Pros And Cons Of Mulching Fruit Trees

Gardeners worldwide agree that mulching is highly beneficial. Organic mulch is preferable to inorganic because it has many more benefits. However, organic mulch has to be replenished more frequently, and you have to know which type of mulch is best for your growing conditions.

The pros of mulching fruit trees are retaining moisture, stopping weeds, preventing soil erosion, insulating against temperature, adding nutrition, and improving soil structure. The cons are that it may be contaminated with herbicides or pesticides or may harbor weed seeds, bugs, and plant diseases.

The Types Of Mulch To Use For Fruit Trees

To understand the pros and cons of mulching fruit trees, you first need to know a bit about mulching. Organic mulches are made of straw, wood chips, dead leaves, pine needles, or even compost, while inorganic mulches consist of landscaping fabrics, gravel, or plastic sheeting.

The 10 Pros Of Mulching Fruit Trees

Mulch Conserves Water

In regions where water is scarce or even rationed, the benefits of mulching cannot be overstated. It reduces moisture evaporation from the soil, so water is used more efficiently. While drip irrigation helps with water conservation, it isn’t much help if the dry air evaporates the water around the tree before it can even penetrate to the roots.

Mulch Reduces Soil Compaction

People often underestimate the importance of air between soil particles for root health. Mulch improves the structure of the soil around the tree, reducing soil compaction so water and air can reach the roots and be easily absorbed. If soil is too dense, the roots find it more challenging to grow and spread below ground, and they become stunted.

It Keeps Fruit Clean

If conditions are windy and dry, then the fruit can get dusty. When it rains heavily, or you irrigate the tree with a hose, mud and soil particles can splash up onto the fruit. A layer of mulch around the tree essentially prevents this from happening.

Mulch Adds Nutrients

Mulch breaks down with time to provide added nutrients necessary for healthy growth, such as nitrogen, trace elements, and potassium. Hardwood mulch also encourages the development of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi in the ground that assist the tree in absorbing nutrients.

Most fruit trees need nitrogen-rich soil to grow healthy leaves and branches. Therefore, a mulch that causes the nitrogen around young fruit trees to be used for other purposes is inadvisable. One example is wood mulch such as wood chips or sawdust.

Wood mulch can cause nitrogen deficiency in young fruit trees because bacteria need nitrogen to break it down. Adding supplemental nitrogen doesn’t work that well, so you should compost the mulch for a couple of years before applying it.

Mulch Can Increase Acidity Levels In Alkaline Soil

Pine needles can raise the soil’s acidity, which may be a blessing if your soil is a bit alkaline, as many fruit trees prefer slightly acidic soils. However, if your soil is already acidic, pine needles may increase it too much. They aren’t recommended for fruit trees that dislike acidic soil, such as apricots and figs.

You can use pine needles around citrus, apple, peach, nectarine, and pear trees in conjunction with other types of mulch that provide more nutrition.

Mulch protects Trees From Temperature Extremes

Mulch insulates trees from the cold and prevents frost damage when they are young and vulnerable. Also, when temperatures get uncomfortably high, mulch keeps conditions beneath the tree cooler and more tolerable.

Mulch Prevents The Weed Growth

Weed growth, especially around young trees, can rob them of essential nutrients and attract insect pests and diseases. If there is a decent layer of mulch around the tree, it blocks the sunlight from the soil below, which means that weed seeds cannot germinate.

Mulch Eliminates The Need For Herbicides

By preventing weeds from growing around the fruit tree, mulch eliminates the need for expensive, unhealthy, and poisonous herbicides that are bad for the environment. Many herbicides and pesticides are known carcinogens. It’s far from ideal to use poisons around food crops because if they are absorbed by the plant, even in minute quantities, they can enter the body when eaten.

Proper Mulching Can Improve Fruit Yield.

Organic mulches increase the presence of mycorrhizal fungi that help the fruit tree absorb micronutrients and aerate the soil. It optimizes conditions for fruit-bearing so the tree can put all of its energy into producing fruit instead of fighting for nutrients and moisture.

You need to apply mulch around a fruit tree in a layer that settles to a depth of between four and six inches. The mulch should spread from the tree trunk to the drip line, but don’t place the mulch right up against the tree. It should be six inches away from the trunk to prevent moisture from being trapped against it and causing rot.

Some Mulches Promote Tree Health

Cedar mulch can deter ants and termites because it has insect repellant properties. Willow mulch is another one to consider if you have a willow tree nearby, as the young shoots and branches contain salicylic acid that boosts a fruit tree’s immunity.

If the tree’s immune system is robust, it is better placed to fight off pests and diseases. If you use willow wood chips, which take longer to break down than willow leaves and shoots, add them to an underlayer of compost mulch to prevent nitrogen loss from the soil. Ironically large woodchips are less likely to tie up the nitrogen than small particle woodchips such as sawdust.

The 3 Cons Of Mulching Fruit Trees

Knowing which mulch to use can be tricky as many people don’t know what soil type they have and are not prepared to research which mulch is best for their environmental conditions. You don’t need a university degree on mulch, but a little learning goes a long way if you want the best fruit and healthiest trees.

Inorganic and Cheap Mulch May Do More Harm Than Good

Cheap or inorganic mulches can damage fruit trees, starving the roots of air and moisture or creating too much heat around them, especially in warm climates. Inorganic mulch also does not provide any nutrients. If you place mulch close up against the tree trunk, it could cause it to rot.

Straw And Living Mulch Can Attract Pests

Straw is attractive nesting and food material for voles, mice, and rabbits. Depending on where you live, they, in turn, may attract natural predators such as snakes to the fruit trees. No one wants to encounter a venomous snake hanging from a branch when reaching in to harvest fruit!

Pine straw and living mulch may also attract insect pests that can transfer to your fruit trees. Some insects may use straw to keep warm. If those insects are termites, you will not be happy. Straw may also be contaminated with herbicides or pesticides detrimental to fruit trees.

Leaf Mulch Can Attract Slugs and Snails

Mulch made of large leaves should be shredded to prevent matting that prevents water and air from entering the soil. Leaf mulch may also harbor bugs and snails that may transfer their attention to young fruit trees.