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Soilicious for Establishing Trees in Open Fields

January 21, 2023

My two year old peach and apple trees grown from seeds. Soilicious made it not only possible but highly probable that the trees were going to live through that critical first year without water or tending in any way.

Forty years ago it was difficult for me to establish trees in my open pasture. Now it is easy. Here is something I found that works for me. I think you should try it if you have a similar situation. You can vary this recipe to some extent as well. This Soilicious mix greatly increased survival rate and growth of tree into the surrounding soil. It was my organic solution to the tea bags, fertilizer pellets and magic potions that I tried from other manufacturers. My soils were very sandy with very little top soil. The existing vegetation was quackgrass, timothy, star thistle and orchard grass. There were periods of drought and no additional watering or care after planting for one year. This formula quickly establishes plants in their new home as well as increased their growth rate in soils that were difficult to establish trees in.  You can split this batch into smaller amounts if you wish. Most of the ingredients I could get locally. The Myco-Mix, Thermx-70 and seaweed I get from Arbico. For top dressing the plants in their second year, I used pelletized chicken manure with gypsum.  These products I get from Menards.

Canadian Peat Moss 4 cubic ft.-substrate-holds water. I would also add 1-2 cubic ft. brick of Coir on top of this if I could find it at my local ag supply place. I found it for sale from BFG supply company but also you can find it in smaller retail bags once in a while.

Alfalfa Meal 40 lbs. Nitrogen source and the racoons do not dig it up thinking there is something delicious to be found like most animal protein sources.

Greensand 40 lbs. Micronutrients, potash, holds water. Long term potash.

Gypsum 40 lbs. Helps with water percolation and nitrogen absorption. Strengthens plants against disease. Sulfur but not acidifying.

Dehydrated Seaweed 1 lb.  This is the type used for water application and dissolves when you add water. Do not add water in this case. Helps rooting of the plants and provides immediate potash. Micronutrients in soluble form. Or use 5 lbs. of regular dried seaweed.

Crushed Oyster Shell 40 lbs. Additional long term calcium as well as aeration. Feed store purchase.

Pelletized Humates—5lbs. or 1 lb. Soluble (Dry) Humic. Helps the breakdown of organic matter and speeds root growth going deeper into the soil. Increases bacterial action within the soil.

Myco Blends -Arbico-One full package-8 ounces. Mycorrhizal and Beneficial Bacteria.

MIXING TOGETHER: Make sure the peat moss is totally dry. Mix in order as above using a flat scoop shovel until thoroughly blended. Can be stored in 35-gallon pails or closed up tightly garbage bags. This is shelf stable without moisture.  The peat moss in this formula needs to be very dry. It is not always dry when stored at the home supply store. Avoid broken packages as well as packages stored outside without rain protection. As a result if moisture is in the peat moss, the product will break down very quickly while heating up.  Watch out for this.  Wear an appropriate filtered mask when making this product.

USE-AMOUNT: 1 cup per seedling tree.  When planting apply directly next to the seedling tree near the roots surrounding the plant. Make sure to surround the plant with the mix within the root zone laying it right next to and on the roots. Not meant for surface application.

 ThermX-70 When watering the plants in, I use this yucca extract. This breaks the surface tension of the water. After digging, watering with thermx mixture closes up the soil around the roots with no micro-air pockets. Better percolation means even light rain will penetrate deeper.  I started using this because I noticed after rainstorms, portions of soil around the seedling trees were dry. This was a result of a hydrophobic condition of my soil after periods of drought. 1 tablespoon per 5 gallons is good. This is like the yucca to use in root beer which gives it that flat effect on your tongue.

After Care: The mesh tree tubes are preferred now. They require less maintenance and are wasp and rodent free compared to the solid tree tubes that I used in the past. The caliper develops normal as well with some branching occurring through the mesh.  If it is apple, the deer may browse these branches off. This is not a loss. I will cut the tube off with scissors after 4-5 years. It will begin to photodegrade at that point as well making for removal easy. The height is 4 feet and this makes it difficult for some species to pass that magic browse line of 5 or 6 feet. Some plants like black mulberry are hammered by deer so bad that it is difficult to prevent. At that point I apply Menards Deer Off to the top portion of the tree. Three to four light sprays in the growing season will deter them to the point where the plants will grow by that ‘zone of delectability’.  Or I could sleep in the orchard and do the shush thing like Cesar Milan.

Each mesh tube contains 3 bamboo stakes 3/8 inch diameter and 4 ft. tall in a triangle around the tree. 1/4 inch diameter is okay  but snap easily after two years or so. I purchase the bamboo from A.M. Leonard. The mesh tubes I purchase from Ben Meadows. These two products are only available in bulk.

It is not necessary to apply large volumes of organic matter which ultimately just feeds the grass. No need to use cardboard or paper. For a while I did that and usually this meant the grass was even thicker than before as well as changing the soil profile to the point some of the roots of the plants were growing upward. Obviously that was not good. I had moderate success with the Vispore tree mats and very poor results with all other landscape fabric. Vispore should be used without mulch on top. It was a mess to clean up and had limited effect in my application. The stakes to hold it down are an issue both metal and plastic. Using rocks or soil makes it that much more difficult to hold it down. I discontinued these.

I may apply 2-4 cups of composted cow manure around each tree right next to and surrounding the tree guards. It is not necessary to remove the grass or apply herbicides. Grass is not competitive to trees. It feeds off a completely different set of nutrients as well as has a different zone of influence within the soil profile. The grass is also beneficial in that it creates the conditions best for the tree and also blocks wind and filters sun. But that being said, it is like the sweet spot planting in grass pulling out a plug and putting in a tree instead. You need to get that tree established quickly so the grass is only a minor concern.

I do use a small grapple like rake to remove a portion of the sod in the 2nd or 3rd year if the plants need more fertilizer. This roughens up the soil, removes small pieces of sod next to the plant which then allows better percolation of the fertilizer into the tree zone. This is not an arduous task requiring massive strength or time. It takes less than 30 seconds per tree. I am only just scraping the surface of the soil and making it so the fertilizer is best absorbed by the tree after a rainfall. It is at this time, you can apply more mulch around the tree after the fertilizer in the form of composted cow manure or broken down wood chips. I use roughly 1 gallon volume per tree. Fertilizer is pelletized chicken manure-2 cups per plant.


For me it was the star thistle that really improved the soil conditions on my farm for planting trees. Long live the star thistle. It lowered the quack grass density and created open pockets within the sod. The biennial nature of the plant helped by pushing down a tap root deep into the sand and then dying creating a channel filled with organic matter. This alone made water percolate into the soil profile faster. Star thistle made it much easier to plant in. I called it the ‘hyperspace of soil’ . My shovel dives deep into the soil with very little effort. Not surprisingly, there is also a borer that helps a bit with this process by drilling into the stem and roots of this plant weakening it. This one plant was the greatest benefit to me at my farm. Every now and then I get the star thistle honey from the health food store to bask in the sweetness of this lovely plant.  So many types of butterflies love the flowers. Since then other plants are now establishing in these areas where quackgrass is now just a minor component. The rhizome nature of quackgrass was tough to plant in. Keep in mind each hole I dug for my trees was roughly about a foot across. This blank area does not fill in much with quackgrass unless I over apply the composted cow manure on top. It is a waste of time to apply herbicide or use massive amounts of mulch for the type of planting I do.  I had planted many types of prairie grasses and plants in one area. Most faded with time, however the Clinopodium (Wild Basil)  was of huge value in that it soon spread in these areas as well as provided an additional nectar source.  I used two species of this plant. I am now spreading this plant as well as mints throughout the farm when I plant. It is very competitive and easily fills in the star thistle pockets as well as filling in areas where shade is now lowering the grass density.

One last shout out to the great star thistle.  There is several conservation based removal programs based on the false assumption that this plant is damaging in some way ecologically. This is a complete fabrication and is based on outdated ecological literature long disproven as a means to force native prairie plants back.  Find a friend, plant a tree, create a forest. Star thistle leads the way to the land healing itself. Be part of this reclamation or get out of the way. Removing star thistle by herbicides is bad for people applying the chemicals, bad for the environment and not useful or necessary to create a healthier planet. Many native trees are now established in my orchards not because I planted them but because star thistle broke up that sod and the seeds were deposited by birds and white footed mice which then took hold in that  soil environment. This was something completely missing before. There was little recruitment of woody plants if any even after more than a decade of not harvesting the hay. The seed heads were a source of food for many birds. The structure of the plant created nesting sights for both woodcock and field sparrows at my farm.  The deer with their hooves also pushed seeds into the soil which was not possible with thick grass. Deer play a role in bringing back trees to these fields more than most of us know.  It wasn’t until I started digging around and looking for just sprouted woody plants in the spring that I discovered just how powerful nature really is on a very subtle and quiet level. Just one more reason not to mow or worse burn as well. 

When the trees are larger, more mature and shade decreases the density of the grass, I will weed whack or mow the area prior to harvest. This makes it much easier to pick if I am shaking and collecting off the ground. I will avoid seedling plants under the trees I want to keep like ebony spleenwort and many woody plants that seeded from my parent trees. Essentially the tree crop farm is now planting itself. I try to foster this as much as possible.  It is at this time, I apply more chicken manure and gypsum. This improves the yields of the trees the following year. Eventually very little weed whacking is needed as shade has now removed most of the grass. Woody plant roots are now in great density under the tree and the sod is now composed of other plants in much lower density. This is usually when birds will seed in grape, honeysuckle, rose and viburnum. Like any garden, it is natural to weed and remove plants but when is enough too much. The plants I remove I keep under the trees as a form of fertilizer including the pruning wood. I noticed there is now a burrowing beetle larvae that lives in my orchards and turns the branches into sawdust. They are very efficient at it.  Pecan and plum are delicious to them.

Your Roots Go Deep and Your Effects are Felt Far Away

An interesting root based observation: At my farm I found American persimmon roots over 250 ft. away from the parent trees which run from 30 to 50 ft. tall. The roots are jet black and easy to spot if you dig a hole. If uninterrupted trees will produce long feeder roots deep into the grass sod hundreds of feet from the parent tree. It is likely my farm is encased with persimmon roots as both sides of my property of 1200 foot rows are persimmon trees. There is so much to discover and so much to experience, it will never end.

This was my family’s first barn. My father and his partner both postal employees took it down as it sits here and rebuilt it at our farm. The back portion of this barn was left. It became the means to create a Christmas tree farm. I think my dad is holding a nail puller or a hammer. They did everything by hand. I am not sure how they got the posts up though. Probably dug it by hand. They did use their station wagons for hauling the wood and maybe one of the postal trucks. Circa 1965.

Plants say it is Delicious


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