Why Use Mulch and Compost For Fruit Trees?

Did you know that mulching fruit trees helps prevent disease and pests from attacking your tree?

There are many benefits to using mulch and compost around your fruit trees. In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know about how to properly use mulch and compost for fruit trees.

I’ll tell you exactly what type of mulch work best and how to apply them to fruit trees.

Why Use Mulch for Fruit Trees?

The main reason to mulch around your fruit trees is to suppress any weeds that might want to find a home in the bare soil under your tree. Mulch is especially useful when you plant new trees, as you want the fruit tree roots to run into as little competition as possible.

While some people might think of turning to chemical herbicides to eliminate weeds, this will lead to a dependence on the herbicides. Chemicals like this can degrade the soil and ultimately lead to issues with your trees due to stripping nutrients from the soil. 

Learn more in this complete guide – What is Mulch?

Why Use Compost for Fruit Trees?

Compost makes a great mulch for fruit trees, as it acts in much the same way as any other mulch, with the added benefit that it contains all the essential nutrients that your trees need.

Adding one or two inches of compost in the spring will prevent weeds, retain moisture, and give your trees an extra boost of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium by filtering it into the soil.

You can use any well-rotted organic material, like manure or leaf mold, but homemade compost is the best choice. As lead mold is so beneficial, it makes a good case to leave the fallen leaves in the fall. Rake up the leaves and let them rot under the tree for an easy fall-time mulch.

Read more about the Benefits of Compost Use.

How to Use Mulch for Fruit Trees

When properly applied, mulch can lead to healthier and more productive trees and tree fruit.

Mulch should be applied twice a year in the mid-spring and autumn for the first three or four years after planting the tree. After that, you can cut down to an annual spring mulch.

Spread around 4-6 inches of mulch around the base of the tree. A layer of this depth will enable maximum water retention and weed suppression.

Spread the mulch around the base of the tree from the trunk to just beyond the “drip-line,” which is where the branches end. Be sure not to let the mulch touch the trunk of the tree, and to leave a small ring around the trunk.

How to Use Compost for Fruit Trees

Compost can be used as mulch any time of year, but many gardeners prefer to use it in the fall.

Spread fresh compost the same way I have described spreading the mulch. Always add compost to the top of the soil, and never dig it in as this will disturb the roots of the tree.

Water in the compost to help the nutrients drain into the ground.

Best Types of Mulch for Fruit Trees

1. Wood Mulch

Wood mulch probably looks the most attractive, but the type of wood can impact the tree’s health. If you are using wood chips, ensure that the wood is not from a diseased tree.

Cedar and hardwood are usually the best options. Bark is also a good option for mulch.

Steer clear of pine mulch, as this can make your soil more acidic, which can negatively affect fruit trees. Colored wood mulch is also not recommended, as the dye can leach into the ground.

2. Straw Mulch

Straw can be a beneficial mulch for fruit trees. It adds weight to the soil, prevents erosion, and allows air to reach the root zone. However, straw mulch does not hold in moisture as well as wood mulch.

A precaution is to ensure the straw is seedless. If the straw is harvested after the plant has seeded, the seeds can produce more weeds than they suppress.

Also, if mice or other small rodents are common where you live, straw will attract them. Straw encourages the rodents to take over the straw as a habitat. These rodents like to chew on bark and can harm the trees, especially if they’re young.

3. Shredded Paper Mulch

Surprisingly, shredded paper makes an effective mulch for fruit trees. It has the added benefit of being easily obtained and can be made at home with waste paper.

The paper molds together over time and adds organic matter to the soil.

4. Living Mulch – Manure and Cover Crops

Living mulch, also called green manure or cover crops, has had a resurgence in recent years.

Living mulch is a great way to utilize the space under your trees and protect your tree roots. From flowers like daffodils and irises to edible crops like garlic and chives, living mulch can be an attractive and useful way to mulch around trees.

However, living mulches should only be used around mature trees, as you want to give young tree roots the best chance you can by not giving them much competition.

If you want to add cow manure, make sure not to use any fresh manure. Fresh manure contains high levels of nitrogen, which could cause problems for fruit trees. Cow manure should be aged before adding it to the soil. Aged manure contains less nitrogen, but still provides valuable nutrients for plants.

5. Compost Mulch

Compost is the absolute best mulch for trees. It provides nutrients, beneficial organisms, and all the other properties of a good mulch. 

Compost can (and should) be added underneath other mulches like wood chips, paper, or straw.

When to Mulch Fruit Trees

Fruit trees should be mulched at least once a year. Mulching can be done in the spring after the soil has warmed or in the autumn before the ground cools down.

Some gardeners mulch twice a year, which can be especially beneficial for young trees.   

Do You Still Need to Add Fertilizer for Fruit Trees?

Using an organic root-stimulating fertilizer alongside a compost mulch is advised when fruit trees are young. If the tree is not bearing fruit, only use a small amount of fertilizer scratched into the soil and then watered in.

Each type of tree is different, so be sure to research the needs of your specific fruits.

When trees are mature, they may be too big to be mulched. At this stage, living mulches are a good plan. Mature trees don’t need much fertilizer, but small amounts can be given with the aid of fertilizer spikes.

Mulch and Compost Tips for Fruit Trees

There are many ways to apply mulch and compost to fruit trees. The most important thing is that you do it right.

Here are some top tips:

  • Overly thick mulch can prevent air from reaching the tree’s roots. This can lead to disease issues.
  • Mulch young trees more often, either bi-annually or annually.
  • Spread a layer of compost under other mulches to give a boost of nutrients.
  • Spread the mulch from the trunk to the outer edges of the branches, as this will cover the root area. But be sure not to mulch right up to the tree trunk.
  • Consider living mulches when the trees become mature.
  • Make sure your mulch is seed free.
  • Keep the mulch moist, but don’t overwater. 

Mulch and Compost For Fruit Trees Final Thoughts

Mature fruit trees don’t really need much, but they can still benefit from a good compost mulch now and again.

If you have an orchard with a mix of mature and young trees, then concentrate your efforts on the younger trees. This extra mulching will help their root growth and help them fight infections and infestations more effectively.

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