Periphery Mulching
August 26, 2013 09:59AM
This season we are changing our approach to mulching. As a grand experiment we are creating zones for the mulch, generally at the periphery, where the assumed median rootzone of the two neighboring trees. Normally we would periodically cut back the understory vegetation and add other mulch materials to the entire area beneath the trees. While this procedure works well with younger trees, larger trees mean too large an expanse to address. The mulched areas will be rotated yearly or biyearly. The reasons that led up to this decision are as follows:

1. Breakdown of materials such as scabby leaves and pathogen loaded prunings are accelerated in a denser, moisture laden pile than scattered neatly in continual mulching schemes.
2. Sod suppression really only works with a lot of material. Heaped material, (longer scythe cuttings as opposed to mowings especially), will do a nice job, and there often is not enough material to be had.
3. Blowoff of carbon and nitrogen to the atmosphere is going to be ameliorated to some degree in zone piling. Carbon heavy piles will do even better.
4. Establishment of higher populations of beneficial microorganisms and insects and worms. The enhanced soil texture beneath is also enchanced with a larger number of soil stirrers including mammals.
5. A presumed higher predation of pests in these areas, especially if drops are relocated to this zone. It will be a buffet for hunters.
6. Since it will concentrate pest mammals like meadow voles, it may be easier to dispatch them.
7. Some of these zones will be planted (and some already are) with bush species, in a more permanent mulching situation. Bush plants have usually a high tolerance for high levels of mulch in their stem zone, unlike most tree species.

The key here is having a compost pile like environment will facilitate breakdown of materials, especially problem ones. Further it sets up a more natural non-continuous zone that is more approximating of the condition in nature. Trees will thus have access to different nutrients from material at different stages of reproduction. (Michael's approach of dumping a pile of chippings in one pile instead of neatly sprinkling it about aesthetically is a form of this). Since trees evolved in a landscape that allowed for variation like this (pile here, decayed log there, greenery growing beyond) is much more in keeping with this idea.

Furthermore, it really adheres to the permaculture principle of less wasteful work. Piling everything right there and letting the balance grow is pretty easy. It also eliminates the frustration of bashing into sticks, canes and other course debris when scything or mowing, which can be a real pain. These abandoned piles can either work nicely as the aforementioned planting spots for bushes or herbs, but left to their own devices will often harbor very healthy wildflowers and other nice insectary plants since they are unencumbered by continual sod competition.

We have been doing this over the years with the interplanting zones of other species, but this is on a grand scale for this year. We will keep folks posted on the outcome.

Walden Heights Nursery & Orchard
Zone 3 in Vermont
Re: Periphery Mulching
June 25, 2014 06:11PM
Whats your source of mulch?
Re: Periphery Mulching
June 25, 2014 07:54PM
The source of our mulch is pretty local. Although some can come as far away as 200 yards, most is obtained within 50 feet. We try to maintain other plant life on the property, so we do alot of chop and drop mulching (saving the larger woody pieces for the woodstove) So, it is grass clippings, weeds, branches, leaves, brambles, etc. There is no need to cut things very small when you drop them in zones...if you broadcast it about, it will get caught in the scythe or string trimmer. We sometimes get spoiled hay and compost which we spread about also.

I make the point, that in a system that is cleaner of other plant life and trees, which can be used as mulching/composting material as well as support other species, more inputs will be necessary.

Walden Heights Nursery & Orchard
Zone 3 in Vermont
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