What is the main killer of apple trees in the UK?
The answer is - STRIMMERS.
Nearly every tree death reported to us is the direct result of using strimmers in orchards or around young trees.
I would like to propose an unbreakable rule - which says "No Strimmers Permitted In UK Orchards".
I can illustrate this with two unhappy experiences.
At one school where we had planted a substantial number of trees, almost all of them were lost in a single day when a contractor was asked to tidy up the school site - nettles, thistles and the like. Off went the men, with their strimmers. A few hours later, after they had completed the job and gone home, a staff member noticed that the tree guards had been shredded, along with the bark of each tree. Nearly all of them, including some which were several years old, were lost.
In another orchard where we supplied the trees, a tidy-up was scheduled, carried out by volunteers at weekends. They carefully removed all of the tree guards, strimmed around the trees carefully, without damaging them, did an excellent job on the rest of the garden, but forgot to replace the guards. By the next weekend, rabbits had removed the bark from the trees very neatly. The whole lot had to be replaced.
So - how do we prevent untrained personnel from being tempted to use strimmers around trees?
A person in one of our orchards has devised a very effective answer.
The thing which attracts the person wielding the strimmer is an untidy-looking tree, with weeds and grasses growing up the stem.
So ... the remedy:
The tree has to look tidy. It has to have a clean stem. Furthermore it has to be surrounded by a clean patch of bare earth#. And don't forget the rabbit guard - use a cylinder of chicken wire.
So we recommend a circular plot, at least one foot in radius (that's 2ft in diameter), of cultivated bare earth, with the apple tree in the centre. Not a trace of a weed anywhere, and the plot inspected every week.
No-one is tempted to strim a tidy piece of bare earth.
In our experience, that is the only reliable method of keeping the strimmers away.
Our friend and fruit expert Graeme Bale adds:
Good thoughts there. I would go further in saying weed free area the same diameter as the canopy, preferably mulched around on a yearly basis. I run up and down my rows of trees, with a side discharge mower, shooting the grass cuttings onto the bare earth around the trees. The councils use special strimmer protection sleeves around the bases of trees. From my experience I would not touch spiral tree guards if I could help it. They harbour grass and weeds which can grow untouched, they disintegrate after a couple of seasons providing free access to rabbits, and they provide an unseasonable microclimate harbouring the likes of woolly aphids.
ND / Diversity website
# Or mulch, or bark chips.
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