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Fruits on a slope, among other trees

 
              
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Location: Virginia
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A portion of our property is a wooded slope that was select cut by the previous owners. I am not going to spill my hatred of the sloppy way they abused the trees when they did the job, suffice it to say, it looks like a massive explosion went off among the trees. Lots of debris, lots of stuff on the ground, total denudation of the soil (because they used heavy equipment, I guess) etc. The first thing we did when we bought the place last year was to plant some annual rye grass to hold the dirt together so that the rains don't cause massive erosion. That worked out well. When we bought the place I planted a bunch of fruit trees in a different area and most of them survived. However, the more I am looking at this portion of the property (where the select cut happened), the more I can envision it as an orchard and a berry patch.

Does anyone have experience with this? Questions such as the following come to mind:

1) Planting fruit trees among poplars, oaks and maples? The non-fruit trees are scarce due to select cut so plenty of light. Berries would go on the edges of the forest.
2) Planting fruit trees on a slope? Slope is facing south, is not horribly steep and ends in a creek at the bottom.

We are in SW Virginia. I have been thinking about plums, peaches, persimmons, cherries and paw-paws. Also would like to plant some chestnuts.

Thanks!
 
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How steep is the slope?  If it's south facing, its going to bake in the summer, so perhaps a bit of shade from those trees that still remain will be welcome.

I would think that your first priority is to shape the land in the way that it'll harvest water and hold it—little swales and sinks.  You probably will not be able to create a master system of swales, but that shouldn't stop you from excavating, leveling and doing what you can to harvest as much water as you can and sink it where you want it to remain.

The second priority would be siting your trees below those swales/sinks.  Plant your trees, then pile branches and other biomass below them on the slope.  The sun will bake the soil below the trees (the south side), so that's where you want to carefully build little slash piles to keep the soil cool and preserve as much water as you can.  Within a couple of years, most of this will break down, but it'll help establish the below-soil fungal network.  Beyond serving as a thick mulch, those slash piles will also capture leaves and other bio-mass that would tend to want to wash down the slope, so you keep the mulch where it'll do the most good.

Think through how you'll be able to access the trees.  I've got a couple of really nice fig trees that I prune every year and that bear heavily . . . but they are such a pain in the ass to get to, it's just food for the stupid green fig beetles.  My property is so steep in that location, they are a frustration to climb up and pick, and for figs, you've got to check them almost daily in the fruiting season.  Just because you can squeeze another tree into this or that little space, doesn't mean you should.  Or maybe you should, and just feed the deer and the animals with the apples that fall.  Your call.

My last thought is that you'll want to actively prune the trees that remain.  Initially, it may mean just fixing the damage that the loggers did.  Thin out the little trees that you don't want to keep, and selectively trim back the others.  A cordless sawzall is great for this.  

Best of luck.  Post some pictures.
 
              
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Marco Banks wrote:How steep is the slope?  If it's south facing, its going to bake in the summer, so perhaps a bit of shade from those trees that still remain will be welcome.

I would think that your first priority is to shape the land in the way that it'll harvest water and hold it—little swales and sinks.  You probably will not be able to create a master system of swales, but that shouldn't stop you from excavating, leveling and doing what you can to harvest as much water as you can and sink it where you want it to remain.

The second priority would be siting your trees below those swales/sinks.  Plant your trees, then pile branches and other biomass below them on the slope.  The sun will bake the soil below the trees (the south side), so that's where you want to carefully build little slash piles to keep the soil cool and preserve as much water as you can.  Within a couple of years, most of this will break down, but it'll help establish the below-soil fungal network.  Beyond serving as a thick mulch, those slash piles will also capture leaves and other bio-mass that would tend to want to wash down the slope, so you keep the mulch where it'll do the most good.

Think through how you'll be able to access the trees.  I've got a couple of really nice fig trees that I prune every year and that bear heavily . . . but they are such a pain in the ass to get to, it's just food for the stupid green fig beetles.  My property is so steep in that location, they are a frustration to climb up and pick, and for figs, you've got to check them almost daily in the fruiting season.  Just because you can squeeze another tree into this or that little space, doesn't mean you should.  Or maybe you should, and just feed the deer and the animals with the apples that fall.  Your call.

My last thought is that you'll want to actively prune the trees that remain.  Initially, it may mean just fixing the damage that the loggers did.  Thin out the little trees that you don't want to keep, and selectively trim back the others.  A cordless sawzall is great for this.  

Best of luck.  Post some pictures.



Thanks! I see you are located in California, that makes me think you have to be very careful about water (?). We are in Virginia and here we get anywhere from 47 to 60 inches of rain a year. I am not really concerned about the trees not having enough water, to be honest. What actually concerns me more is erosion after heavy rains. This year has been particularly bad, on the order of 60+ inches of rain and that was a month or so ago. Then we got more and then we got 20 inches of snow and it is raining buckets now again, melting the snow :(

I am usually against large excavation projects as most people (including myself) are ignorant about large scale geo-work but I feel some terracing would help. I have no experience with terracing though - would the terraces be a good place to plant the trees?

Would have easy access to the trees and the slope as I own a 5 acre field above the slope where I grow grains and I have a mowed path around the field where I do my running etc. (so I am always up there haha)

I will post photos! Thanks again!
 
Marco Banks
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Oddo Da wrote:

Thanks! I see you are located in California, that makes me think you have to be very careful about water (?). We are in Virginia and here we get anywhere from 47 to 60 inches of rain a year. I am not really concerned about the trees not having enough water, to be honest. What actually concerns me more is erosion after heavy rains. This year has been particularly bad, on the order of 60+ inches of rain and that was a month or so ago. Then we got more and then we got 20 inches of snow and it is raining buckets now again, melting the snow :(

I am usually against large excavation projects as most people (including myself) are ignorant about large scale geo-work but I feel some terracing would help. I have no experience with terracing though - would the terraces be a good place to plant the trees?

Would have easy access to the trees and the slope as I own a 5 acre field above the slope where I grow grains and I have a mowed path around the field where I do my running etc. (so I am always up there haha)

I will post photos! Thanks again!



47 to 60 inches of rain a year!  Oh my -- That's 3 to 4 times what we get.  Last year we got 12 inches for the entire rainy season.  I'd love to get half of what you get.  Send some of the excess our direction!

If you put in swales, then your concern would be shaping them so that the overflow washes down carefully constructed sills to prevent erosion.  Never-the-less, I'd still consider digging little sinks above my trees, to catch summer storm runoff and keep the soil wet in July, August and Sept.

Depending upon the angle of your slope, terracing might be a nice solution.  But to do so, you will probably need to clear the remaining trees off the land, and that was exactly what (according to the OP) you were trying to avoid.  If it's steep you will need to use heavy equipment like an excavator.  Sepp Holtzer is the king of shaping his land.  If you're not familiar with his work in Austria, he'd be someone worth Googling and Youtubing.  He's an old friend of Paul Wheaton, the founder of this forum.   He's managed to take his mountainside and turn it into a series of ponds and terraces.  He grows grain, raises livestock, and has thousands of fruit trees.  

I'd consider that you think about a 50 year solution.  Think out a generation and a half.  Trees will come and go, but if you shape the land and create a series of terraces on contour, that land will become much more productive with each passing year.  Yes, it will be much more expensive that way, and you will not see a harvest as quickly as you would if you just to out there and start popping trees into the ground.  But if you could get access to a small dozer for a couple of days, or an excavator or backhoe for a week or two, you might be able to shape the land in a way that you'll enjoy it for a long, long time.
 
              
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Marco Banks wrote:

Oddo Da wrote:

Thanks! I see you are located in California, that makes me think you have to be very careful about water (?). We are in Virginia and here we get anywhere from 47 to 60 inches of rain a year. I am not really concerned about the trees not having enough water, to be honest. What actually concerns me more is erosion after heavy rains. This year has been particularly bad, on the order of 60+ inches of rain and that was a month or so ago. Then we got more and then we got 20 inches of snow and it is raining buckets now again, melting the snow :(

I am usually against large excavation projects as most people (including myself) are ignorant about large scale geo-work but I feel some terracing would help. I have no experience with terracing though - would the terraces be a good place to plant the trees?

Would have easy access to the trees and the slope as I own a 5 acre field above the slope where I grow grains and I have a mowed path around the field where I do my running etc. (so I am always up there haha)

I will post photos! Thanks again!



47 to 60 inches of rain a year!  Oh my -- That's 3 to 4 times what we get.  Last year we got 12 inches for the entire rainy season.  I'd love to get half of what you get.  Send some of the excess our direction!

If you put in swales, then your concern would be shaping them so that the overflow washes down carefully constructed sills to prevent erosion.  Never-the-less, I'd still consider digging little sinks above my trees, to catch summer storm runoff and keep the soil wet in July, August and Sept.

Depending upon the angle of your slope, terracing might be a nice solution.  But to do so, you will probably need to clear the remaining trees off the land, and that was exactly what (according to the OP) you were trying to avoid.  If it's steep you will need to use heavy equipment like an excavator.  Sepp Holtzer is the king of shaping his land.  If you're not familiar with his work in Austria, he'd be someone worth Googling and Youtubing.  He's an old friend of Paul Wheaton, the founder of this forum.   He's managed to take his mountainside and turn it into a series of ponds and terraces.  He grows grain, raises livestock, and has thousands of fruit trees.  

I'd consider that you think about a 50 year solution.  Think out a generation and a half.  Trees will come and go, but if you shape the land and create a series of terraces on contour, that land will become much more productive with each passing year.  Yes, it will be much more expensive that way, and you will not see a harvest as quickly as you would if you just to out there and start popping trees into the ground.  But if you could get access to a small dozer for a couple of days, or an excavator or backhoe for a week or two, you might be able to shape the land in a way that you'll enjoy it for a long, long time.



There is such a thing as too much rain, trust me ;)

As for excavating, I have a tractor and I am OK on slopes etc. but I would be deathly afraid of using a dozer on a slope. For me, this would be a manual labor project (which I don't mind, I am in my mid 40s so plenty of power left in my hands).

When I said terracing, I meant more something along the lines of smaller terraces interspersed along the slope, I did not mean terraces along the length of the whole slope.

The water overflow washes sound like a great idea as well, thanks :)
 
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I own a farm in SW Virginia and I agree with the comment about heat on a south slope. That said, depending on the steepness of the slope it can work. The orchards I put in are on a southwest slope, but it’s gentle and my trees have thrived. The two single biggest recommendations I would make are make sure you dig as large a hole as is possible/practical, and make sure you water them regularly the first year (even in the winter).  I own a tractor, and an auger that attaches to it, and I use an 18 inch tree auger to dig holes but...before that I’d use a rototiller to break as much ground (in a circle) as I could then deepen it with a shovel. A guy who sold me southern heirloom apple trees recommended I not use potting soil or topsoil in the hole and just refill with the soil I dug out but I do add a little, simply because it seems that what comes out is less than what is needed to refill the hole (weird, right?) and I do think it helps with compaction. Lastly, I also try to make a very shallow bowl around the tree to hold water when I water...but very shallow so as to not drown the tree. I hope this helps!!
 
              
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Mark Whitecavage wrote:I own a farm in SW Virginia and I agree with the comment about heat on a south slope. That said, depending on the steepness of the slope it can work. The orchards I put in are on a southwest slope, but it’s gentle and my trees have thrived. The two single biggest recommendations I would make are make sure you dig as large a hole as is possible/practical, and make sure you water them regularly the first year (even in the winter).  I own a tractor, and an auger that attaches to it, and I use an 18 inch tree auger to dig holes but...before that I’d use a rototiller to break as much ground (in a circle) as I could then deepen it with a shovel. A guy who sold me southern heirloom apple trees recommended I not use potting soil or topsoil in the hole and just refill with the soil I dug out but I do add a little, simply because it seems that what comes out is less than what is needed to refill the hole (weird, right?) and I do think it helps with compaction. Lastly, I also try to make a very shallow bowl around the tree to hold water when I water...but very shallow so as to not drown the tree. I hope this helps!!



Mark, much thanks, it helps a lot! Where do you buy your fruit trees? Have you had any issues with cedar rust? I planted a few last year and 3 out of 6 had it... I have been told also not to use top/potting soil but I do add some of our horses' manure in the holes...
 
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Mark Whitecavage wrote: A guy who sold me southern heirloom apple trees recommended I not use potting soil or topsoil in the hole and just refill with the soil I dug out but I do add a little, simply because it seems that what comes out is less than what is needed to refill the hole (weird, right?) and I do think it helps with compaction.



The concern with backfilling a hole with "enhanced" soil is that the roots will quickly move through that lovely new potting soil, and then when they hit the outside wall of the hole, with the unamended soil, they will tend to turn back inward to the better "new" soil.  It's called the "bathtub effect".  Within two years, you're tree will be root-bound.  The roots will wrap around the tree in a circle rather than pushing outward.  So back-fill the hole with native soil, and make an irregularly shaped hole with jagged sides that encourages the roots to push outward, rather than following the smooth sides around in a circle.  Mulching heavily at the drip-line and outward will also keep the soil much looser (more worms and fungi), particularly on the south (sunny) side.
 
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Where do you buy your fruit trees? Have you had any issues with cedar rust? I planted a few last year and 3 out of 6 had it... I have been told also not to use top/potting soil but I do add some of our horses' manure in the holes...



I bought quite a few southern heirloom apple trees from David Vernon at Century Farms, in Eden NC.  His family has been doing this for a very long time and the trees are unique, well adapted to the south and mine have done incredibly well. I recommend you check them out online. As for cedar rust - I don’t get it because I spray for it when cedar trees are producing their galls. I believe I would if not for the spray and while it’s not typically fatal, from what I’ve read, I do know it stresses the trees. I’m sure others have strong opinions about spray, but I use it when needed and my trees have thrived. Lastly, deer are brutal on young apple trees so protect them!

 
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Oddo Da wrote:A

Does anyone have experience with this? Questions such as the following come to mind:

1) Planting fruit trees among poplars, oaks and maples? The non-fruit trees are scarce due to select cut so plenty of light. Berries would go on the edges of the forest.
2) Planting fruit trees on a slope? Slope is facing south, is not horribly steep and ends in a creek at the bottom.

We are in SW Virginia. I have been thinking about plums, peaches, persimmons, cherries and paw-paws. Also would like to plant some chestnuts.

Thanks!



Maples are an indicator species. They only grow in soil that has at least some moisture year round, as opposed to conifers which tolerate dry soil in summer better. Here in Oregon, wild plums often grow alongside Maples in the same places. I would recommend plums alongside your maple trees. Don't plant your trees completely in the open on a south facing slope. The soil will bake in summer. Plant them on the edge of the canopy of existing trees, where the soil won't bake and the air will be cooler in summer. You'll generally find indicator species such as maple trees lower down the slope. Rainwater that fell months ago can still be moving down a hillside and the soil there will be last to dry out in late summer.

I'm also wondering why the hillside is your choice place for planting trees. Wouldn't the creek be a better place? You shouldn't remove trees that directly shade a creek, it hurts the fish, warms the water up, and is possibly even illegal. But somewhere maybe 20 feet away from the creek and maybe 10 feet uphill is perfect for fruit trees. The water in a creek doesn't actually stay in the creek you see, it flows through the soil and may even get wicked uphill through the soil. Here in Oregon,  the most productive native trees bearing the most fruit are always near the creeks, whether it's barely edible port orford cedar berries or madrones. In your East Coast climate with more summer rain and humidity that may make less of a difference though.
 
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Hi...I’m in SW Va just west of Martinsville in the Piedmont. One of my orchards faces south. I grow a lot of apples, but also peaches, plums, pears and I planted quince because they looked cool. It’s is on a bit of a slope, very minor but still sloped enough for water to run. My trees have done extremely well, with no supplemental water except for 1st year trees. With these I use my Polaris with a water tank on the back and water when necessary. After year one, they are on their own.  I’m diligent about staying on top of diseases and insects, and I do spray, only during periods where the risk is greatest (blossom season...for fire blight, when cedar gals are out for cedar rust and when the Japanese beetles show up because they will stress the trees terribly). My spray regime goes from about April into early July. I knock fruit off young trees, if they fruit ... to ensure the energy goes into growth.  

I also grow almonds (have not gotten any yet...year 5 and 2 2 trees because I really wasn’t sure they could survive), chestnuts (year 5 and I got some a year ago and a lot this past fall - Dunstan Chestnuts), and I planted pecans 2 years ago. I’ve planted pecans before and they are REALLY slow growing. These require a lot of water regularly and the best tree I ever had did well just downhill from my septic field...so... This one is about 40 feet high and 20mfeet wide, and my buddy’s trees which we bought together and planted at the same time are maybe 15 feet tall and kind of scrawny in comparison. Oh, if you plan to do this plan to dig the deepest hole you have ever dug for a tree (huge tap root).

As for planting among other trees..never did that.

Lastly, I pay attention to the soil and have it tested by Va Tech thru the ag-extension. You may be shocked by how low your PH is...and this isn’t good for most plants...weeds seem ok w it!

I hope this helps you.  
 
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