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cover cropping for new orchard section?

Posted by Molly DellaRoman 
cover cropping for new orchard section?
September 17, 2020 10:55AM
Hi all,
We are working on expanding our existing orchard. We weren't here for the initial planting of the understory way back in the 80's, but we have a chance now to "control" that in a new section that we're working on. We battled the shrubby forested area in 2018 and 2019 with brush hogging and weed whipping. This year we have had pigs rooting all season and hand pulling and tractor pulling of roots. It still needs more work and we were thinking about tilling and cover cropping for 2021. Any one done this and have suggestions for what to use? My inclination is clover but maybe go straight to some kind of grass?
Thanks for any advice!

5 Star Nursery and Orchard
Zone 5, Brooklin, ME
Re: cover cropping for new orchard section?
October 11, 2020 12:30PM
We feel your pain. Our orchard was planted in an old wheat/corn/tobacco field, so not even a chance to just let natives proliferate in an existing pasture. My mother planted a gorgeous orchard floor of shady red fescue . . . then she let me move my pastured chickens in, and I ruined everything. We're talking 200 chickens, so lots of bald dust bath spots, lots of large burnt patches from a huge chicken tractor that probably needed to be moved twice a day to have any chance of working well in an orchard. Long story short, the high nitrogen coupled with razed patches added up to all sorts of weeds, primarily pigweed amaranth and morning glory vines, to my eternal shame, getting a toehold. In those days, my mother was taking care of the orchard herself and mowing got out of control often and things went to seed while she was busy untangling the morning glories lashing the young trees completely horizontal on the ground . . . so my little weed patches eventually grew to become 10 acres of undesirable orchard floor.

Eight years or so later, things are getting better. The trees are bigger so even if they are overtaken by vines, the risk isn't as great, but it's still a regrettable mess that we'll be dealing with for years, and since it's harder to mow completely under large trees, to some extent, controlling the issue has been compounded. Blackberry vines and native roses have become entrenched in certain areas, often hugging the tree trunk and growing straight up, where they are very difficult to get to and extract. We are trying to mulch with hay wherever we can to help with weed suppression and tree nutrition. It's not perfect, and it's a lot of work, but perhaps that's something else for you to consider in your scenario. I just posted a more detailed explanation of our hay mulch practices in another topic in this HON section about understory management, if you're interested. It concerns cash cropping in that hay mulch, as well, which provides further weed suppression.

Good luck!

Brittany Kordick

Kordick Family Farm
Westfield, NC
Zone 7a
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