Whether it's a small home orchard or a larger operation, weed control around the trees is vital. Not only does it make access for care and harvesting simpler, weeds also compete with the trees for necessary nutrients and water. A soft covering of grass is the perfect mulch in your orchards. The grass provides a mulch, which helps cool the soil, retains moisture, and prevents the topsoil from rinsing away. This guide will help you implement a grass mulching plan in your orchard.
The area beneath the trees is obviously shaded, which rules out many of the sun-loving turf grasses. For this reason, St. Augustine grass is a natural choice, since it thrives in shade. It's one drawback is that it can take several months to establish, during which time regular weed control is necessary. It becomes fairly low maintenance once it is growing well.
Annual ryegrasses are another option, since they can grow and establish quickly without the need for the initial establishment period required of St. Augustine. Their primary drawback is that they will need to be reseeded annually to ensure a lush ground cover.
Grass provides additional benefits in the orchard, beyond those listed above. Grasses, like most green foliage plants, contain a lot of nitrogen. Nitrogen is a necessary component for healthy plant growth, including the growth of trees. Leaving the grass clipping on the ground to decompose between the orchard trees returns this nitrogen to the ground, where it can aid future plant growth.
Organic mulches, such as straw, are sometimes used instead of grass. Although these keep down weeds and conserve water, they also can harbor insects and disease organisms, or provide hiding and nesting sites for small rodents. These pests can then attack your fruit trees. Healthy grass is generally free of these pests.
Caring for grass mulch beneath the fruit trees is fairly straightforward. The grass will require fertilization with a lawn fertilizer in spring, followed by mowing to control the height for orchard access. Keeping a small ring of soil bare just around the base of each tree can minimize the chances of lawnmower damage to the tree trunks.
Grass also requires watering, although grasses like St. Augustine can generally survive brief dry periods and will green up again when the moisture returns. Usually natural rainfall combined with the irrigation necessary for the fruit trees is sufficient to keep the grass healthy.
For more information, contact a company like California Sod Center.