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establishing a diverse understory

Posted by Michael Phillips 
establishing a diverse understory
February 03, 2017 08:30AM
A very detailed grower guide focused on “Wildflower Establishment using Organic Site Prep Methods” has been put together by the Xerces Society and can be found at http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Organic-Wildflower-Establishment_Oct2016_FINAL-web.pdf.

What have you done in this regard? Let's make this a thread for sharing tips and insights for fellow growers just getting a tree planting underway. This document details soil prep methods during what I call the biological compromise phase. The mycorrhizal fungal piece could be better reckoned as relates to roots in the ground. Choice of plants for different bioregions is detailed in Farming with Native Beneficial Insects (also put together by the folks at the Xerces Society) which can be purchased on the GrowOrganicApples Bookshelf.

Frost seeding and use of soil balls also serve to introduce new plants into the orchard ecosystem without turning the soil. I often take avail of ramial chipped wood "mulch pockets" the following spring to plunk a comfrey root or transplants of mountain mint and the like.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire
Re: establishing a diverse understory
June 21, 2017 03:40PM
I would love to see pictures from others showing their orchards at different stages. Specifically, I would like to see what others are doing between rows and also understory development at different times of the year. Does anyone know if there are any sites were this info. could be seen?
Re: establishing a diverse understory
February 07, 2018 12:57PM
David, you can view a few photos of our bouquet here -


A point I will make when putting together ideas for the understory is to get a good feel of where you are. Location is a big factor. My personal bent is on creating as dynamic an ecosystem as possible which plays right into understory choices. Soil and climatic factors are going to play a large part in the ease of establishing certain species. In fact, a very rich system can evolve almost by itself if managed wisely. For instance, although we have planted a large number of production species in the orchard, a good deal was "allowed" to become established, or remain. When starting from scratch many growers are going to be saddled with an open field, and the first options are usually going to be herbaceous/grassland species. This meadow ecology in a wider sense is more akin to a prairie ecology, and will need more managing in places like the humid east. In our area of northern Vermont, for instance, the climax ecosystem is forest, not grassland. There are naturally occurring species that do very well here, and are a good aid to soil dynamics, and aerial habitat for beneficials. (We have an inventory of naturally occurring species on our farm if anyone is interested in viewing it.) So, along with the plants we are all likely to sock in the ground, there is help already out there. With a little homework you can find out what service each plant can provide, then figure out what we may need to introduce to get the rest of the job done.
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