Orchard People

Learn about the best wood mulches for fruit trees with Linda Chalker-Scott, Professor of Horticulture at Washington State University in this episode of the Orchard People radio show and podcast.

Linda is the award-winning author of six books including How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do (Science for Gardeners). She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate through their blog and Facebook pages. Also check out her WSU page about horticultural myths

Read the article linked to this podcast for lots more great information about The Best Wood Chip Mulches for Fruit Trees

Here are some links to peer reviewed studies on the topic of mulch:
During the show, we also chatted with Bryan Kappa of ChipDrop.com

The host of the Orchard People radio show and podcast is Susan Poizner of the fruit tree care education website www.orchardpeople.com.  

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  • (00:00) - Introduction to the Benefits of Wood Mulch for Fruit Trees
  • (00:37) - The Potential Risks of Using Diseased Wood Mulch
  • (01:01) - About Linda Chalker Scott
  • (02:07) - Understanding Different Types of Wood Mulch
  • (02:53) - Mulch from Garden Stores
  • (04:51) - Listener Questions: Is Sawdust a Good Mulch?
  • (05:44) - Is Colored Mulch Bad?
  • (06:20) - Is Mulch Chemically Treated with Pesticides?
  • (07:21) - Deep Dive into Arborist Wood Chips
  • (10:45) - Leaf Mulch vs Wood Mulch
  • (12:29) - Straw, Pine Shavings and Chicken Manure as Mulch
  • (13:53) - Do You Need to Add Fertilizer to Mulch?
  • (15:12) - Disease Transmission Through Mulch
  • (22:06) - Should You Mulch Other Types of Trees and Plants with Wood Mulch?
  • (23:13) - Willow and Aspen Mulch and Fruit Trees
  • (25:15) - Live Q&A: Anthrancnose and Wood Chips
  • (26:15) - Fallen Leaves around Trees and Containers
  • (28:02) - Should You Use Wood Chips from Ailanthus and Invasive Trees ?
  • (29:36) - Commercial Break and Upcoming Guest Teaser
  • (33:33) - Deep Dive into Arborist Wood Chips for Mulching
  • (34:12) - Listener Questions: From B ooks to Mulching Practices
  • (36:20) - Should You Layer Leaf Compost with Wood Chips?
  • (37:42) - Vertical Mulching and Loamy Soil
  • (38:54) - Protecting Your Fruit Tree from Insect Pests
  • (41:55) - Extra Irrigation and Wood Mulch
  • (43:13) - Introducing ChipDrop: A Solution for Wood Chip Needs
  • (51:20) - Linda's Hints for Using ChipDrop
  • (53:09) - Making Wood Mulch from Fire Wood
  • (54:25) - Hugelkultur and Burying Logs and Sticks
  • (55:46) - Wrapping Up: Final Thoughts and Resources

Creators & Guests

Susan Poizner
Author, fruit tree educator, and Creator of the award-winning fruit tree care education website OrchardPeople.com.

What is Orchard People?

Learn how to grow and care for fruit trees with fruit tree care educator Susan Poizner of OrchardPeople.com. Discover how to create permaculture plantings, food forests, and forest gardens in both urban and rural settings. Meet experts on all aspects of comprehensive fruit tree care, including pruning, pest and disease prevention, fruit tree grafting and budding, and soil management.

Show host Susan Poizner, creator of the fruit tree education website OrchardPeople.com, is an award-winning author of three fruit tree care books and an ISA Certified Arborist. This podcast is the winner of the 2021 GardenComm Silver Award of Achievement for Broadcast Media: Radio Program Overall. Learn more and access archived episodes at https://podcast.orchardpeople.com/.

Learn more about Susan's books and courses at https://learn.orchardpeople.com/books.

#102 RAW Wood Mulch with Linda Chalker Scott
Introduction to the Benefits of Wood Mulch for Fruit Trees
[00:00:00] Susan: Wood mulch can be very beneficial for fruit trees.
So, lots of growers spread wood mulch over the roots of their trees,
and often they do this in the early spring. So there are so many benefits to doing this. Wood mulch keep moisture in the soil that tree roots can get access to.
It insulates the soil and that can protect the roots from extreme temperatures. And wood mulch can suppress weeds. It can even improve soil quality by adding organic matter to the soil as it decomposes. So all of that is terrific.
The Potential Risks of Using Diseased Wood Mulch
But, what if you get your wood mulch from a local arborist? And what if that mulch comes from a diseased tree? Will that disease affect your tree? Now any fruit grower will know how damaging fruit tree diseases can be.
So these are all really important questions and we're going to discuss them on the show today.

About Linda Chalker Scott
My guest today is Linda Chalker Scott. She's a professor of horticulture at Washington State University and she is the award winning author of six books. And one of them is one of my favorites,
How Plants Work, the science behind the amazing things that plants do. So I'm going to chat with Linda in just a moment and
At the end of the show, we also have another surprise guest on the show.
But first, I want to hear from you. arborist mulch to mulch your fruit trees? What are your experiences, and would you be concerned if the mulch came from a disease tree? Send in your questions or comments, or you can just even email us to say hi. Our email is info, I N F O, at orchardpeople. com.
That's info at orchardpeople. com. And remember to include your first name and where you're writing from. I really look forward to hearing from you soon. So, Linda, welcome to the show today. Well, thanks Susan. It's fun to be here.
Understanding Different Types of Wood Mulch
so let's set the scene first. I want to start with the simplest question of all.
What exactly is wood mulch? Well, wood mulch, can be a lot of different things. And so I try to be really specific when I talk about beneficial wood mulches and I refer to them as arborist wood chips.
So these are chips that are fresh off the truck. After a tree or branches have been chipped up, and that's what I refer to when I'm talking about wood mulch.
There's a lot of other wood mulches, too, that may or may not be very beneficial. These include things like hog fuel, or bark, or other types of material that are made from, wood of some sort.
But the ones that have been shown to be most beneficial from a research perspective, are the ones that are literally fresh off the chipper truck.
Mulch from Garden Stores
Not too long ago I went to a garden center, there were these big things of wood mulch, there was the natural cedar mulch, and then there was black mulch and red mulch.
What is that then?
Most of the stuff you're going to find in bags is bark mulch.
And so it's just what's been stripped off logs before they go to a mill and get made into lumber.
And so that's just the outer covering of the tree. And unfortunately, for us, in terms of using it as a mulch, is that
bark has a really specific function, or many functions, and one of the functions is to keep water inside the living tree.
So there's a lot of waxes that are impregnated into the bark material. So the problem is if you make a mulch that's only out of this outer covering, you end up having a mulch that is pretty water repellent. It doesn't absorb water, and it doesn't really, allow itself to be, become part of the soil system.
So in other words, you're not going to find fungi growing in it very quickly. You're not going to find little fine roots growing in it. It just is this kind of inert material sitting on top of the soil. They peel bark off trees and then they do something else with the, rest of the tree?
It's a material that's from the timber industry. So for the timber industry's perspective, all they want is the wood so they can make lumber out of it. And what's left over is a waste product.
And so, several decades ago, they're looking at ways of reusing this material rather than, putting it in the landfill, which is, good, and some marketing, guru came up with the term beauty bark, which is highly popular.
It's nice and alliterative, and it has the word beauty in it.
And so this is supposed to be a beautiful thing. And I will say that, that, bark mulch can be very attractive because it's, uniformly textured, it's uniform color, but but it does not have much in the way of benefits to soils or roots.
Gotcha. Okay, so beauty bark, we don't want that, the bagged stuff, so let's see.
Listener Questions: Is Sawdust a Good Mulch?
Now, we got a question here from Steve from NYC, New York City. Hello, Susan and guest. Can I use just regular sawdust for my mulch? Thank you. Well, the problem with sawdust and other really finely textured mulches is that The deeper that you lay it down as a mulch, the more it restricts water and oxygen movement because the pore space in between the particles is so small that things don't move through, very easily.
And so what happens is that you have water that can't percolate through, oxygen can't get through, and so the deeper that layer of very finely chipped material is, the harder it is for the soil to literally breathe. So I don't recommend using sawdust, I don't see any problem with mixing it into a wood chip mulch, especially if you've got some extra and you'd rather than throw it away, you want to put it on your landscape, but it doesn't make a good mulch by itself.
Is Colored Mulch Bad?
We've got an email from Tate, not sure where Tate is from, and Tate asks, is colored mulch bad? that black or red mulch. as far as I understand, at least the way that mulches are made now is the materials that they use for the colorants. Are not toxic. And so they're perfectly fine to have, on the mulch on the landscape.
They won't, it won't stay that color forever. It'll get bleached out and they'll get to what, go back to whatever, color the material originally was. So short answer is, no, that the color is fine, but it's not a, it's not a permanent thing.
Is Mulch Chemically Treated with Pesticides?
Okay. And then Irene, writes from Erie, Pennsylvania is mulch treated for bugs and parasites.
prior to bagging. Ooh, that brings in an extra issue, doesn't it? Because if you're buying these bags of mulch, maybe it's got chemicals in it, too. Well, it's my understanding that the bark mulch, now again, wood chips are not bagged. And so the material that I recommend, the orifice wood chips, you're not going to find in bags.
but material that is bagged, if it's, usually composted first, and the composting process gets rid of a lot of the problems. I would caution you about using recycled or reclaimed wood. Make sure you know where it's come from, because sometimes, manufacturers will chip up pallets. And other types of wood things that may be treated with insecticides, especially if things are being shipped from other countries.
And so you don't, you certainly don't want to use treated wood. And so that's another benefit from my perspective about using the arborist wood chips because it's wood that has not been treated with anything.
Deep Dive into Arborist Wood Chips
Okay, so let's dig into arborist wood chips. I'm excited to learn more about that. So talk to me about where it comes from.
The arborists are out. They are, trimming trees. They're working with trees. What part of the tree are we getting when we get arborist wood mulch?
Well, it depends on what the arborists are doing, and so anytime you see an arborist out doing trimming or taking a tree down or anything like that, you'll see generally around them there'll be a chipper, and then there'll be a blower, and then there'll be a truck.
And so the material goes through the chipper, gets blown into the truck, and hopefully getting delivered to your garden.
The chips are usually only made from branches and, smaller diameter materials. You can't put a whole log through a chipper, so you're getting primarily branches, large branches,
and the nice thing about that is you're also getting the leaves of the needles that are on there, and that's an extra benefit in terms of, a quick burst of nutrients once the material is down on your soil.
So it's generally just branches of any size, as well as the leaves or whatever else happened to be on those branches. Okay, so now we get our mulch from, the arborist, let's say they dump a big bunch of mulch on our front doorstep somewhere, on our parking pad or our driveway and we're going to mulch with it.
what happens when you lay this stuff out on your garden and how would that different, how would that be different from using the mulch or the beauty bark that we get, from garden centers? Okay, so it's a good comparison to make so that the bad stuff you get you lay it down, and it will last a long time, it doesn't break down very rapidly, and you're not going to see much in the way of.
Anything growing into it. And by that if you, get into it and pull apart your hands, you're not going to find little roots. You're not going to find my variety is going to be just this material sitting on top of the soil. So, it does have some benefits. most mulches have some benefits, but the difference with the arborist wood chips is that, until recently, this was living tissue and then it got all chopped up.
And so now you have moist living tissue that's full of, Various types of microbes, almost all of them beneficial, there are exceptions to that, we can talk about the disease issue in a little bit, but it's just this very nutrient rich, microbial rich material that immediately starts imparting benefits to the soil, and so it's just, it rehydrates the soil, nice thing about the chips is that they absorb and release water slowly.
And if you think about this is the same thing that happens, in a forest system is that, branches and other things fall into the ground, they begin to decompose, and we call that a duff layer. And so this is just how we mimic what happens in a natural forest by creating a duff layer of arborist chips.
Now, how do you spell that? Duff? D U F F. Yeah. Duff layer. Not the beer. It's the mulch. D U F F. So, why is there a technical term for this? What is that explaining to us? It's just, a term that's used, and I'm not sure how technical it is, but when, especially in ecology, when you're looking at forest systems, and you're looking at that top layer, it's usually called a duff layer.
Duff layer, well, that's great, never knew that.
Leaf Mulch vs Wood Mulch
we have an, an email here from Howie. Howie asks, is leaf mulch okay to use? No contest today, question. And we are listening to you from Dover, Delaware, and thank you so much. I love it when people tell me where they're from. so, just to answer, no, there is no contest today.
for the time being, no contest, too much work for me, guys. So for now, no contest. But great question. Is leaf mulch okay to use? Leaf mulch is great, and
I always keep all of my leaves from my own landscape and use them as part of my mulch layer, but
as, we found by really researching what wood chip mulches do, the mycorrhizal fungi and other beneficial fungi really only, get their nutrients from decomposing wood.
So, leaf mulches are very bacterial rich, but they don't have the fungal richness that we need to. So the best thing is to have both.
And that's again, why the arborist chips are so great because depending on, when you're getting the chips made, you'll have leaves or needles in there that will, add those same great things that you get from a leaf mulch, but they're, mixed up with the woods.
So you don't have that just that, that one layer of leaf mulch. Awesome. Okay, I'm just going to quickly look at the YouTube live feed and I want to say hello to everybody. Ryan, hello, Flomaton, is that your name? Hello, Nadim. Hello, Eric. It's lovely to see you. and let's see, is that Sean? Hi, from Ottawa, Canada.
Ivy Orchard.
Straw, Pine Shavings and Chicken Manure as Mulch
How about straw pine shavings that are soiled with chicken manure? Would the nitrogen breakdown be okay? What a great question. I think that's Sharon. Okay, so just to be clear that, so this is, wood shavings that were used as poultry bedding, correct? It looks like it's straw and pine shavings.
Yes, so straw mixed with some pine shavings. Okay, so again, it's a little bit too finely textured to, to function in the same way that a coarse wood chip mulch does. I'm all for reusing materials when we can. I would be cautious with the poultry manure. It tends to be very high in phosphate. So I always suggest that before you use, something that is a rich source of organic material, like manures, that you do a soil test and make sure you already don't have too much of all the essential nutrients.
If you do, adding more is going to cause problems. And so, love using this stuff. You may just want to compost it and use it as part of a compost system. But before you put it down as a mulch, do be sure that you're not, creating a problem with too many nutrients. Yeah, it's a great point about chicken manure.
if it's fresh, I, think it can burn tree roots as well. So composting is probably a super idea. and that is Shannon. so nice to see you too.
Do You Need to Add Fertilizer to Mulch?
Okay, we've got a question here from Brida. so, hi Susan and Linda. Should we add or mix anything to the mulch that we buy, i. e. fertilizer? We love you from Atlanta, Georgia.
Thank you, Brida. I never suggest adding fertilizer automatically unless you have a soil test that says you need something, and I can't overemphasize the importance of a soil test just to get a baseline, and the analogy I like to use is that, for instance, if you're not feeling well, you don't go to a nutrient supplement store and buy one of everything and start taking it.
You go in and you have some tests done to find out if you've got an iron deficiency or something else, and then you can take the specific supplements you need. So it's the same thing with our soils. We don't want to just add fertilizer because we think we should. We need to find out what we have enough of already and then just add what's needed.
So it never really hurts, if you like to do a top dressing of nitrogen, once or maybe even twice a year. With vegetable gardens, it would be more than for landscapes. but you don't want to just add everything and you don't want to use, complete fertilizer because those are really based on agricultural production, annual crops, and we are not managing annual crops.
We're looking at landscapes and orchards and things that are long lived.
Disease Transmission Through Mulch
Okay, so the one reason people are drawn to garden centers to get their mulches, they know what they're getting. when you have an arborist deposit wood chips on your front lawn, you don't know where it came from. And those of us who care for fruit trees, we many of us realize that keeping that the Our orchards clean from pathogens is really important.
So if we see a cherry tree that has a branch that has black knot, we will carefully and correctly remove that branch, take it off the site, not put it in our compost to continue spreading the pathogen. So, that is a concern for growers saying that, however. There are lots of diseases that fruit trees don't get, so let's start gently and say that if, for instance, in that delivery of wood mulch, the tree is a maple tree that had some terrible fungal disease, and it includes leaves with spots on them and whatever, would you be concerned, Linda?
Not at all. And, I'm never worried about either diseased wood or diseased leaves that might be in there. And the reason for that is, is because, those of us that are working, like your group, working in orchards, and you know your diseases really well, you know that there is a disease triangle.
That you have to have a pathogen, you have to have a host, and then you have to have the right environmental conditions. So, what happens with a wood chip mulch, it creates such a healthy soil condition, that especially if you're looking at rot types of things, you're not going to have problems because the conditions aren't right for rot organisms.
It's too oxygenated. So, with a wood chip mulch, you're going to automatically have You know, a whole palette of beneficial, or at least, neutral microbes, both bacterial and fungal, and they're going to provide, a competition with, with, pathogens for attaching to roots, if they happen to be around roots.
you're not going to have a material that's in a mulch that's able somehow to transfer. Transfer itself several inches below the mulch to find roots to attack. But, you can have fine roots. They eventually will grow up as material. We all know spores are, they're not active for the most part.
So if you don't have poor environmental conditions, You're not going to have to worry about it. And the work that's been done looking at primary things like phytophtha and armillaria, these types of, organisms that become problems in poorly oxygenated, compacted, poorly drained soils, they don't, infect trees.
That are that have been, that are in contact with a chip made from those disease materials. So all the literature I've seen up until now, just doesn't support any concern in terms of having, the pathogens that have been tested. Again, these are primarily rock pathogens, having any kind of effect on the roots of healthy trees.
And I like how you're bringing forward really, very clearly the difference between these purchased woodchips, which have no life in them. Some of them are even bagged up so there's no oxygen in there, so there couldn't be life, or not good, healthy life in there. so then you've got those, and then these arborist woodchips, which already have some moisture in them.
They already have some microbes in there. So this is something very different. am I have I got it right, Linda? Abso absolutely. You've got, a little, mic microcosm, of life that is already there in, in the mulch material. You don't have to inoculate, you don't have to do anything.
You just have to put it down. And if it's during the summer, obviously, you know it's gonna require some water as, all landscapes do. But that's, it. Okay, so now let's take a step into slightly more controversial territory. If I'm growing apple trees, and the tree that came down is one that is suffering, maybe it's still alive, it's not totally dead, and it was suffering from fire blight, Very infectious bacterial disease and it's all chipped up in and then it's put in, by the chipper and then the arborist comes and dumps it in my orchard and my, my garden with my fruit trees.
Or perhaps it's a plum tree with black knot and I have plum trees. What happens there? clearly, this tree may have come from the other side of the city and now it's in pieces in my front yard. Should I be concerned? I guess if you're worried about it, especially things like fire blight, as you mentioned, is very infectious and I might be tempted to to ask, first of all, when you're getting chips, if there is any of those types of disease materials, but, we have to look at this on what happens in nature, trees get diseased naturally, they drop disease branches naturally, they're around other members of their own species naturally, and not everything is going to die.
a lot of these things are opportunistic diseases, they attack things that are already. trees are very, stressed and especially in urban environments. and urban stresses are pretty significant for a lot of different, plans that we have trees and otherwise. So if we have a tree to be susceptible to that, yeah, I might be a little cautious.
So let's say, for instance, that you're trying to, do some rejuvenation of a landscape that hasn't been taken care of very well and the trees are struggling. I might be more cautious about making sure that the, mulch I'm getting, doesn't have, things that had leaf or crown types of diseases.
Again, the root diseases aren't an issue. The issue would be more, spores splattering up onto leaves or, parts of the tree that would be susceptible. But again, so that, that's something I would, worry about if I had trees that I thought would be susceptible to disease. If not, I, think that trees typically, their leaves are typically covered with a lot of beneficial microbes.
And in fact, that's a lot of the way that they are resistant anyways, that they, like our skin is covered with, Things that aren't pathogens. And when we get cuts on our skin, then we have problems in terms of getting infections. So, we, have natural coverings for to protect us. Trees have natural coverings.
And as long as they're healthy, I don't think there's a risk, but abundance of caution when things are not healthy and are struggling, then I would be more cautious with what I put down. Awesome. Wonderful. Okay. Another quick question. this is from George. Hi ladies, should mulch be used for all trees?
What about plants? Thanks, from Dallas, Texas.
Should You Mulch Other Types of Trees and Plants with Wood Mulch?
Good question, because we are specifically talking about fruit trees, but what about other trees? Any woody plants you have are going to benefit from wood chip mulch, because that's what they're, used to anyway, in terms of a natural ground covering. And most woody plants are mycorrhizal, and so you have to have that wood chip mulch to, to really nourish the mycorrhizae.
I'm going to take it even farther. I have Herbaceous perennials, I have a vegetable garden. I use wood chips on everything. So, the problem is that there's not a whole lot of research, out there. There's a lot on trees, because, trees and mulching is important, especially in urban areas where you have street trees and things.
Trees and herbaceous perennials, I'm sorry, mulch and herbaceous perennials, mulch and vegetable gardens. there is some data out there. and it's very supportive, and I know a lot of people anecdotally that use, use it as well as I do, on our beds and our, vegetable gardens, as a, really superior way of suppressing weeds, retaining water, and all those good things that wood chips can do.
Willow and Aspen Mulch and Fruit Trees
Okay, we got a great question from Jeff. I'm really glad that Jeff asked this. Hi Susan, this is Jeff from Colorado listening live. I have 15 apple and pear trees that are one to three years old. At 8, 000 foot elevation, my soil is high in clay and alkalinity from calcium carbonate. On the potentially bright side, I have an ample supply of willow and aspen for wood chips.
How would adding willow and aspen chips affect the soil and orchard health, either positively or negatively? And Jeff, before I hand this over to Linda, you have got to listen to the episode that I did a while back on willow mulch and fruit trees. Oh my gosh, willow mulch is good. So, so have a listen to that, but let's hear what Linda says about that topic.
you're, as Susan says, willow mulch is great, and frankly, all mulches are great. If you can get wood, arborist wood chip mulches, I can't, speak highly enough about them. So, yes, it'll improve your soil a lot. it will, Surprisingly enough, will not cause clay soils to be wetter, what it does is it allows the the tilth of those clay soils to regenerate so that they become more porous, and so water and oxygen move them through more easily, the compaction will go down.
So you'll find that actually your clay soils will have better tilth after mulching. it's not going to change the pH, at least not within the soil itself. It'll change the pH at the surface, because that's where you've got, these acidic compounds that are right in contact with the surface of the soil.
But the volume of the soil is so vast that there's no mulch that's going to significantly change the pH of any soil, just because Amount of mulch compared to the volume of the soil is too small. But yeah, your trees will love you for putting down those chips. So absolutely, it will improve your soil, it will improve your tree health, and you'll be really glad you did it.
Live Q&A: Anthrancnose and Wood Chips
Okay, a couple of quick questions here. We'll have our commercial break in just a minute. But first from Barbie, thank you. I've been using wood chips for over 20 years and my soil is becoming quite deep and rich. Question, anthracnose is a problem in western Washington. So I guess the concern is would that spread as well in our wood chips?
Anthracnose does not spread that way. And in fact, and I'm in Western Washington too. So, and I'm glad to hear you've been using the widgets for 20 years. Anthracnose tends to be one of those things that especially if you have a dry year and trees are stressed, it becomes a problem. as I said spores are everywhere and they're going to become a problem if trees are stressed.
The best way to reduce tree stress is to have them well mulched with arborist chips and they're going to be much healthier, much less susceptible to things like anthracnose and those other types of diseases. opportunistic diseases.
Fallen Leaves around Trees and Containers
And this is from Bob, new to apples. Joe, just joined the show.
Important to clean up fallen leaves from my trees and containers on my patio? I'm used to using fresh green materials as mulch in pots. So is it important to clean up fallen leaves? And I'm assuming that Bob means healthy leaves. Well, it depends. if you don't have, and I will assume they're healthy, that they don't have, that they're not diseased and are a source of spores.
But you have to be really cautious with how thick those layers of leaves are. So the thicker the layers are, the more they tend to restrict water and oxygen movement. So, I leave, my leaves on my landscape, and I happen to have mostly, oak leaves, which tend to be pretty tough and, slow to break down.
But even so, they can tend to mat after a while, and so I tend to chop those up with our, our lawnmower just to give them a smaller, amounts and keep them on the beds, and then if you put the wood chips over the top of that, that keeps them from becoming compact, and it just adds, the extra little, leaf material to the soil, which is always a good thing.
So, I, usually have, leave the leaves in place, and I put chips on the top, and I do the same thing in my container plants. All of my container plants have wood chips in them. And you'll be amazed at how Less frequently you have to water and just the health of the plants is, amazing by just adding the wood chips as, it protecting the soil.
Wonderful. Okay, a couple of quick hellos. We've got a hello from Norway. That's from Oli Alexander. So hello from Norway. Love your show. Bob says he uses barley straw as well.
Should You Use Wood Chips from Ailanthus and Invasive Trees ?
Rachel asks, thoughts about using Ailanthus wood chips as mulch? Well, Ailanthus, is one of those plants that kind of gets tagged as being, allelopathic.
And I would not worry about that. There is absolutely no evidence that trees that have, chemicals in them naturally that can have effects on plants in, Petri dishes and test tubes have any kind of negative effect on landscapes. So, all those chemicals that are in there that tend to be things that plants have produced for protection against what, we don't know, probably 90 percent of them, but they break down fairly rapidly in the soil because they're, all, Organic chemicals microbes break them down and use them up and so they don't stick around at levels that would have any make any kind of a problem for free landscape.
So no, I like this chips are fine with anything that tends to be aggressive or invasive. I will suggest make sure it's chipped up. into pieces that are not going to re sprout. I've seen things re sprout from, and these aren't invasive aggressive, well they're aggressive, but they're not invasive.
Things like poplar and willow can easily re sprout from branches that are left in the chips. And if you don't want You know, volunteer trees coming in. Just make sure those little green. It's the smaller diameter green branches that can sometimes resprout. All right. Well, we have so many more questions coming in and I want to chat about all of them.
Commercial Break and Upcoming Guest Teaser
But first, are you okay, Linda, if we take a few minutes and listen to some words from our sponsors? Sure. Great. So hang on the line and there is so much more we're going to talk about here. Plus we have a special guest who is appearing nearer to the end of this show. So you got to hang on the line. In the meantime, you are listening to Orchard People, a radio show and podcast brought to you by the Fruit Tree Care Training website, orchardpeople.
com. This is Reality Radio 101. And we're also playing live on YouTube as a live stream. I'm Susan Poizner, and we'll be back right after this little break.
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There seem to be so many different theories of what to do and different recipes for this and that. It's One isn't overwhelmed by the advice in Orchard People. I just find it so much faster to get up to speed and build confidence than trying to piece it together surfing the web or at the library.
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Deep Dive into Arborist Wood Chips for Mulching
In the show today, we've been talking to Linda Chalker Scott, professor of horticulture at Washington State University, and we've been digging deep into the topic of using arborist wood chips to mulch your fruit trees.
We'll continue the conversation in just a moment, but first I would love to hear from you. If you're listening to the show live today, send us an email right now to info, that's I N F O, at orchardpeople. com with your question, your comment, or just to say hello. Be sure to include your first name and where you're writing from.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Listener Questions: From B ooks to Mulching Practices
So Linda, let's get through a few more interesting questions that we've got here. we've got a question here from Ken. Hello, Susan and Linda. The advice today on the show is fabulous. Does Linda have a book out? If so, where can I purchase it? Thank you. That's Ken from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Well, that's a nice question. I do have some books out. I will also say though, and I know that Susan's going to have these linked on her site, is that I also have some free publications on using arborist wood chip mulches, and actually, on comparing different types of mulches. And those are free downloads, so I'm not going to make you buy anything, but if you're interested in understanding things like how plants work, My training is as a, horticultural physiologist.
And so that's, what I do is, understand how plants work in the environment. So that's been a really popular book because there's nothing else really like it on the market. And then I have a couple of books on, horticultural myth busting, which is how I got my start with, my outreach program.
I've got a book on gardening with native plants, but this is for the Pacific Northwest only, and so unless you're in our particular ecoregion, that's not going to be very, useful. And I also have a book on sustainable gardens, and landscapes, which is a, a soup to nuts, book.
And then if you happen to like DVDs and you feel passionate about watching me in person for 12 hours, the Crate Courses did a series on the science of gardening, that was really fun to do and talk about a lot of the same types of things. Wonderful resources and how plants work. I mentioned at the top of this, the show, I love the scientific approach to gardening.
The only way you can get me to do anything is if I understand why. So how plants work, that really was helpful for me. Okay, a couple more comments from Catherine. hello, we are listeners from Omaha, Nebraska. Such fantastic information today. Thanks for the tips. Thank you so much, Catherine.
Should You Layer Leaf Compost with Wood Chips?
Then we have an email from Les.
Okay, so Les is from Connecticut. My question is, we typically add a few inches of leaf compost around the fruit tree and then cover it with a few inches of wood chips every spring. Is this a good general practice in your opinion? Should it be repeated in the fall? It's absolutely good practice and I, suggest repeating it as often as you can in terms of keeping weeds down so part of the benefit of the wood chips, especially if you use relatively deep layers, is that it really keeps weeds out, which means that more of your trees root system has access to water and nutrients that aren't being used by the weeds.
So we have fruit trees. We have a great I've got, half a dozen apple trees, a couple pear trees, cherry trees, walnut trees, and all of them getting nice thick, layer of wood chips. That's a good, good six inches from when we put it down all the way out to the drip line. And that keeps the, and these are in an orchard and it keeps the orchard grass back.
from the trees, for most of the year, and then we'll just go ahead and reapply it. we tend to be a little bit lazier and not do it twice a year, and so we put a figure layer down to start with. But yes, absolutely good practice. Okay, so now let's get a couple of hellos. We've got a hello from John from California.
Vertical Mulching and Loamy Soil
Ole Alexander asks about vertical mulching and is it good for loamy soil? So to you Ole Alexander, I would love to say I have a whole show on vertical mulching that I would love for you to listen to. There is so much information there, but I'll just hand that over to you Linda for a quick answer. Is vertical mulching good for loamy soil?
If you're in pretty good shape already, it's not highly compacted, vertical mulching isn't really necessary, I would just, stick with the, the horizontal version instead, but I know there's been some really good work done, especially with trees that are in, very harsh conditions where they get a lot of foot traffic, they don't have a lot of, surface mulch anyway and vertical mulch has been shown to help reduce the compaction in that way, but overall you'll have better results if you can use, a horizontal mulch because it covers the entire soil surface and has more of an impact than the vertical does.
Yeah, the vertical is so great if you've got really compacted, rock hard soil. So, okay, another question here, this is from Daryl in British Columbia.
Protecting Your Fruit Tree from Insect Pests
Hello, Susan and Linda. I have an apple tree that is loved by moss, woodpeckers, chickadees, and hummingbirds. Every year, the apples look nice and red.
But then they have little bugs in them. It's frustrating. I'm trying to be organic. Advice? The tree came with the house and I would feel bad to cut it down and start from scratch. Oh my goodness, don't cut it down, please. Oh my gosh. Daryl, before I hand this over, go to orchardpeople. com and I have an article on how to protect your, tree from insect pests and really easy ways to do that.
So please don't cut down the tree. anyways, over to you, Linda. And I would, second that. Don't cut the tree down. We can, work with this. So I'm in Washington State. So I'm right next door to you. And in our state, homeowners that have apple trees are highly encouraged. they can't go around with, orchard police, but we're supposed to spray our apple trees for, cobbling moth and apple maggot because they are so destructive to commercial.
Orchards that we need to do that to keep those two groups of pests away. So I, don't like to have to spray, but this is one of those times when I do spray because it's the responsible thing to do in terms of the other pests. they're really as far as I've noticed our apple trees, we'll have things that may be more aesthetic.
they don't really affect, the quality of edibility of the fruit. And, for instance, we don't spray for a spot or anything like that or any other insects. And, I, we, I found that, like you, I have lots of things that love our, apple trees. We have a lot of ladybugs. And we have a lot of other predacious insects, as well as the birds.
And I think that, especially if you can increase, And I don't know what, your place looks like or what you have, but the, more, diversity you have in the types of woody plants you have in terms of their vertical structure, the type of habitat they offer, the more complex.
Your landscape is the more wild beneficial wildlife you'll bring in and that helps with your pest control. So we have about an acre where I live. It's on a family farm and an acre of a farm is landscaped and I don't use anything except for those two sprays for the apple trees. I don't use fertilizer.
I don't use pesticides of any sort, and the system just takes care of itself, except for the codling moth and the apple maggots. And, the arborist wood mulch. And, oh, I can't forget those. You can't forget those, which are helping to make your trees healthy. And healthier trees, again, I have a podcast on this, healthier trees have been proven to be more resistant to pests.
So, we can't lose here. we have a special guest coming, but let's stick in, let's sneak in one extra question here.
Extra Irrigation and Wood Mulch
This one's from Brad. Love the radio show, so much information that we're learning. Do we water less with mulch? Yes, you will. And I'm going to preface that though with saying that you have to be cautious how you water.
So we use pretty thick layers of mulch because we're looking to suppress weeds as well as benefit the soil and, the roots. But you'll notice in the summertime especially that the top part of your mulch will be dry. And so if you're irrigating from above, it takes quite a bit of water to get the top layer of the mulch hydrated.
So what I suggest you do is Put down soaker hoses. Underneath your wood chips, if it's an area that needs to be, irrigated, and this is what I do in my vegetable garden, for instance, and so I don't water from above, I water from below, it keeps the soil saturated, not saturated, it keeps it moist, where it needs to be, but the nice thing about keeping the upper layer of the mulch dry is it means nothing can grow on top of it, so it becomes a very hostile environment to weed seeds coming in, but underneath that, where the mulch is next to the soil and you've got your drip irrigation if you need it.
it's moist, it's cool, and so the roots of existing plants do really well. So that's part of the way that these deep wood chip mulches keep the weeds out.
Introducing ChipDrop: A Solution for Wood Chip Needs
All right, well, we've got a special guest on the line today. So I would like Brian, can you come and join us? This is Brian Kappa of getchipdrop.
com. So, Well, first of all, Linda, how did you know about Brian? Tell me a little bit about your interactions with Brian. Hi. Welcome to the show, Brian. As I recall, and Brian will have to correct me if I'm wrong, Brian emailed me, just out of the blue and said that he was familiar with my work because I think your dad?
Yeah. Had been familiar with my work, and so he was interested in linking, to some of my publications on using arborist chips. And I thought that was great that not only are they providing this wonderful kind of middleman service to get chips to people that need them, but also interested in the science about why they work well.
And so here we are with you, Brian, and you tell us about your company, ChipDrop. Tell us what you do. yeah. Thanks, Susan, for having me on the show. And, yeah, we're one of Linda's biggest fans. she's correct. My, my dad's a master gardener, and I believe that's how I heard about her work. But, we reference Linda's documents all the time whenever we have questions from customers.
who are asking about wood chip mulch. So yeah, we love what she's doing. so yeah, we started, my family started Chip Drop back in 2014. I was previously working as an arborist hauling brush for a tree company and we, our owner of the company, had us distributing the wood chips around the neighborhood and So I just thought it'd be cool if there was an app for that sort of distribution service.
And so I started building it over the winter and slowly getting users to sign up for the service. here in the Portland area is where we're based out of. And then, yeah, it slowly grew from there. And we're in most, states in the U S we're also available in Canada and the UK. So, so basically if anybody wants wood chips and this app is active, in that neighborhood, I know that the problem is I've contacted Arborist and say, Hey, I'd like some wood chips and they're busy or they're at the other side of the city.
So essentially all I would have to do with chip drop is go on the app, say where I live. And one day, a truck filled with chips will dump those live, those wood chips right on my front yard. Am I right? Yeah, that's right. I guess I didn't, brief on what the service is. It's like a Airbnb matchmaking service for wood chips.
and so, yeah, that's exactly right. the benefits of using chip dropper, it's a central distribution system. So you only have to sign up for one service as opposed to, like you said, Susan calling tree companies in your area, which is still a great way to get wood chips. oftentimes you may see them like.
Working in your neighborhood or working on your street. And if you walk up to them and say, Hey, can you drop those wood chips in my yard? They'll probably gladly do so. this is just in some ways, maybe a more reliable way to get those wood chips. Although it's, it still is on demand because there's no guarantee that a crew will be in your area anytime soon.
And it's one of the stipulations of, just getting arborist wood chips is it's just, there's no market. You can't just go buy them. And get them the next day. You have to wait for the right opportunity, but chip drop gives you the best, best success rate, Yeah. Okay. So how much does it cost?
I'm a homeowner. I want, some wood chips for my whole front yard. It's free. We love promoting a free wood chips. So yeah, it's free for gardeners to sign up, to get free wood chips. arborists actually pay to use the service, because it's a business expense for them. It costs them a lot of money and a lot of downtime, to drive to the dump or wherever to, get rid of those wood chips.
So yeah, it's free for gardeners to sign up. but again, that comes with some of the stipulations like you don't know when you're going to get them. In our service, you can't request a partial load. So you have to take the whole truck load that could be up to 20 yards, which is a lot. and so there's all these stipulations, which you have to agree to.
and then, we work with folks. A lot of folks have. Hesitation about signing up, and so we give people sort of ideas of ways they could still use the service. Like one good example is going in on a delivery with some neighbors because yeah, 20 yards is plenty for a lot of smaller urban lots.
So finding a neighbor who has a nice big driveway who doesn't mind getting the wood chips dropped in their driveway is a great way to get some of the material. So I know for myself, I have a community orchard that's in a public park. What we could do if we ever use chip drop, which I'm considering, is we could organize you guys, your chip drop, or the local arborist to deposit the chips in the park.
The thing is, we can't leave those chips forever because they'll kill the grass and the park supervisor will not be happy. So, You don't necessarily get advance notice. So we'd then have to go on email saying, Oh my gosh, guys, the chips have been delivered. Let's go mulch our trees and put it out to the neighborhood.
Come get wood chips. So just to put it out there that's a possibility for people. I really wanted to share this because I felt it's such a wonderful opportunity to get free, good quality wood chips. However, saying that in the beginning of this show, I talked about my concerns. I would not want diseased fruit tree wood chips.
Using your service, would I be able to say, specify, please, no fruit trees? yeah. So there's a, few. options you get when you sign up for the service. One of them is if there's any species that you don't want, you can specify that in your request. We do allow that. you can't request specific species.
Like for example, you couldn't say, I only want maple wood chips, for example, cause that would be an impossible request to fill. but you can't say, I don't want maple or I don't want, these species. You could even say, although it is pretty limiting, you could say I don't want conifer or I don't want deciduous.
again, the more, more restrictive you are with your request, the less likely you are to get a delivery. So it's just something to keep in mind. the other thing you can specify is whether or not you want logs. again, this is a service primarily for arborists and tree companies. And a lot of times they have extra logs that they can't chip that they still need to get rid of.
So if you're willing to take some logs and they make, they make great fixtures in a organic or, natural garden setting, they're great homes for bugs. And so they do a lot of great things for your garden, but if that's something you don't want, if you don't want logs, you can specify that in your request as well.
That is so fantastic. So to the listeners, what do you think about this idea? What's the website that they would go to, to check it out, if they can get a drop off near them? Yeah, you can go to chipdrop. com and, sign up on the website. and you'll create an account and then from there, there's some steps to place a request.
So it's there's a couple steps to, actually place your request. And we also have some videos on there, which you should definitely talk, check out because it goes over some of the potential pitfalls. and we want to make sure that everyone knows what to expect because we don't want to deliver lots of wood chips to people who, Don't want it.
So yeah, I loved the videos. I saw one of the videos saying this is not for you. I love that video. Well, thanks so much. Hold on the line, Brian. Oh, were you going to say something? I was hoping I could put in my two cents.
Linda's Hints for Using ChipDrop
For chip drop I use chip drop because it's so popular getting chips where I live.
It's really hard to get them So here's my tips if you're having problems getting chip drop Wait until there's a good storm and there's a lot of branches and trees down then sign up because you're probably going to get something Secondly be willing to not just ask for free but be willing to pay so it costs our arborist I think twenty dollars, to use the service.
I offer forty so they get their twenty dollars in And they get their 20, 20 more dollars. And if you happen to, If it works for you with bribery, sometimes I offer them a beer or something like that Come out so I have no problems getting chips now, even though it's highly popular just offering the extra money So their costs are covered.
They might earn three bucks too. Well worth it. Yeah, brian What do you think about that 20 extra 20 bucks under the table? She's our biggest, advocate. I love this. no, she's absolutely right. So even though this is a paid service for arborists, gardeners can, we call it a donation, but really you can opt to pay and it gives you priority in the sense that the arborist won't have to pay if you offer to pay as a gardener.
So yes, there is an option to do that. the other tip I wanted to mention too is, the gardening season generally is just very seasonal. And so if you're willing to place a request, during the winter months, especially here in the Pacific Northwest, you will definitely get a delivery in a short amount of time.
And that's great if you're planning to mulch in the spring, for example. Now, March, April, we're getting into the really peak high demand times. So, again, you can pay to maybe get, A delivery quicker, but you might just have to wait a little bit longer in the spring and summer months. But just some another thing to keep in mind.
I'm so glad you joined us Brian. Let's have
Making Wood Mulch from Fire Wood
we've got just a few more minutes I have a couple more questions here that came in Linda that I want to try and squeeze in and this one is from Bonnie who writes orchard people is the best show I have a ton of firewood that I do not use anymore. Can I just put that wood in a chipper and make my own mulch?
You Thanks from Toronto, Ontario. Absolutely. you can chip up any wood you have. Now, if you have a chipper, and you'd have to, of course, cut the firewood down to actually, chip it well. The, there's a couple problems. So if you're chipping stuff yourself and you're doing it with dry wood, it's rough on the chipper.
Because it's a lot harder to chip dry wood than it is to chip relatively live wood. but for instance, we, you could chop it up somehow and probably get someone to chip up. Maybe Brian has a better idea than I do, but yes, you can absolutely use it. It's not as great as Arbus wood chips, but it's still untreated wood, which will become part of a decent mulch.
Yeah. I, think the material is totally fine. You're, going to have a heck of a time actually chipping. If it's already cut to length. that's one thing is like short rounds and short logs, even with the like toughest industrial chippers are really hard, they prefer to chip like longer branches, so I might say to post it on craigslist.
Hugelkultur and Burying Logs and Sticks
the other thing you can do, I'm not an expert in it, but hugelkultur, or burying the wood, Linda might have more information about this, but you can actually just bury sticks and wood in the ground and that will start to create some, some biological processes happening. So you have a few options.
Linda, do you want to comment on that hugelkultur? Well, I do have a fact sheet on it, and it's not a process. I have any science. Sorry to burst that one. Is it bad? It's well sure, because as it decomposes, then you've got your entire landscape is shifting and settling as it decomposes. So there's, some issues with it.
Plus, it will create a nitrogen deficiency in the soil to don't do Hugo. I take that. That was a set up. That was a quiz. Actually, I was quizzing Linda and she passed. So Brian. Brian, I'm really glad we have you here for quality control and our information, that's amazing. yeah, I did a show as well on hukou culture, I find it interesting, yeah, so people might want to listen to that for some more information, but, again, if there's no studies, then studies need to be done, for heaven's sakes.
It should be studied. So, I can't believe this. There's three minutes left for the show, Linda. How is that even possible? Didn't we just start three minutes ago? It feels like it. It really feels like it. It definitely feels like it.
Wrapping Up: Final Thoughts and Resources
And Brian, I want to thank both of you guys for coming on the show today.
We've got to wrap up for now. but is there, just briefly, can each of you share a URL, a website where people can, get more information? And I will add that if you go to podcast. Dot orchard people dot com. You can open up this episode I will have lots of links in this episode so you can find Brian's chip drop you can find all sorts of great articles that linda has shared with me but yeah briefly each of you guys.
Can you give me a url to share? Oh, chipdrop. com. Yeah, go to chipdrop. com check it out. You might find some of linda's articles in our faq or You Expectation section, but yeah, check out chipdrop. com. And for me, I think the easiest way to find my stuff, two ways. if you Google all in one word, informed gardener, you'll get to my website, which I have a whole bunch of free downloadable PDFs.
And the other place to find, stuff that I do, our blog and our Facebook, group, is if you Google all in one word again, gardener professors. And that'll get you to our blog, and if you're on Facebook, you can find our Facebook page and our Facebook group, both with garden professors. And it's a great place, to have discussions, especially the group.
Spicy conversations! For those of us who are, like, used to traditional gardening information, it will warp your mind. Just going to visit there, you may agree, you may disagree, but, what can we say? It's good, it's wonderful information. Well, thanks everybody. For those of you who've tuned into this episode, I am so glad you're here.
I'm glad you're listening on RealityRadio101. com. Thank you so much for those of us who joined us on YouTube. Would you like me to do a YouTube live again? Was that fun for you guys? I don't know. Please tell me in the YouTube chat. if you want to learn more about today's topic, here's what you do. You can go over to the Orchard People YouTube channel.
And in a day or so, I will be posting a video version of this podcast that will have some pictures to illustrate what we have talked about. You can go to Apple Podcasts or your local podcatcher and you can search for Orchard People. That's our podcast. and you can get more of them. There's lots of episodes.
This is episode 102. So we've got lots of information packed episodes. And finally. You can go to orchardpeople. com slash sign dash up and sign up for my mailing list every month. I will send you an email telling you what the that month's live radio show and podcast is going to be about. I will send you links to seasonal articles on how to care for your fruit trees.
So hopefully we will keep in touch. Thank you everybody for joining me. And I hope to see you all again next month in the show. Bye for now.