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Use of pea gravel

Posted by Clair Kauffman 
Use of pea gravel
November 12, 2012 07:39PM
Hi all!

For those who have experience with using pea gravel in the orchard, can someone recommend an amount of pea gravel to apply at the base of a newly planted tree? In getting proper planting depth, should the pea gravel be figured into the measurement or not? In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of using pea gravel? Are there other options for both weed and rodent control directly around the trunk?



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 11/14/2012 07:20AM by Clair Kauffman.
Re: Use of pea gravel
November 15, 2012 08:00AM
I am not sold on using pea gravel around my trees. I am going to experiment using Phillips' peat moss mixture (page 303 of T.H.O.) in a 2-3 ft. ring around my trees due to my clay soils.
Re: Use of pea gravel
November 15, 2012 11:18PM
I put pea gravel down this year around my new trees and my established ones. I put about 2 (5 gallon) buckets around each of the new trees. Since a lot of it sunk into the ground, the finished depth was a little above grade and I planted as if it was the soil line. My established trees required more gravel. Our new trees looked really healthy and vigorous but I also let the remaining grass grow up and scythed it a couple times during the season. We had drought conditions for about 6 weeks and I only watered 1 time. I think the trees stayed straighter also. My friend lives 2 miles from me and ordered the same trees on identical rootstock from the same nursery and mine were much more vigorous and well branched. Of course many factors could be at play but we would recommend the gravel method.
Re: Use of pea gravel
November 16, 2012 08:01AM
My use of peastone around the base of young trees continues to evolve. But let's start with why one might do this. Some sort of mulch helps to keep the trunk zone more open. Organic matter can't be all that thickly applied here as it holds too much moisture at the trunk crown. Peastone does the job with respect to better aeration, making things less conducive for RHAB (borer) females to oviposit, and provides good anchorage for vole guards. I've also observed less vole tunneling up tight against trunks. (Meadow voles will make runs on the perimeter of a sizeable peastone ring, which when discovered, gets a good stomping down.) None of this is about contributing to soil fertility or soil structure however.

I plant nursery trees with the graft union several inches above what I perceive to be the final soil line. I deliberately leave a shallow bowl around the tree on the order of 2 to 3 feet across, this to help with watering if necessary. Originally, I filled this in completely in the immediate weeks after planting with peastone. Now I favor a shallow layer of ramial wood chips ... which are going to contribute nutrients in the immediate root zone ... applied across this bowl but very shallow right at the trunk. Peastone comes next, the proverbial five gallon bucket being about right, placed at the trunk for about a foot around, a few inches deep to create the final soil line. Sometimes this last step gets done in spring, sometimes it isn't till that first fall after planting. Some of this original stone indeed sinks into the dirt, especially when I come through forking out any quack grass runners and other encroaching weeds in the decomposing wood chips further out. It might be year two or year three or even year four that I come back with "renewal peastone" to enlarge this mulched space at the base of the tree. It takes 4 to 6 shovels full of what's basically 3/8" stone to build the two-plus feet diameter inner ring a few inches deep that I find carries the tree into the bearing years. Once there's more branch structure, and thus shading, this zone is essentially on its own. I still weed out more aggressive plants in the peastone, when occcasion brings me to my knees, like checking for borers or picking up early drops. Any supplemental nitrogen in the early years, be it an organic fertilizer blend or soybean meal, will be sprinkled atop all zones around the tree as the roots reach further and further outboard.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/16/2012 08:57AM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Use of pea gravel
November 16, 2012 09:30AM
So is the pea gravel primarily for weed control or to prevent rodent damage or is it a 50/50? Before I spend the time and money to apply pea gravel to a planting of 100 trees, I need to consider any/all potential cost/benefit.

Clair Kauffman
Zone 6b, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
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