A successful grove has a lot to do with the right kind of planning, maintenance and production. It seems insignificant at first glance, but one practice that can help set you up for success is mulching.
Mulch in a tropical fruit grove is important because it:
- Helps reduce weed growth and reduces the need for herbicides
- Retains soil moisture
- Improves soil fertility, aeration and drainage as it decomposes
- Increases soil biodiversity
- Protects from extreme temperatures since there is a buffer between the soil and the air
- Keeps the surface roots cool
- Decreases accidental damage from mowers and trimmers
For tropical fruit trees you can cover as little as 2 and as much as 6 inches of mulch around the tree. Shredded bark, wood chips, melaleuca mulch, chopped leaves, or straw are good options. Don’t be afraid to pile it on thick, but start 8-12 inches away from the trunk and then move out to the drip line or beyond. If you mulch too close to the trunk, the roots can grow upwards and into the mulch causing stem girdling roots, which is where roots circle around the tree just below the soil surface. Mulching too heavily or too close to the trunk can also create excessive moisture and cause decay near the trunk. This can make the tree more unstable or kill it. You can also use plastic mulch in grove management, which can be an excellent option for weed management.
Add mulch to your trees any time of the year in order to keep a general depth of about 2 – 3 inches.
To measure circular areas, like around the base of a tree, follow these steps from UF/IFAS:
- Measure the distance from the center of the circle to its edge. This is the radius of the circle.
- Multiply the radius by the radius again, then multiply the answer by 3.14. Example: 5 feet from the center to the edge X 5 feet from the center to the edge X 3.14 = 78.5 square feet to cover
- Once you have your square footage, multiply it by the desired depth of the mulch.
- Finally, divide that answer by 324 (the amount of mulch needed to cover one cubic yard). This answer will tell you how many cubic yards of mulch you need to cover your area. Example: (128.5 square feet to cover X 3 inches deep) divided by 324 = 1.2 cubic yards of mulch needed to cover
Give extra attention to “fresh” materials for mulch. It’s great if you are able to get a free drop off from a tree removal company or free pick up from municipality sites, but be sure there is no undesirable materials in the mix. It may be a good idea to compost that material before putting in near your trees. Bagged commercial melaleuca mulch, for example, is actually composted and heated to kill viable seeds and pathogens. “Fresh” and under composted materials may have undesirable seeds or disease in the wood that can be transferred to your plants (even though they are not a “true” tree, bananas could be susceptible). Properly composting may help reduce your chances of any seeds or pathogens becoming an issue in the grove.
Also keep in mind, mulch can be expensive over time, so make a management plan for your grove that makes sense for you.
Resources and References:
For more information on successful grove management check out this publication: HS1387/HS1387: Planning for a Successful Commercial Subtropical/Tropical Fruit Grove (ufl.edu)