Newbies at orchard life. We planted 100+ fruit trees last late spring. The...

Asked December 9, 2014, 8:03 PM EST

Newbies at orchard life. We planted 100+ fruit trees last late spring. The land had been horse corrals, abandoned for at least 3 years and completely overgrown with giant ragweed. We cleared the land and planted then spent the summer pulling giant ragweed and dealing with Canadian thistle. Looking to next spring, what should we plant as a ground cover? we are trying for as natural as possible (I hesitate to say organic since I know there are specific definitions of the term. We accept that it may take several years to get this whole area (it's almost 2 acres) under control. Several of the websites I've checked talk about planting companion plants - plants which either work symbiotically with the fruit trees (apple, pear, apricot and plum) or enrich the soil; provide food for honey bees, etc.

Hennepin County Minnesota orchard horticulture

1 Response

This is an interesting question. Many factors come into play when trying to figure out the best crops to plant in such an area; among them are:

  • What is the quality/texture/fertility of the soil? Some plants such as legumes will add nitrogen and organic materials when tilled back into the soil - others may need supplemental fertilization to do their best. Cover crops are especially important in sandy soil as they will help to retain mositure.
  • Some cover crops can harbor insect (and rodent) pests, at the same time cover crops can attract pollinating insects as well.
  • What is the slope - if any? This could have an impact on your watering practices.
  • Is there room between these trees to till the soil without damaging their roots?
  • How much time are you willing to devote to maintaining a particular ground cover? This could mean simply mowing a perennial cover, or re-seeding and maintaining annual plants.
You probably realize that there is a large seed bank of weed seeds in the soil that will continue to show up for a number of years. This means that you should consider a cover crop that needs to be mowed at least a couple of times during the growing season. If the ragweed and thistle are not allowed to flower, the seed bank will eventually become exhausted.

Here is a publication from UC Davis that discusses some of the considerations:

And here is a resource for Midwest growers:

You may have to try a variety of methods in order to find a cover crop that works well in your particular field but as you can see there are many options, and it's impossible for us to say which would be "the best".

Good luck with your new venture! Thanks for contacting AaE. Please do so again if you have further questions.