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Sheet mulching around 2 apple and 1 cherry trees for spring companion planting? (Olympia, WA)

 
Posts: 7
Location: Olympia, WA, USA
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Hi, I am just getting started with gardening and permaculture related projects this year on an approx. 1 acre suburban property in Olympia, WA zone 8 (rainy with increasingly dry summers). We are in the process of getting professional design help.

I guess this year I should really be focusing on observation and soil improvement! And building my compost bin.

However, I am impatient and want to start planting stuff this year. For example I'd like to sow a few companion plants around these 2 older apple and 1 cherry trees.

Is it too late to do a sheet mulch to kill the grass and moss around the trees and build the soil up a bit for spring planting? Farmer's almanac says average date of last frost is towards the end of April.

And what are the best materials in the sheet mulch? I can get horse manure, coffee grounds, possibly seaweed (we live near the water), fairly easily. Not sure if anyone around will still have leaves left over from fall or grass clippings. I can buy compost, worm castings, and worm tea.

I have been trying to research what helps apple trees and what tolerates some shade, here is my list (don't know if these all tolerate partial shade):

Fava beans (shade tolerant? and nitrogen fixing)
White clover (tolerates partial shade, nitrogen fixing)
Comfrey
Daffodils
Yarrow
Nasturtiums
Garlic chives
Dill
Chamomile

Any input and reality checks will be appreciated. Thank you.
Margaret


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Posts: 28
Location: Kentucky - Zone6
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My biggest concern would be compaction of the current soil by adding new soil, suffocating the tree roots as they no longer can get oxygen. I would just add enough cardboard/paper to kill of the grass/moss and just enough wood chips/mulch to keep the cardboard/paper from flying away with the wind.

M
 
pollinator
Posts: 593
Location: Western Washington
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Hi Margaret,

I live just to the south of you, and I'll be working on a project a lot in the next few years near Olympia. I think that your idea to get started with the companion planting is a good one. I think all of those materials you listed would be great. If you do go with seaweed be sure to rinse it because of the salt (so I've heard anyway). I don't think that the sheet mulching would cause any compaction; I think it'd do the opposite. In our region I think you can sheet mulch any time of the year, with any season other than summer being ideal because of the rain (but watering in summer would also serve to keep the biology in the mulch alive. I'm not sure which of those plants tolerate shade, unfortunately.
 
master steward
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Location: Pacific Northwest
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I have a list for things that do well here in the shade!

*Digs around* AH-HA!

https://permies.com/wiki/76253/Edible-Plants-Shady-Wet-Areas

Nicole Alderman wrote:

Herbaceous Layer:

  • Wasabi
  • Wood/Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca) yummy little strawberries:
  • Wild violet (Viola odorata) edible, tasty flower
  • Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
  • Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella): In the damper areas. Looks like cute little shamrocks and tastes like bright sunshine--a sweet and lemony flavor.
  • Sheep sorrel(Rumex acetosella): also seems to tolerate shade. A sweet, "lemony" leaf. Very tasty!
  • Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata): Tasty, mild green.
  • Siberian Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia sibirica): Sometimes tasty, sometimes tastes like dirt. The one's growing wild on my property taste like dirt :(. Make sure you're getting a tasty variety.
  • Licorice Fern: Grows on mostly maple trees that are growing in shady wet areas
  • Mushrooms! As long as you're not trying to grow them in a puddle, that is!


  • Vines Layer:

  • Trailing blackberry: Not really a vine, but kind of takes up that zone
  • Boysenberry:
  • Licorice fern: Not a vine, but it grows up on trees, so it thought I'd mention it here, too.


  • Shrub Layer:

  • Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium): Likes to grow on WesternRed cedar stumps and debri. Will fruit in full sun to dappled light/part-shade, maybe even full shade. Will grow in wetlands if growing on a log raised above the water
  • stink currant (probably other currants as well)
  • Nettle(Urtica dioica): Seems to handle shady and part shade rather well. Tasty leaves. Some manage to eat the raw without getting stung. I cook mine! Probably only want to eat 1-2 times per week, as it can cause damage to kidneys if consumed in LARGE amounts. Very nutritious plant, and a good source of protein, too!
  • Cascade Huckleberry ()Vaccinium deliciosum: Only partial shade
  • Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis):Doesn't fruit in full shade, but grows there and fruits in dappled light.
  • Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus): Fruits in part shade
  • [/list]
  • Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa): fruits in part shade on my property. Berries not edible unless processed carefully. Even then, not everyone agrees that they're edible. Flowers are edible.
  • Devil's Club: Shoots are edible, but i haven't tried them. The plant is medicinal. It's giant and thorny, though...
  • Sword fern: Supposedly the tubors are edible, but I haven't tried them
  • Lady fern: Supposedly, the "fiddleheads" are edible, but I haven't tried them.
  • Currant: My sink currant fruits in part shade, and grows in dappled forest (might fruit there, too.) Not sure about other currants, though...
  • Blackcap raspberry (Rubus leucodermis): supposedly likes part shade. I haven't tested this though. The berries are delicious.
  • Gooseberry




  • Under my fruit trees, I love green onions (I often just buy bundles of the organic ones at Fred Meyer/other grocery stores), wild strawberries, sheep sorrel, blackcap raspberries (very long/vine-like, and delicious!), lilies, chives, and miner's lettuce
     
    Posts: 4
    Location: SW Washington
    forest garden
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    Maarten Smet wrote:My biggest concern would be compaction of the current soil by adding new soil, suffocating the tree roots as they no longer can get oxygen. I would just add enough cardboard/paper to kill of the grass/moss and just enough wood chips/mulch to keep the cardboard/paper from flying away with the wind.

    M



    On sheet mulching--I live just a bit further south than James Landreth, west of Longview, WA, and am just over a year into implementing/learning permaculture in this region.  Last May we planted a number of mostly-native shrubs, ground cover, and a few trees, mostly in a nice big yard of lovely green grass.  I filled a wheelbarrow with water, soaked cardboard in it, laid it down around the plants--overlapping, and covered with 3-4 inches of grass clippings from lawn mowing.  At that time, grass was the most-available mulch.  By now the mulch has decomposed.  After wind had dropped many small douglas fir branches, our neighbor who has lived in the area for decades told me that after I pull whatever grass or other plants that have grown through or on the mulch layer, to mulch it all with the fir branches/needles  and the grass won't come back.  So that's what I'm trying.

    Around our old fruit trees, we've mulched with bark removed from firewood.  I want to cover the grass with cardboard and mulch out farther, to the driplines or beyond, and plant companion/support/layers of plants under and around these trees.  thank you all for the lists of plants.         Hannah
     
    Posts: 64
    Location: Olympia, Wa
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    I live in oly also and started my food forest last year at my new home. First thing I did was throw a bunch of seeds on the lawn as a winter cover crop. There were many types of seeds and TONS of diakon radish. The idea is the radish has a huge tap root and i will leave lots of them on them in the ground, they should decompose and add organic matter and at the same time break up the compacted soil. So far it seems to be working great!

    I sheet mulch with cardboard then homemade compost and finally about 12" of straw. After a week it settles to about 5 or 6".
     
    Chris Emerson
    Posts: 64
    Location: Olympia, Wa
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    I made some more sheet mulch beds last week but made them more complex this time.

    1)added lime to soil to raise pH
    2) layered cardboard
    3) thin layer of mushroom compost (local)
    4) 4" straw (fluffed up)
    5) sprinkle of compost
    6) 12" of fluffed straw
    7) 2-3" compost
    8) thin layer of straw to cover

    Watered each layer as it went down. Lots of water! Watering took the most time.  I'm pretty excited about it, kind a mega keyhole garden. Next I want to lay a bunch of mulch around the beds but that is for another day.
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    James Landreth
    pollinator
    Posts: 593
    Location: Western Washington
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    That looks nice. I made a small herb labyrinth that way
     
    gardener
    Posts: 5856
    Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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    hau Margaret, When it comes to sheet mulching the one thing I see a lot of people forgetting is that roots need oxygen as much as the leaves.
    The use of cardboard against the grass, for the purpose of killing said grass, also tends to limit the influx of oxygen (air) into the soil, this is not a problem if you are working a new area, but it can be a problem if you are using the technique around an established tree.
    Nicole and Chris have offered up some outstanding ideas, especially Nicole's list of companion plants, just remember to allow for the roots of your trees to be able to breathe if you decide to sheet mulch.

    I find that simply putting down a thick layer of straw covered with compost works just about as well as laying down the cardboard and sheeting over it.

    Redhawk
     
    Chris Emerson
    Posts: 64
    Location: Olympia, Wa
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    Added some mulch for a path. Next year we will expand the garden bed, I made way too much path space!
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    Posts: 44
    Location: San Martin, CA
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    For those that are concerned about oxygenation in the soil, mulching actually improves oxygenation.  The first year I moved to my property I planted a bunch of apple trees.  They didn't do so well.  I had hard compacted soil.  Two years ago, I planted some stone fruit in a sheet mulched area.  They took off and are growing well.  I didn't do such a good job of coverage with the mulch and weeding, and have a bunch of bindweed, dock and pigweed growing around them, but they are flourishing and fruiting (one tree has been fruiting too much despite peach leaf curl) and I haven't really done much with the weeds between them.  I'm going to figure out a good understory to plant underneath them now for weed suppression. This was an area that I had let go to weed with lots of thistle and such because I had undiagnosed gout the first year.  I think the weed activity actually helped the soil with long taproots, mineral accumulation and increased bioactivity.  I did throw some horse manure out there too because I needed a place to compost it anyway.

    I mulched my apple trees,  at least the ones that survived.  I planted new apple trees and mulched them well with aged wood chips and leaf mold and they are all real happy this spring.  I'm started to get fruit on them, and they were merely struggling to live or dying before.  The mulch adds pore space to the soil by keeping the bioactivity of the compacted soils going.  Live with earthworms and other stuff.  The soil is a lot less compacted now.  The bioactivity the mulch creates only adds to good oxygenation.
     
    Dado Scooter
    Posts: 44
    Location: San Martin, CA
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    PS, I used a lot of cardboard for sheet mulching in my weedy stone fruit orchard.  I had just moved, so I had plenty of cardboard.  I put fresh horse manure on top of the cardboard before I covered with wood chips.  This encouraged earthworms to eat through the cardboard, at the cardboard is pretty much gone after the first winter. It really was an even lazier version of lasagna gardening or Ruth Stout.

    Before I planted the stone fruit, I didn't irrigate so there wasn't to much activity right away. The summer had a bunch of bindweed invading which was really obnoxious.  The winter's cold killed the bindweed, and winter's worth of rain helped a lot before the trees were planted.  Just spent some time getting to the bindweed roots that weren't killed.  I think I need to get all the vegetation down again and apply more sheet mulch....  

    Just don't use landscape fabric, that wouldn't let earthworm activity flourish.

     
    Posts: 8
    Location: Driggs, ID
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    Wow! Your place is moss heaven. Okay, so I don't think I would sheet mulch under the drip line of the trees. I think it would give you too much of a chance of covering the flare of the trunk of the tree. This is very harmful to the tree and can kill it. Why not design your own Guild of beneficial plants that can help those fruit trees into their senior years. There were a bunch of great ideas for plants in this thread. Then you can do your sheet mulching in the areas where there are no trees. The added benefits this is sheet mulching is really tiring. The more you can save your back the better!
     
    Dado Scooter
    Posts: 44
    Location: San Martin, CA
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    I assure you I have absolutely no moss growing anywhere on my property! I live in a semi-arid state.  Permaculture is definitely site specific, so just because that's the truth where you are, does not mean it's the same everywhere else.  I also live in a prime stone fruit orchard area, and the commercial orchardists around here just till everything to a bare ground "dust mulch" as they call it. I hate that practice.

    The problem with planting an understory is that my particular fruit trees are constantly being maintained so that anything in the understory is quite in danger of being trampled.  I plant in gopher cages, so the mulch is up to the exterior of the gopher cages, but not mulched within the gopher cages.  I do plant some annuals after harvest and summer pruning, and I will be transplanting some woodland strawberries that are growing under my big pecan trees.  They aren't destroyed by trampling....  I just had my horses graze over it, and they actually are enjoying the grass being eaten around them and the soil disturbance by their hooves... I may put in some artichokes, goji berries or something just outside the dripline. The dripline is minimal because I am keeping my trees deliberately small because I am getting older and don't ever want to have to do any ladder harvesting as shown by Dave Wilson Nursery's YouTube vids.

    The proof is in the pudding... where I bark chipped mulch I have a healthy mycelium in the chips and happy trees.  Where I didn't, the trees aren't as happy, and some died.  I live on an intensely tilled former agricultural lot with a lot of hardpan.  Yes, it used to be the Valley of the Hearts delight covered with intense orchards and row cropping, now it's the outer reaches of Silicon Valley.  The hardpan is either covered with pigweed, mustard, thistle or dock because that's what grows on compacted soils around here.   The mulch definitely supresses those weeds and makes them easy to pull out by hand, which would be harder to pull in the hardpan.   It definitely increases the microbial, earthworm and organisms of organic decomposition so the soils are more alive than it would be with hardpan, and the tree roots have a better place to grow.

    I treat my mini-orchard as Zone 1 or 2ish, and you might consider your orchards Zone 3 or 4.  My definition of a "food forest" is not quite the same as classic permaculture, but I do work with nature as much as I can. The varieties that are planted need to be worked. I had a bumper crop of fruit set that I had to thin quite a bit so that the trees aren't stressed.  I will bump off any buds that are growing into the crown so that the energy wouldn't grow into a branch that would be pruned later anyway.  I have to spray if I want any fruit, but I found a good bug spray to keep the invasive stink bugs from consuming all my fruit... Sierra Naturals.   My Japanese ancestry has given me a bit of fiddly attention to growing a good end product instead of letting the trees grow willy nilly with lots of smaller fruit that aren't ripened properly because of lack of sun exposure...

    Believe me, I don't think sheet mulching is all that intensive in the grand scheme of things.  I need to put my horses manure somewhere, why not on top of cardboard?   The mini-orchard that is doing the best is where I had sheet mulched the year before and I planted in the sheet mulched area.  The sheet mulch had decomposed a lot so that there is a fluffy layer of organic earthwormy material on top of much looser soil than the previous hardpan.   I probably wouldn't have as good of an experience without the animal manure though!
     
    Rachel Rudd
    Posts: 8
    Location: Driggs, ID
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    Sorry Dado, I should have said that I was talking about the original poster, Margaret's picture. I agree with you that sheet mulching a new planting would be great. If you've ever seen the tree volcanoes of mulch, where the tree trunk's bark rots, that's what I worry about with sheet mulching an older planting. Even if you don't put the cardboard right up to the tree trunk, the rain could carry your mulch material up against it. I do really like your design though, it looks great!
     
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