Living Mulches for fruit trees?

appleseed70July 12, 2014

I have an awful time here at my place with voles/moles. I try to maintain a nice mulched area under my fruit trees to conserve moisture, prevent lawn competition with the trees and to aid in lawn maintenance. Trouble is voles love love love to burrow around under it causing massive destruction to the trees root systems. So bad as to kill young trees. Yes...I've tried to get rid of the voles. Impossible.
I've recently pulled up all mulch and will no longer use it. My question is: Do any of you have use "living mulches" under your trees? I was thinking of Dutch White Clover because of it's low growth habit, nitrogen fixing qualities, and general neat appearance. My lawn is already full of it anyway.
I've been studying this lately and came across this new cultivar of clover called miniclover and another called microclover. It seems like an ideal candidate. I also have some gypsophila seed here that has a growing height of 4-6" that would look very attractive and like the clover, would not require mowing or trimming under the trees. Thoughts, ideas, opinions?

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alan haigh

No bueno, IMO. Harbors plant bugs that jump aboard the fruit trees and uses a lot of water. Also often blooms when trees need to be sprayed with bee killing compounds so you will have to spread a tarp to protect bees.

What did you do to control voles? Commercial growers seem to manage it fine and I've been able to for my mulched trees in my acres of nursery and orchards with plastic coils and cheap bait stations.

The best alternative, IMO, is just to keep lawn scalped with a weed whacker under trees until about mid-july, then let things grow until things flower and whack again so no seeds are made- seeds encourage voles- especially high protein legume seeds, I bet.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 3:38PM
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I'm more interested in edible living mulch, as opposed to nitrogen fixing. Edibles play right into the food forest concept. I allow nasturtiums, chives, cilantro, arugula (and whatever else) to grow and reseed outside and along the drip line of my trees. Works great in fairly fertile soil and in a less manicured type of landscape. The potential is pretty much limitless.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 5:32PM
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Harvestman I thought about the bees too...that is the biggest drawback. Thing is the "lawn" aspect of my orchard is mainly all dutch white clover also. DW clover doesn't really grow all that tall, so I'm unclear on how it would harbor any more insects than a grass lawn. As far as commercial orchards, most of the ones around here are on mountaintops for frost reasons. You will never find deep (36") of dark fertile loam on any mountain top anywhere. In fact this soil is pretty rare anywhere around here other than deep valleys. Voles love the loam because it holds the organic material that the different larvae feed on and the voles feed on the larvae. Basically what I'm saying is I seriously doubt those orchards have the vole pressure I do. From what I've read many commercial orchards do indeed have serious vole issues anyway.
Isn't there some sort of solution? I want easy maintenance...I can turn a quick tight turn with the tractor and be done if I don't have to get in under the tree to mow.
What have I done for voles? Remember that movie Caddyshack?

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 11:50PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Moles feed on larvae. Voles feed on plant matter. Do you have moles or voles?

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 12:01AM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Rhizo is correct. Moles feed on grubs, voles feed on seeds/plants/trees.

Fruit specialists recommend a product like Stinger to get rid of blooming crops like clover in the orchard for the sake of protecting bees from sprays, and to reduce plant bug populations. I plan to start using it next year. For anyone interested, it is available on the internet in quart sized bottles.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 9:46AM
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Wow...didn't know that. Last year I even looked up the difference in photos, but didn't catch that. So Voles it is then. That explains why they tore thru the peach tree roots like they did. I guess they feed on the roots too? I've heard just the other day you could kill them by placing a mouse trap baited with peanut butter over a active tunnel and placing an upside down weighted bucket over top. I wonder if that was for moles or voles? I wonder if it works?
Either way I suspect the nice soil encourages them because tunneling is so ridiculously easy for them. Digging a hole here isn't even like work, it's as easy as digging sand at the beach.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 11:00AM
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alan haigh

I used to always trap my voles with baited mechanical traps over a couple of acres. I used about 50 traps and trays (one for every 3 traps or so) usually used for mixing up small batches of cement and would begin trapping in mid-fall.

At that time of the year I could also get pine voles which are the subteranian voles that eat roots instead of just collars. Just would keep moving the traps and trays until I covered the whole property and it worked until a couple of years ago when skunks and other animals would flip the trays to get the peanuts in the traps.

Now I use small locking bait stations which can hold a single mouse trap or poison bait- or both.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 11:49AM
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Are you concerned about secondary poisoning with the bait?

We had vole and rabbit damage over the winter this year. It is the first time its really been a problem for me.

We also have the 2nd batch of Great Horned Owl young in 3 years and often see raptors overhead.

I'm already a bit concerned using poison in the house and have not done it out in the field.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 2:14PM
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alan haigh

The common poisons used nowadays in fruit orchards cause very little risk of secondary poisonings. They take a while to kill the voles and more than one feeding so the amount of poison in them when they die is not lethal to predators. My sister is a vet and told me this is also true of most over the counter rodent poisons now.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 6:57PM
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Tell me more about these locking bait stations. I'm only concerned with killing the voles. There are a few grey squirrels here and although they have stole a plum or two, I'm willing to put up with them. My little girl would be awfully mad at Daddy if he was killing squirrels. This is one of the reasons I quit with the poison pellets. I really don't want to hurt the rabbits either or God forbid a dog...I'd never forgive myself.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 11:56PM
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alan haigh

Appleseed, Doityourself pest control has a number of bait stations for sale, including a type that can lock a baited trap so you don't need to use poison.

The problem with trying to create a world to a child's liking is that sooner or later she must live in the real world. That's just a throw away comment. Like most parents, I know nothing about parenting.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 5:10AM
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I'm gonna go check it out right now Harvestman...thanx.
As far as "the real world" and little kids're right on that, but being an older father of a girl 3 and a boy 4, I'm cool with them being ignorant of the real world at least for a little while anyway. Mainly because I'm not so fond of it myself.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 1:39PM
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alan haigh

I'm kind of fond of killing vermin- well, at least squirrels- coons are a little tough, but that's not the real world for most people. I have to show people that I can be successful at harvesting fruit- if I fail at that, why should they trust me to work for them.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 5:55PM
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Yeah...I understand. For me...killing is overrated.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2014 at 4:31AM
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Yeah...I understand. For me...killing is overrated.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2014 at 4:32AM
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I use anything that wont grow too tall. There are a number of plants that you can use to help build soil like comfrey, alfalfa and sages. You can also plant things like onions and chives, which can help detur some pests. Im finding strawberries do pretty good in some of the shade they get. Same with black eye susan. Ive been thinking of using hosta, since they can spread quite well, stay low and choke out grass. Some people even toss in a few small fruiting shrubs.

It seems that you already have clover which is a great soil builder/necter source for bees. Im trying to use it as my primary "filler" and ground cover.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2014 at 8:03AM
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Sounds good Canadian. What do you think about that real low growing purple phlox? I've seen the wild white version of it growing from cracks in solid rock cliffs here so I know it cannot be a heavy feeder. That stuff always looks so nice with no disease issues etc...even where growing with total neglect.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2014 at 11:12AM
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