- Author: Ben Faber
I used to think that you could not add enough mulch into an orchard and cause any harm. Well, I've been proved wrong a number of times. Some people have gone overboard and put on three to five feet for some reason and it causes all manner of problems, the least of which is usually just getting around in the orchard. But organic matter is the energy source that drives a lot of positive good in an orchard. It provides nutrients for the plants, as well as the microbes that protect plant health, keeps weeds down and maintains an even soil moisture content.
In agriculture, mulch has been viewed as an important input to maintain good tree health, especially in avocado orchards. That has been true up until the introduction of Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP) and Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer (PSHB, and a close relative Kuroshio Shot Hole Borer ((KSHB))) into California. These are insects that carry disease that are lethal to trees. The ACP can carry a bacteria that causes the death of citrus trees. It has been a major cause of tree death in Florida, as well as other parts of the world. It is severely threatening the industry in that State as it does in California. It also threatens all backyard citrus wherever they are found. PSHB, on the other hand, is another insect that carries a fungal disease that threatens not just one species of tree, such as avocado, but many native trees, such as coast live oak, sycamore, willow and many other native tree species.
Initially these pests were pretty much confined to the Los Angeles Basin and south, but ACP has moved into the Central Valley, and through Ventura up the coast. Its progress has been monitored by traps. PSHB has been found in parts of Ventura County, but it is not widespread, as far as we know at this point. Both insects can be easily moved by contaminated plant material. ACP can be found in infested leaves and on fruit. Moving that material increases the likelihood of spread. PSHB can be moved in wood where it makes its galleries. Moving wood and chips, can spread this pest/disease complex.
The way to help control the spread of these two pest and their disease causing organisms is to stop the spread of materials. This means don't move material from known infested areas, such as the LA Basin into Ventura. It means know where your mulch is sourced. Ideally, if you mulch, it should be with material found onsite. Chip the trees on your property and use it there. This is a threat not only to you, but your neighbors, as well. Be a good neighbor.
For more on ACP and PSHB/KSHB see:
Photos: ACP and PSHB