My name is Alex and I have been in the garden since I was 4 years old with first my grandfather and then my mother. My daughter has followed in my footsteps and is currently taking a horticulture degree. I have been learning about permaculture and sustainability for many years. Compost excites me. LOL
I have a standing red oak in the middle of grass, our only grassy area on that side of the yard. It is full grown and twin trunked with a stabilizing bar about 60 feet up that precludes our tenancy here. It is majestic, I call her Bess, and you can see some of her bark in my profile pictures. She is about 100 feet tall with first branches at about 80, and it was a little stressed from grass right at the base and some construction mounding. I noticed some difficulty with leafing out and some die back of small branches a few years ago.
I took down to the root spread a few years ago and mulched at about 3 inches away with a 2 foot wide swath of oak leaves and sticks for a couple of years. The soil under that is beautiful black and tons of plant life.
So, wondering first, has anyone had experience with creating guilds with a full grown specimen tree? How does it react to root competition? There is a small red bud to the east of it--about 10 feet away that has significantly struggled, but after 14 years is only about 7 feet tall. I hesitate to dig into the root structure of such an established tree, especially after it was stress.
That said, my mother just gave me two common comfrey plants, and I was wondering if this might work to help the tree, or should I just plant some ground cover over the mulch and call it a day? I want to really support the tree because it is extremely beautiful and I have about 20 oaks of similar size that make living here a joy.
Any help would be appreciated. I do know the Quercus guild from Gaia's Garden, but frankly, most guilds I have researched talk about starting from scratch, and this is a pretty big tree to start with. I did search the forum and found information for comfrey with other fruittrees, but nothing related to this.
Thanks again for any help and looking forward to digging in deeply (pun intended) with all you permies!
The real world is bizarre enough for me...Blue Oyster Cult
A massive old tree like that has a root spread at least 2x the spread of the canopy. So the radius where it can draw nutrients from is going to be very large. At this point, the fungal network around the root mass must be very significant.
I wouldn't plant anything within 25 feet of the trunk. Regularly watering comfrey to get it established might contribute to root rot.
You mentioned construction mounding. Did you have construction equipment driving over the roots? That compaction would be hard on the tree, even one as established as yours is. Was there any digging that disturbed the roots? (In other words, where did that soil come from that was mounded around the tree?)
Sometimes excavation, compaction, etc. will hurt a tree but you don't see it right away. It can take a year or more before you notice the adverse effects. If the tree was badly stressed, it may only now be showing the damage. If it's sluffing-off branches to re-establish an appropriate root-to-shoot ratio, that may explain why you are seeing dead branches.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf
The construction occurred in 1970 when the house was built. I live in a dense oak and maple forest and they cleared home spaces by piling the dirt from basements around the trees. Many trees are ringed with cement blocks 5 layers deep. I have one tree I dug out all those blocks from. Not sure they even cared about the trees. LOL
I appreciate what you are saying. I have an amazing mychorizae situation here with many varieties of endangered wintergreen popping up that can only grow because of the oak environment. I wouldn't want to endanger that situation, so I will take your advice and not plant the comfrey around this tree.
I am currently reclaiming around .25 acres of land that was cut off from care due to Hurricane Sandy and tree fall. In the clearing of invasive multiflora I found a peach sapling that was self seeded. I will be transplanting it from its non-optimal location and plant the comfrey around the peach. I can chop and drop and move some of those leaves to my oak as needed.
For the record, the 4 feet of leaf litter and branches seems to be working. My red oak is leafing out better than in years past and even showing new branches!