Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Nursery Trees

We've been doing something for years now, which barely feels like mentioning. Only because it's pretty basic stuff. But it occurs to me that anyone who wants to start planting a food forest, should know about it.

We had problems initially, getting fruit trees established in our clay soil, lack of rain and oppressive heat. That's when we got lazy, and decided to borrow a leaf or two, from the native trees. Literally.

Click to enlarge

Above, you can see the mulberry tree, which (when first planted) sat under the shade of those native eucalyptus trees. Only they were a tad smaller then. There were other natives which sprung up, on the other side of the mulberry too. Popped up, just as nature had selected them to do.

We didn't have to mollycoddle the native trees. They were somewhat like weeds in fact. We were tempted to pull them out, as we didn't want them close to the house. However, we noticed how they made a lovely shade canopy for the new mulberry. So we kept the natives in place, with a plan.

Now look at the mulberry tree! Dwarfing the native trees which used to shade it.

March 2015 - Mulberry in background

We also helped this particular mulberry along, 2 years ago, when I installed a new swale. The idea was to help capture water on the slope, to hydrate the mulberry. Otherwise, I think it would have survived, but struggled immensely to produce fruit. And really, that's the best thing about a mulberry tree!

Only now we have another fruit tree in need of some assistance. Our Brown Turkey, fig tree.


Can you see that white twig on the right? That's our fig, and would you believe it went in the ground, not long after the mulberry? Now fig are traditionally hardy, and this one has done well to survive. But it's not exactly thriving. It's produced fruit once.

Can you see that mass of leaves on the left of the fig? That was another nursery tree, which got too big. Our plan with nursery trees, because they are normally eucalyptus and grow to 30 metres high, is to take them out, once they get to 10 metres. It's dangerous to have them near the house, any taller than that.

So those tufts of leaves, now indicates the tree stump we left behind. That was back in spring. Now it's re-shooting again.

New shoots

Somewhere in there, is a stump. This is what normally happens when we cut down a nursery tree. A lot of new branches shoot from the stump, and hope to become trees. Unfortunately, that's not what we have planned for it.

After all, this is free mulch! And it's conveniently located right next to the fig tree.

Tender new growth

Normally, eucalyptus leafs and woody material, don't make good mulch. That's because they're laden with oils, which make them difficult to break down.

However, when it comes to new shoots, it's not the case. It hasn't had enough time to collect a lot of oils in its leaves yet. So they should break down, pretty quickly. Which is just what I had planned for under the fig tree.

Recently mulched

I've edited the above image, so you can tell the difference between the recently chopped shoots, and the grass. Because the recent rain has brought abundant growth!

I chopped most of the new shoots off, using my secateurs. Of course, I piled a few buckets of coffee grounds under the fig first, then covered it with the shoots of the native eucalyptus.

Old tree stump

I left some smaller shoots on the stump, because I'll chop them back once they get more size. So what used to be a nuisance problem, with eucalyptus seedlings popping up everywhere, and pulling our hair out, trying to get fruit trees established - well the problem soon became the solution.

Anyone who is attempting to establish fruit trees in a predominantly native area, I would recommend to use the natives as temporary nursery trees. Use them for shade, and when they get too big, chop them down. Then keep chopping back the shoots, and use it as mulch for your fruit trees.

Now nitrogen fixing trees, like pigeon pea are even better nursery trees, but they couldn't compete with the natives, for hardiness. This was a clay slope, and it needed something with a substantial root system to hold the slope together. That's another reason, we're not quick to remove the native seedlings that pop up. They preserve the soil for us, until we get the fruit trees established.

New project

That red soil, is another swale we've been installing, just bellow the fig. It runs parallel to the mulberry swale too. Only the weather has stopped that particular project from going forward. Even the short length we have managed to add, is beneficial to the fig. It's more captured water, than it had before.

The grass is getting tall with all this rain about. We'll slash it into the swale, and on the berm, so the soil will be covered again.

We don't have a lot of money to buy mulching material, in the amounts we need. But nature has an abundance, most of the land produces. We just have to time everything correctly. Once the rains arrive, our pruners and brush-cutter, quickly follow behind. It all gets put back on the surface, to protect the soil and retain the moisture. Because soon enough, that sun will come out again and we've missed our window of opportunity.

It takes so long to implement these projects, but it's incredibly worthwhile too. I hope to have a new system up and running, that was better than before. All using (mostly) what was already here.When gardening in difficult terrain, use what naturally grows there, and protect your weaker, establishing plants.


  1. Thanks for the tip Chris, after we clear our property of weeds we will have to think about things like this. Maybe I should get my native trees in the ground for a year or so before planting fruit trees. We have to put swales in too so that will help stabilise them.

    1. Sounds like a lot of experimenting going on at your place. I find the indigenous trees (ie: what grows in that region naturally) are better as nursery trees, than introduced natives.

      I tried my hand at several hardy natives, like grevilleas, and found they all died within a few years. Only the traditional grevillea varieties, like Honey Gem and Silky Oak could hack our extremes. Another tree I had success with, was the Tuckeroo. It wasn't indigenous, but naturalised really well.

      So even with natives, they will differ in survival rates. I was quite surprised by how many introduced natives couldn't make it here. You may find it varies in your region too. Speak to locals and find out what grows well. You may already have done that.

      Thanks for commenting, and I'll visit your blog soon. I like seeing how other properties evolve. :)

  2. One thing I need to grow a lot more of here is mulch and I need to make more compost too. Our soil here is clay covered with shale so garden beds were built up from imported soil which we have been adding and adding to but always more goodness needed. It can get expensive so I'm looking into things like pigeon pea, whether I can use shredded native ginger leaves that grow under my front verandah, using the legumous leaves of the leopard trees that grow along the streets here, and so on. Meg:)

    1. Good idea about using the leopard tree debris. You'll have the cleanest street! I actually love all the old, tree lined streets in Toowoomba. They drop a lot of valuable resources.

      Definitely get as many mulch plants in, as you can. I've been propagating mine, to bring up my numbers. There's a lot of land to cover. Which reminds me, I have to do a post on the kinds of mulching plants I grow here.

  3. Thoughtful post, as usual ;-)

    Where I've had big trees taken out (too big for me), I've allowed the new shoots to regrow only to a size that I can handle, then cut them down too. I get all the leaf mulch and a bit of kindling wood from the (small) trunk. We're lucky that most of our native, fire-adapted trees will reshoot from the base and we can use their resources over and over again.

    Coppicing (which this process is), is a very common way of managing English forests.

    I'd be interested in what species you have in your natural bush. Do you have a list that you could easily email? Don't go to any trouble, though.

    1. Yes, our natives coppice extremely well. It's nice to hear it's the case in other states too. Our indigenous trees, really want to keep giving. Survival is the name of the game. I agree, it's much easier to manage the multiple, smaller trunks, than the one monolithic giant - or the widow maker's, as they use to call them.

      Indigenous trees to our area are, Swamp mahogany (Eucalyptus robusta), Spotted Gum (Corymbia maculata) and also some narrow-leaf ironbark (Eucalyptus crebra). They seem to be the dominant species. I'm sure we have a few others, in smaller pockets.

      Spotted gum is the one that pops up everywhere. It will throw up numerous branches when chopped down. Four to six on a regular basis. It's the others which sprout two branches. So Spotted gum is the most tenacious.

    2. Thanks. I'm also interested in the little understorey species too.

    3. Understory is mostly Wattles, black wattle, and another variety I can't remember the name of just yet. The shrubs you see, are mostly lantana. We're working on eradicating them, but not until we stabilise the area with other plants. Oh yeah, native grasses, of the lomandra variety, spring up too.

  4. Getting trees and shrubs established takes a lot of work and time, so I'm glad to see such good progress. I've probably lost about half of what I've planted, which is discouraging. Since I've been working on swales myself, it's especially heartening to see how well yours are working. Seems once the nursery stock gets well established they can thrive. But that strong, extensive root growth takes time and moisture. It's a job, but well worth it. Good progress Chris!

    1. I know, it's hard to lose fruit trees! I can live with losing the annuals in my vegetable bed, but those fruit trees are more expensive. Which is why I've dabbled in casting fruit seeds around too. Just from stuff I've purchased to eat, or planting the seeds from my own trees.

      I've got a number of avocados, cherry, citrus and one apple tree, which all came from seed. My seedling avocados (now trees) survived in our extremes with no extra TLC. Where as my grafted varieties all died, even when I mollycoddled them.

      I guess you have to wait longer for fruit, but at least they survive and it doesn't cost the earth to buy. I hope your new round of fruit trees and shrubs, make it with the help of your new planting techniques. We learn something new, when we lose stock. :)

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