Sheet-mulching the Peach Orchard

When we first moved in this summer, the orchard was barely accessible. The aisle between the first two rows of trees had been mowed fairly recently, but the next seven or more rows were surrounded with tall grass and high weeds. Half of the trees had "companion plants"--that's my term for the black walnuts, ash trees, and multiflora roses that the birds had planted next to the trees. Even with our snazzy new John Deere zero-turn mower it was laborious to clear the grass around all those trees.

So we're sheet-mulching between the trees in each row. We're putting heavy layers of paper or cardboard on the grass between the trees in each row. (Moving boxes--especially mattress boxes-- work great, and we certainly have plenty of them!) Then we're adding a thick layer of wood chips over top. The cardboard smothers the grass, and the wood chips hold the cardboard in place and look attractive. New weeds that sprout in the wood chips will be easy to pull, and mowing will be a cinch, since we'll just have to go up and down each aisle, and not around each tree.

When I lived in the suburbs, I used to buy 8-12 cubic yards of mulch every year to put on flower beds. Now I've found several websites that match tree companies needing to drop off loads of chips with landscapers and homeowners who can use the material. One nice thing about chips instead of mulch is that the chips last longer and don't need to be replaced as frequently. Another nice thing is that the chips are cheap, or even free! The sites seem to operate within limited geographic regions; your local tree service can tell you which ones are popular in your area.

Next on the shopping list: a tractor with a front-end loader. After shoveling and hauling multiple wheelbarrows-full of chips, my kids will thank me for it.

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