drainage in orchard..need advice asap!!

goldenhoneyDecember 8, 2010

Hello All! I'm relatively unexperienced gardener (I'm 22!) in charge of planning and planting a mixed fruit orchard in North Alabama. The plot of land the orchard is in is 300 feet long and 45 feet wide. I spent the first few months of this project assessing and amending the soil by adding mulch, compost and straw and finally about 10 loads of decent topsoil. The soil now is still predominantly made of clay despite all the additions.

I've begun planting trees and after a week or so we had several days of rain nonstop. The low spots in the orchard were mud piles as I haven't put the ground cover in yet (I was planning on putting red clover.)

Now I'm deciding whether to put in a French drain system or add more mulch/topsoil to level out the low spots. The higher points of the bed were not nearly as muddy and wet as the low spots. I suspect that establishing clover will help with drainage too.

What do y'all think? Go ahead with a French drain or hope for the best with more soil? I'd appreciate all the help I can get!

Thanks so much!

Golden

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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Clay isn't so bad if it drains well. The way you can tell is to look at the subsoil. Red or brown subsoil means good drainage. Gray subsoil means poor drainage.

I'd think about raised beds. Something about 4-6 ft wide and 12-18 inches high will help a lot. Bigger and higher if drainage is really poor.

Tile drains will help if there is an outlet and the subsoil drains enough to lead water to the tile.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2010 at 3:40PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

"Mud piles" sounds like poor drainage.

I've had my share of it, and lost plenty of stock to drowning. I eventually installed field tile, then started converting the orchard to mounds.

Both are helpful, but of the two, planting trees in mounds is a bigger bang for the buck.

The risk of problems on poorly drained soil really depends on what fruits you are planting (and the rootstocks they are on). But most fruits don't like saturated soil during the growing season.

I'm also not a big fan of clover as a cover crop. I know a lot of folks are enamored w/ the fact it fixes N, but the disadvantage is that it attracts stink bugs. Additionally, blooming ground covers attract bees, which complicates a spray program (in order not to kill the bees).

    Bookmark   December 8, 2010 at 7:57PM
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thisisme(az9b)

I don't have as much experience as some of the other growers. However I have lived around a lot of orchards and done lots and lots of reading. I have seen the benefits of mounds and raised row plantings. Note I said raised rows not raised beds. A raised row has no wood or wall holding the soil in place. A raised row is usually made by a plow attached to a tractor or some other piece of farm equipment. Its amazing how fast the process is. I bet you could easily get 3-4 rows plowed by a farmer the entire length of your planting in less than an hour.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2010 at 2:22AM
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alan haigh

I agree with all the advice you've gotten here and also suggest that you replant what's already in in the raised soil- whichever scheme you choose- raising the entire row or individual mounds. Individual mounds will require annual mulching or some other method to counter erosion. They probably also more dramatically affect drainage.

Usually when raised rows are used the elevation is less and sod can hold onto the higher soil.

Don't discount olpeas comments about stinkbugs and clover or the complication to the spray process. I too have seen a strong connection between broad leaf plants in the ground cover and stink and TP bugs.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2010 at 5:39AM
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alexander3_gw(6 Pennsylvania)

>Clay isn't so bad if it drains well. The way you can tell is to look at the subsoil.
>Red or brown subsoil means good drainage. Gray subsoil means poor
>drainage.

This is a good tidbit to remember. Why is it the case?

Alex

    Bookmark   December 9, 2010 at 8:50AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Alex:

All soil contains significant amounts of iron. If the iron is oxidized it is a red rusty color. If iron is reduced, as happens in soil lacking oxygen, it is a gray color.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2010 at 11:46AM
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alan haigh

I've read this in soil text books also but have had difficulty with drainage and tree vitality even when iron in the soil rusted nicely. I Don't recommend you count on this as a sure-fire test.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2010 at 5:24PM
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