[NAFEX] orchard floor managment

Alan Haigh alandhaigh at gmail.com
Sat Aug 23 18:29:34 EDT 2008

It sounded to me that the question was first posted by a non-commercial
grower which is entirely different than if the question was for commercial
growing.  Around here commercial growers usually place their semi-dwarf (say
M7 to M111 for apple rootstock) in rows spaced 20 feet apart with the trees
spaced about 14' between rows.  They maintain 10' sod rows that are mowed
only occasionally during the season.  The trees are grown in 10' wide
herbicide treated strips with last application in late summer so enough
growth of weeds will hold soil through winter.  Whether using a gasoline
driven weed badger over say glysphosphate for weed control represents a more
sustainable model is a math I'm not qualified to calculate.

In the home orchard optimum yield per acre is not the issue.  If  you are
going to mow anyway,  just for aesthetics, it is possible to get quite an
adequate harvest of most fruit in most soils by mowing around the trees,
lopping off interfering branches or tying them up to the tree or a long
strong pole (sapling) firmly taped to the tree.  Of course the competition
of grass during drought can be a problem.  The shorter the grass is mowed
the less competition it will present for water and nutrients.  It is useful
to place a collar protector around the tree to make string weeding easy up
close to the trunk.

If the soil is poor or their is a lot of competition from nearby forest
trees you may need to maintain a weed free circle of at least 5' diameter at
the base of your trees.  I use 2-3" of wood chips over newspaper of
landscape fabric for this.  Peaches are particularly prone to runting out in
the face of competition.  Young establishing trees need this help for the
first 3 or 4 years in any soil.

I have a lot of difficulty managing home orchards in seldom or annually
mowed meadows.  Tarnished plant bugs and stinkbugs tend to become
problematic when the floor has a lot of broad leaf weeds, at least here in
the northeast.  Stinkbugs cause damage very late into the growing season so
insecticide applications would have to be tripled to get decent fruit in
some sites managed this way.  Tall weeds also increase the dew and fungus
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