. I didn't think of that, but I like it. It's pretty much weed free right now so it's a blank slate that I don't want to mess up.

I would love to grow alfalfa for my milk cows but I don't think it grows well here. Maybe cowpeas or some kind of legume? Or maybe some kind of mix like clover and oats? Then I could scythe it and feed it to the cows. (that sounds really cool but to be honest I'm not real sure what scything involves.)

Gosh, I thought everybody would have the perfect answer. Like "The National Association Of Obsessive Home Orchardists has mandated a ground cover consisting of 40% legume, 20% potash, and 30% comfrey. Seeded at a rate not to exceed 30lbs of biomass per square foot."
or something like that. :)

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 5:04PM
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alan haigh

In the east clover encourages certain pests (in the northeast, tarnished plant bug), uses lots of water and blooms sometimes when you need to spray and don't want to kill your native pollinators.

It is a myth that wood chips create nitrogen deficiency when applied to the surface of a soil with at least decent drainage and, in fact, over time can make the soil excessively rich for fruit trees where vegetative growth becomes excessive. Seems it becomes colonized by N fixing bacteria and certainly breaks down into a very rich, black humus. I think wood chips are great for establishing trees but once trees are in production you may need to dial it down.

Fescues are usually the grass of choice as orchard sod and there are mixes made especially for fruit orchards. The idea is to use slower growing grasses that aren't too competitive against the fruit trees.

I'm sure you can find an appropriate mix if you search on-line.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 5:54PM
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Centurion_(Verde Valley AZ Z8)

Wood chips will rob the ground of nitrogen if you till em in. If you leave them on top as mulch...they won't

I got a load of wood chips from a treee service at a previous property in California. They were from some kind of pine tree and exuded a caustic vapor as they decomposed. Hurt our eyes.

So I raked them into a pile and composted them. Six months later the caustic substance had dried out of them, they were composted, and the winter squash seeds I tossed into the pile sprouted, grew, and actually produced squash in the fall.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 7:18PM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)

I wish there were an easy answer also. I thought I had a great idea and tried to cover with straw. All I did was bring in more weed seeds than I already had.

I think it was Harvestman who said the straw needs to be at least 3" thick for straw to block out weeds. This was expensive for me. I ended up buying a rototiller and I am able to keep weeds under control this way. In the fall I collect as many bags of leaves as I can. I also have planted buckwheat as a cover crop several times and that has improved the soil.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 1:39AM
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Centurion_(Verde Valley AZ Z8)

I am currently using straw. I have 7 or 8 bales spread out in a 4 ft by 80 ft area under my fig tree hedge.

Just about anything you put down as mulch, whether wood chips or straw, needs to be laid down pretty thick to be effective. If you go 5 to 6 inches deep with it, a few weeds will still grow up through it, but it retains moisture real well. We live in the desert, and mulching with straw along with the drip tape I am using has cut my water usage significantly.

You can sometimes pick up rain damaged or broken bales from feed stores at a discount. I think the 50-60 bucks I spent on straw was offset by water savings the first year..

This post was edited by Centurion_ on Wed, May 8, 13 at 14:52

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 11:30AM
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