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Is sheet mulching appropriate here?  RSS feed

 
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I just purchased a property in Fallbrook, CA (zone 11a, 11b). My zone 1 already has some aging crabapple, apple and asian pear trees planted in it (infact, some of them have been grafted), about 8-10 feet apart from eachother in every direction. At first I wondered why the ground felt spongy underfoot, and researched showed that what I have is peat soil. Lucky break for me. There's a nearby natural creek and pond that keeps the ground watered well enough that the fruit trees produce with no irrigation. The only issue that I see is that there's no ground cover, not even many weeds. Only the leaves that fell, and I've let lay. I'd like to start growing a variety of vegetables, shrubs, herbs and flowers. I've got a pretty good rough idea of the seeds that I'll put down in March thanks to gaia's garden (Hemenway) and a lot of research. The question I have is whether or not I should sheet mulch the whole area

My concern is that I may throw off the C:N ratios and do more harm than good, or cause an anaerobic surge. Should I just lay down some wood chips as ground cover? Or go all out and put down cardboard, manure, mushroom compost, duckweed, straw, and wood chips? I have an abundance of all of those materials for free in my area, and I'm not scared of the work. I'm just concerned with the old adage "If it aint broke don't fix it".

Thanks for your input,
Byron
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Posts: 23
Location: North Georgia 7a
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Sounds like the cardboard method may not be necessary but that ground looks mighty bare. Planting some perennial groundcovers is what I'd do, along with layering on compost or some kind of mulch.
 
Posts: 1947
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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I'm looking at that land and asking myself "Why is it so bare?" Usually if a site is suitable for understory growth then plants will be growing there readily. My suspicion is that your location is too heavily shaded, so growth at ground level is restricted. Sheet mulching won't fix that problem.

Obviously it is impossible to tell from just that simple photo, but if you want to change the balance away from a closed canopy towards low growing plants you will likely need to so considerable thinning of the canopy and remove some trees.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1947
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Also, one of the general pieces of advice for people starting on new land is to not make drastic changes until they have seen a whole year through. What looks like a good plan now in winter may have obvious flaws come summer time when everything has leafed out.
 
Byron Bacon
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Thanks for the suggestions. I pruned the trees back quite a bit, but no more than 1/3. It was pretty unkempt. I ordered seeds for Wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens), which grows well in the shade, is edible, provides berries through the winter for the birds, and isn't as invasive as some other ground cover species. I have clovers for some of the bare sunny areas. Most of the property has beautiful grass on it, so my zone 1 is the only concern as far as that goes.

I've def read tgat I shouldn't make big changes and just observe. I'm going to do just that with the other zones, but we want some crops this spring and fall so I'm going to research well, bring ideas up on this forum, journal, and so on to achieve that.
 
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Byron, you need full shade tolerant species for that space, the reason it is bare is that sunlight does not hit the soil for more than a couple of hours per day.
I am going from the photo and I don't see enough open space with out trees for more sun to get to the soil in that area.
mulch would be ok but it would be far better to have fine roots in there and that means plants.
Hosta varieties could be part of your plantings.



Redhawk
 
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Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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If these are fruit trees I would fence and throw in some chickens or dcuks which gives eggs and fertilizer and meat.
 
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Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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In this case I wouldn't sheet mulch. Yet.
This appears to be a tree system, and so I would be looking to emulate the forest floor. It's likely your site experiences very hot and dry summers, and so I would be mulching heavily with wood chips, and planting ground covers / tree guilds.

A swale filled in with wood chips if the contour lends itself to that is also worth considering.
 
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Is is possible that acidity or waterlogging is inhibiting growth of understory plants?  you might want to assess that before committing to having your zone 1 there.
 
Byron Bacon
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Great suggestions again, y'all. From this forum I think I can certainly rule out sheet mulching for the time being. The summers are definitely hot and dry, but the lake nearby keeps the ground well hydrated. Or at least as much as can be expected without adequate ground cover.

When it rains that area catches a lot of the overflow from the lake, so waterlogging is certainly a possibility. I'm not sure a awake would be beneficial in this spot for that reason.

The soil is likely acidic, given that the soil is peat here, and that generally occurs. I've assembled a list of crops that do well in acidic soil, but I do fear that the area is just not getting enough sun. That's why I pruned as heavily as I could without being too much.

Any recommendations on how to lay ground cover without it overtaking the crops? Would I just mulch in between the ground cover and the crops? The wintergreen cover I mentioned earlier is not very competitive from what I've read, but I am concerned that it could overtake very young plants.

Again, thank you all so much for your suggestions. I think heavily on my property and it's well being, but it doesn't do nearly as much good as several minds coming together.
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Bryant RedHawk
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Posts: 4878
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
560
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When you find a "peaty" soil that means BOG, peat only forms in areas that seasonally flood.
the heather bogs of Ireland and Scotland are perfect examples just as are the peat bogs of the northern US.
The plants grow well in the summer then the rains come and the area is flooded or at least kept soggy enough for the plants to die back and fall over.
This material gains a new layer every year and the "ground" will feel spongy underfoot and there may be water seepage around your foot as you walk the area.
Eventually there is enough weight of plant matter to compress it and it turns into peat. This is a very acidic environment for plants.
If the fruit trees don't produce well, some lime would be in order to reduce the acidity of this soil.
You can always simply use straw to mulch with or add a layer of well composted manure mixed with sand or not.

Redhawk
 
Byron Bacon
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Redhawk, you described the area very well. It does flood a bit in the winter, and soil is slightly acidic.

We got a lot of weeds lately and the area boomed with stinging nettle. I'm pulling it once I'm ready to throw seeds in that area. It's mostly shady with some sunlit areas so I'm using American Wintergreen and creeping thyme, respectfully. Hopefully that'll help with the flooding, erosion, and weed suppression. I'm setting the guilds up now.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Posts: 4878
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
560
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stinging nettle is an awesome food source. Very tasty when cooked, kind of like mustard greens or collards.
 
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