Mulch for Fruit Trees: Detailed Guide Including Best Options

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Striving to improve the soil’s moisture level and supply essential nutrients, adding a layer of mulch around fruit trees not only contributes to enhancing soil health, but also enhances the overall aesthetic.

You may be asking “What are the different types, and how do you know what type to use?” This article is here to answer all of your questions! 

The best mulch for fruit trees is layered wood mulch and compost to provide nutrients, increase moisture retention, and prevent weeds from growing. Use green waste compost rather than animal manure compost because the high level of nitrogen found in manure will cause excessive vegetative growth.

With so many mulch options, it can be difficult to weed out which is the best for you and your yard.

For basic guidelines as well as the pros and cons of each type of mulch available, continue reading. You’ll find everything you need to make a well-informed decision on your mulch that will pay off in the long run!

Mulch for Fruit Trees – What To Know

Mulching is a simple task with many benefits that outweigh the disadvantages. It comes in many different forms, and each has a certain time or place it works best.

See more information below to get all the need-to-know mulch basics!

Benefits of Mulch

Mulching can help to keep moisture in the soil and prevent weeds from forming, and as it decays, it provides nutrients to the soil.

It is also a great way to improve the aesthetics of your landscaping by adding color and texture to the ground!

Disadvantages of Mulch

The benefits of mulch definitely outweigh the disadvantages, but there are a few negatives. The first is that if it is applied too heavily, it can create mold and fungus.

Also, if you apply it too close to a tree trunk or layer it too thickly, it can suffocate the roots and also begin to rot the trunk if it stays moist close to the bark.

Organic Mulch vs. Inorganic Mulch

Most of us think of mulch as brown woodchips, but it comes in many different shapes and forms.

Organic mulches provide nutrients to the soil and plants as they decay. Organic mulches include woodchips, leaf litter, grass clippings, compost, manure, coco coir, and straw or hay. 

Inorganic mulch includes shredded paper, rubber pieces, glass chunks, and stones. Inorganic mulches won’t provide nutrients to your soil and plants but will need to be replaced less often since they won’t decompose as quickly. 

Mulching Fruit Trees: General Guidelines

It’s difficult to mulch wrong, but there are recommended ways of applying mulch. See the tips below for the best guidelines for applying mulch correctly. 

When Is the Best Time To Mulch?

Mulching in early spring is the best time. This way you’ll be able to beat the weeds from forming, cover up last year’s faded mulch and soil, and have it for all season to enjoy. 

What Should I Put Down Before Mulching?

Mulch can be applied alone, but it can also be used in combination with other things to help your landscape even more.

Placing landscape fabric down first helps to prevent weeds, applying fertilizer before the mulch helps to ensure the nutrients don’t wash away and stay on the roots, or you can put a pelleted weed-preventing product down beforehand.

How To Apply Mulch Around Trees

Trees love mulch but only when their roots can still breathe! Be sure to leave a 6-inch to 1-foot gap around the tree’s trunk to allow the root collar ample space to absorb oxygen.

Apply a layer of mulch 2 to 3 inches thick from the space away from the trunk out to the drip line. 

How Deep Should Mulch Be?

You’ll want to apply mulch thick enough to prevent weeds but not too thick to create anoxic conditions. Usually, a depth of 2 to 3 inches will be perfect for this process. 

Layering Different Mulches

While applying mulch, you can add others in succession to increase the nutrient supply to your tree.

Apply fertilizer, compost, leaves, grass, manure, or any other natural material under your mulch to feed with different nutrients while keeping that fresh-mulched look on top.

Pear trees mulched with a deep layer of hay.

The Importance of Keeping Mulch Away From Tree Trunks

Even though roots are buried in the ground, they require oxygen just like the leaves of a tree do.

The most important zone is called the root collar. This is the transition zone between the above-ground trunk and below-ground roots.

Burying the area of the trunk that is closest to the ground is very bad and can lead to tree death by suffocation or excess moisture rotting the trunk. 

When To Replace Mulch

It is best to replace organic mulches once a year. Organic mulches tend to break down at a medium rate or become faded in strong sun and rain.

Rocks may last years before you need to add more or replace them. Products like leaves and grass will most likely only last a few months before completely decaying. 

Best Mulch for Fruit Trees: Your Options

Deciding what mulch to use can be based on your preferred aesthetics and your purpose.

  • If you want a low-maintenance look that lasts for years, use rocks.
  • If you prefer a natural look, wood chips may be the way to go.
  • If your purpose is more focused on nutrient supply rather than looks, try an organic option.

See the list below for the pros and cons of each type of mulch. 

Wood Mulches

Wood mulches are essentially ground-up trees, recycled timbers, or other wood material that has been reduced to pieces of various sizes.

It comes naturally as raw wood or as dyed variations. Use wood mulch effectively by laying a 2-inch layer evenly across the ground.

  • Types: Large chips, shredded, natural, and colored (red, brown, black)
  • Pros: Decays over time to provide nutrients, natural, easy to apply
  • Cons: Needs replacing yearly, dyed variations may stain concrete

Compost and Manure

Applying compost and manure to your trees adds vital nutrients that help to build the soil.

Be careful not to use high-nitrogen compost from an animal, and choose green manure instead to reduce the amount of foliage growth. This should not be applied in a layer more than ½ inch thick. 

  • Pros: High in nutrients, natural, can DIY
  • Cons: May burn tree’s leaves or cause excessive foliage growth, odorous
Hands holding finished compost to inspect the end result.

Straw or Hay

Be careful when using hay because it is full of seeds that may begin to grow. Straw is free of seeds.

The straw will break down but only provide a few nutrients to the soil. It will retain moisture for a long amount of time. Apply it in a layer about 1 inch thick.

  • Pros: Organic, retains moisture, breaks down
  • Cons: Needs to be replaced seasonally or yearly, supplies little nutrients, hay has seeds

I often use waste (hay and droppings) collected from my rabbit pens as mulch for my various fruit trees. It’s full of nutrient-rich droppings that won’t burn the roots, and my trees (and worms) love it!

Yes, the hay does sometimes produce weeds, but in this case, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

Shredded Leaves

In most cases, you’ll be able to get these for free from your own yard work, so it’s easy on the budget!

Leaves provide a decent layer of moisture evaporation prevention and provide nutrients when they decompose. Apply them in a 1-inch-thick layer for best results. 

  • Pros: Budget-friendly option, reduces waste
  • Cons: May be seasonal, doesn’t look very aesthetically pleasing, messy

Grass Clippings

If you have a yard with a lawn, you’ll have plenty of grass clippings that fill up your waste bin. Begin spreading them around the trees after each mowing to reduce waste and provide nutrients to the trees.

Be careful not to apply a layer over ½ to 1 inch thick because it may burn the trees with high amounts of nitrogen and suffocating conditions. 

  • Pros: Budget-friendly option, easy to apply
  • Cons: Can burn trees with high levels of nitrogen, retains heat if too thick

Rock Mulch

Rock mulch is more of an aesthetic choice because it does not provide nutrients to the soil.

Rock mulch is nice because it lasts for years without needing to be replaced. Usually, you would want to place the rocks in a layer 1 to 2 inches thick. 

  • Pros: Does not need to be replaced yearly, doesn’t wash away
  • Cons: Can be expensive (upon installation), no nutrients 

Coco Mulch

Coco mulch is a great look-alike alternative to wood bark. It is brown and actually is better for sloped surfaces because it does not float as wood bark does.

Apply the cocoa mulch chunks in a layer 1 to 2 inches thick. 

  • Pros: Lasts about 3 years, remains on sloped surfaces, adds nutrients
  • Cons: Can become expensive compared to wood bark, some may be high in salt due to being in salt water

Shredded Paper

Shredded paper can be used as mulch because it will break down, retains moisture, and prohibits weeds. Apply a fluffed layer of paper about 1 to 2 inches thick. 

  • Pros: Inexpensive, retains moisture, organic 
  • Cons: Doesn’t provide high levels of nutrients, you need copious amounts, can look unappealing

Final Thoughts 

Many varieties of mulch exist, and choosing the right one can save you time and money. Use the list above to help you make that decision, and your tree will be thanking you either way!