This is a case of “slow and steady wins the race.” Most plants will bounce back from having a little bit of mulch tossed on them. A lot of plants will not bounce back from being crushed to death by 17 pounds of chipped trees.
Though none of our edible landscapes or food forests are the same as no piece of land is the same. We all have different sorts of plants and fruit trees and bushes, this is a general guideline that should be able to work in basically any edible forest setup.
This process is the easiest and a little less intense when done as part of your edible landscape maintenance in the winter or fall, when its not quite so hot out and its the rainy season.
The theory here is that you add a layer of mulch every week or so. So instead of putting down a lot of mulch in one go–which will definitely crush most small perennials or other seeds you might be trying to grow– you spread the mulching out over the course of the season.
Say, if you start mulching in October, and every few days, you decide on a fruit tree to mulch. You choose to start with your Galaxy Peach Tree. You mulch the peach tree, being careful to leave some breathing room around its trunk so the mulch is not touching the trunk of your peach tree, thereby keeping it from staying damp and rotting.
With whatever companion plants or plant guild that is paired with your peach tree, you mulch those too because they are around your peach tree. This is your first time mulching your peach tree for the season, right? So, you put just a nice, 6 inch layer around the tree and its companions. You don’t just pour the mulch around the plants because it doesn’t lay down as well. This is not for the aesthetic purposes. It’s just so that when the mulch lays well, it can stay well-aerated, but also be thin enough to allow plants to adjust to that layer of mulch. It also allows air to go through so that the mulch can start breaking down.
Maybe a few days later, you decide to mulch your persimmon tree in this same manner. You add 6 inches, tossing the mulch, which helps to separate it and aerate it and then it lands in a nice, even layer. This layering helps to lock in more moisture but its also going to stay well-aerated so that it can compost in place.
This mulch will attract some worms who will come and help the composting process by eating the mulch as it breaks down. Then you wait for it rain.
In the summer, of course, it can take a century before it rains, which, if you’re willing to wait that long, that’s fine, but allowing your plants to go into water-stress from a lack of rain can set back the growth on many plants. This is why I recommend doing this during a rainy season and when its not so hot because there’s not so much evaporation from the heat.
Maybe at this point, it’s been a month and you have successfully mulched around every fruit tree and put a nice, thin layer of mulch throughout your edible landscape or garden or food forest… 😊😊😊😊 At this point, mulch will already have started to break down, not in any noticeable way, it’s just that it’s a natural, unavoidable process, and…that’s what happens.
So you go back to your Galaxy or Bagel or Bonfire Patio Peach tree and you add another 6 inches of mulch. You toss it in the air and let it rain down and that properly aerates it and it spreads nice and evenly so its not too thick in any one place. That helps to add more moisture-holding capabilities to the layer that was already laid on the ground.
You’ve thickened the “moisture shield” between the bare ground and whatever harsh winds or damaging rains that would wash away the nutrients in your soil. The chipped trees or leaves are breaking down more quickly now that there is more material to work with. You help the process along by tossing your coffee grounds around your fruit trees, adding additional nitrogen to the carbon-heavy tree chips.
You repeat this process with every fruit tree and perennial plant in your edible landscape. Then you wait for it to rain.
The new layer of chipped trees and leaves settles. There are no longer any bare spots on the soil being exposed to the soil-eroding elements. You cannot see it but the roots of your fruit trees and bushes are lengthening, reaching out further and deeper into the soil with the help of all the additional water that keeps the soil soft enough for the roots to push through.
Perhaps you are noticing that there are different sorts of weeds popping up now that you’re smothering whatever grass or lawn existed before your edible landscape. This is a good sign of progress. Your edible landscape is reaching into toddler-hood.