There are many different techniques a grower can use to add organic matter to improve soil. Using ramial wood chips and weeding in place are two simple ways that both work very well and are environmentally friendly.


Why throw weedy materials out when you can turn them into more biomass and nutrients for your orchard or garden? Weeding in place is when you pull a weed, and then leave it where you pulled it. Although all weedy materials can add organic matter and serve as a mulch, it may be advisable to avoid some very invasive weeds and weeds that have set seed when using this technique. In general, weeding in place can save you time and effort, reduce your waste stream, all while adding organic matter, improving microbial activity and nutrient availability in the soil.

weeding in place


Ramial wood chips are made from smaller diameter wood and the ends of branches.  Technically, to be considered ‘ramial’, the chips need to originate from deciduous tree branches that are less than 7 centimeters in diameter. Because ramial material includes a much higher portion of leaves, inner bark, and living material, it is much higher in nutrient content than chips made from larger diameter carbon-heavy woody material.

wood chips 1Branches of this size are an important “factory” in the tree, as they produce wood, lignin, polysaccharides, and oxides. This means that these branches are a great source of nutrients for many living things. Ramial wood chips offer a food source for the beneficial mycorrhizal and saprophytic fungi, and using these chips can greatly benefit the soil by increasing microbial activity and nutrient availability in the soil. This, in turn, benefits the plants by increasing productivity.
We all know where to find weeds, but where can you find ramial wood chips? A great source of these chips is the prunings taken from your orchard trees. If you don’t have a chipper, just cut the branches into small enough pieces so that they lie flat on the ground. The wood pieces will decompose and benefit the tree just the same!  Also look out for tree crews working in your neighborhood, as they are often happy to offload chipped materials for free.  Avoid wood chips from coniferous (evergreen) plants around your fruit trees, but do use them around wood chips 2blueberries to add acidity!
Ramial wood chips can be spread as a mulch a couple inches thick throughout an orchard space or dumped in larger piles spaced in between the trees.

This edition of POP TIPS prepared with assistance from POP Intern Nettie Baugher. 

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