Grower Sees Success With Oak Mulch

Ernie NeffProduction

Sugar Belles in Ben Bateman’s small grove

Like several commercial Florida citrus growers, Ben Bateman of Brandon has noticed strong improvement in what he calls his “recreational grove” after applying oak mulch to the trees.

Bateman planted 26 mixed-variety trees in large pots about six years ago, transplanting them to the ground five years ago. He said he spent nearly $1,000 on foliar nutrients “with little to no noticeable improvements on the trees.”

After a neighbor had his oak trees trimmed, Bateman spread the oak mulch around his citrus trees in the spring of 2017 for weed and grass control.

“Once the oak mulch was down and we started receiving our summer rains, many different kinds of mushrooms started popping up in the mulch. Shortly after that, my trees flushed big, beautiful leaves,” Bateman reported. “Basically a year after I oak-mulched my trees, they went from producing no fruit that was worth eating to 50 percent of the fruit being good to eat and most of the rest good for juicing.”

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Bateman at first thought the good results came from “the improvement of the soil through the nutrients given by the mushrooms breaking down the mulch,” he said. But he changed his mind after he saw a recent Citrus Industry online article titled Growing Citrus Trees With Oak Mulch. “Now it appears there might be more to the story!” he stated.

The article is about research at the Indian River Research and Education Center to find what is in oak trees that apparently helps citrus cope with HLB. Graduate student Lukas Hallman is conducting the research at the center operated by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. One year into the project, which is a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Hallman said he found more nutrients in the root rhizosphere. Also, preliminary findings show that as the mulch breaks down, soil biodiversity increases.

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Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large