I would appreciate some soil advice on how to turn around a disappointing first year for a new orchard. I acquired a small 2 acre patch of land in an area in NE Ohio (zone 6a) which I assumed to have good soil because there are a handful of commercial orchards in the area. I am learning that unfortunately my soil isn't as good as I hoped.
I followed the recommendations on how to plant the trees, ie digging a wide hole, mixing 50-50 native soil, mulching etc, but the trees have failed to thrive. Out of the 60 or so plants I have, only a couple are thriving with lots of new growth, 30 are getting by but look stressed, a dozen are fighting to survive, and the rest are either already dead or have long odds of making it through the winter.
Persimmon - A
Quince - A
Seaberries - B
Apples - B
Hazelnuts - B
Peaches - C+
Sour Cherries - C+
Apricots - C
European Plums - D
Hardy kiwis - D
Grapes - D
Currants/gooseberries - D-
I got a soil test that says it a heavy clay soil. pH = 5.9, with low levels of phosphorus 8ppm, average Potassium 96ppm, and very high Magnesium >200ppm, and only 4.1 organic matter. After I got the results, I sprinkled a few handfuls of crushed limestone around each tree to try to increase the pH but not much else.
Is there a good way to add organic matter quickly and improve soil texture? I already have a thick layer of mulch around each tree, but it will take a while to break down. I plan on adding some aged manure once the trees go dormant, but just putting it on top will take time for it to work down too right? I am afraid going back and working these into the soil with disturb what root growth there was this year. I also have a comfrey patch going to mulch with in the future, but is still a year or two away. What can I do now?
I can get some P heavy fertilizer to increase levels, but what do I do about the Magnesium being too high? And is that even a problem?
I actually recommend fall planting vs spring planting.
So order some more fruit trees+inoculants.
So to fix your soil you need more carbon in it.
Buy/Make a few ton/cord of BioChar.
Woodchop and straw will also help.
Buy 3 or so 25Lbs bags of dutch clover and broadcast soon.
Make some worm tea and innoculate your entire 2acres. Do it monthly.
Do the same with mushroom slurries.
Add diakon radish in the spring to help with soil aeration, water and soil life.
Unknown insect pressure could be part of the problem so get the following planted.
Make and spray worm tea monthly
It sounds like you need to get more microorganisms into that soil so the minerals that are there but not water soluble will become available to the plants and you need mycorrhizae around the roots of every tree.
compost teas will get humus into the soil along with increasing the numbers of organisms for the microbiome to flourish which will then make your trees healthy and it will also help with draught proofing them.
S Bengi gave good suggestions but none of that is going to work for you as fast as getting the microbiome beefed up now.
Once you have the microbiome chugging along with plenty of fungi and bacteria, the other additions will do wonders for the soil and trees.
Thanks for advice. I did inoculate all the bare root plants with micorhizal fungus prior to planting. I will add the compost tea to give it a boost.
I did have a major problem with Japanese beetles but some DA took care of it. I should have mentioned that I have a lot of companion plants going as well, garlic, dill, mint, but they don't appear to be making a difference yet.
Rather than link to all the topics which he has written up, someone (thanks!!!) has embedded them in links under the wiki! Such a time saver!!!
I am subscribed to pretty much all of them (you can subscribe while reading the thread), that way you get little nuggets on these topics rather than a massive eruption. Of course the first time you go through them it is an IMMENSE amount to ingest. But if you read this stuff, you will literally be better educated on these issues than your cooperative extension (who are probably paper certified in it), and be able to form a plan.
Then you can tell us about your plan! And get input and post pictures and we will celebrate your awesome productivity. And then you will be mentoring the next batch.
I have an even worse starting point, and I did all the "right" things like you did. I experienced high mortality. Like nearly 80% in some plantings.
I went back to the drawing board, and made a list of the likely culprits:
Minerals (because I can measure those and I am steeped in lab culture being the "answer")
Soil microbes (which I don't have the expertise to assess-yet!)
Pathogens which are either a sign of a deficiency of the above or poor selection of plant types
Soil tilth is often misrepresented as needing to be perfect. I highly doubt trees are that darn picky, they have tools if they have buddies and resources.
And I set out fixing the minerals and devising a way of working toward the biome.
Look at your resources and devise a plan something like that, it will organize your thinking. The Dr Redhawk threads are helpful once you have a starting framework. Let us know if you are stuck.
Standing on the shoulders of giants. Giants with dirt under their nails
How much growth did you actually get this first year, and what are the sizes of the plants. And how much sunlight are you getting. Say for the apple/s what size: dwarf, semi-dwarf or semi-full.
I planted some new apple trees and got mixed results from 4 foot on a full size apple rootstock to 4 inches on a Redfield apple that was double grafted to a semi-full rootstock via a semi-dwarf rootstock. I got 30 inches of growth on the Black Oxford with the same double graft and got maybe a foot on a MacIntosh on the same double graft. For comparison I got only about a foot of growth on a semi-full interstem on a semi-full rootstock with no apple variety grafted to it.
The graft with the 4 inches of growth was in the worst original soil and gets the least sunlight.
It's my opinion that you only need some amendment of your planting hole. After that I'd say if you give them some water, especially the first year, some manure and sunlight, maybe some patience that your plants will do fine. I'd say you don't need anymore lime. They said you need 75 pounds per acre, to me that means don't add any to a small plot.
You didnt mention water. Thats #1 as far as simply surviving. I gave up on small trees just because of the sheer lack of roots and the summer dry spells we have in the summer. I cant keep up with the watering. Taller trees have deeper roots from the get go so they are closer to underground moisture. They still need water, just less often. While all the replies are valid for getting trees to thrive, they have to survive before they can thrive.
Im not sure if trees leaf out by april in your area. If so thats not optimal. As stated, plant in fall. This allows the roots to start growing.
About the magnesium levels. I'd suggest you google: high soil magnesium levels. Looking at a few web sites the impression I get is that applying gypsum is the accepted solution. The return I looked at for the most part was at the " farmingforum..co.uk ". which was one of the google returns I got on my search. The impression I get is that applying gypsum is a waste of time and money. One guy there said he had magnesium levels of greater then 800. Compared to that you're low.
After the plants go dormant I'd apply a couple of inches of well composted manure or mulch and fork that in so it gets into the soil better. The manure and forking will create manure tea which run into the fork holes. Don't apply the manure or mulch, or any fertilizers this fall as you don't want to stimulate late growth. In your area you should be able to grow good crops of anything appropriate for USDA zone 6a. Hopefully next year your plants will start showing top growth after this first year of root growth. From my experience when you plant out new plants, some just never make it. Don't confuse the issue. Contact the supplier of your plants. As stated earlier the fall is a good time to plant.... replacements.
i agree with John. pull back your mulch. put down manure and cover it w/ mulch again. worms will go in there and process the manure into your root system. by next spring it will help stimulate good growth.. come next spring id add a little more manure or compost and mulch again over that. that will help with further summer growth. should be the only thing you need to do to get things going.
Get as much free wood chip mulch as you can out there - it will start breaking down and the worms will incorporate it into the soil. Save your back. Mound the existing soil, compost, and wood chips in even thirds about 2 feet high and plant into that - it will settle by at least 6 inches or a foot. Keep it watered in droughty times. I also highly recommend planting bocking 14 comfrey everywhere. It will develop a very deep taproot that will help break up your soil for drainage and make nutrients availiable to your plantings.
I have heavy clay soil that is saturated 9 months of the year and I hit standing water 18 inches down. A foot thick layer of woodchips and compost and comfrey everywhere I don't have a plant has my fruit trees and berry bushes thriving.
Best of luck to you!
P.s.those hardy kiwis always have a slow start - they'll get going fast the 3rd year.
I skimmed this whole thread and didn't notice this advice re: high magnesium. You need to add calcium!!!
Calcium will also serve to "open up" the soil. Especially with clay, that will make a big difference. I farm in the PNW where my soils are mostly clay. The high magnesium is mostly a problem in so much as you want to have calcium and magnesium in balance in your soil. Adding calcium will help both with the mag and the clay soil
I recommend bone meal because it will break down quicker than any mineral form of calcium. Don't be shy; it's hard to add too much in your setting. A few other thoughts:
1. Def got to lime. Get that ph right where it needs to be. If you don't fix ph, your orchard will never thrive
2. Don't add softwood mulches--they'll acidify the soil and don't promote fungal growth. Use hardwood mulches, as they promote fungal growth, which you want. Straw and hay work great too. Maybe you can find some old/moldy hay for sale or free?
3. Optimally, your soil would've been balanced and as healthy as you could get it before you planted the trees. It may hurt your pocket book, but you might consider replanting most of it. Being stunted early in life has knock-on effects on orchard plants that can't be fully "fixed" by better soil and care later on. I've made this same mistake and am slowing re-planting some trees as am able to afford to. The new ones are doing much better.
There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, a hole in the bucket, dear liza, a tiny ad:
100th Issue of Permaculture Magazine - now FREE for a while