Utilization of Community Leaves for Improving Orchard Soil Quality

1999 Annual Report for LNE99-129

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1999: $95,535.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Robert Belding
Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Rutgers University

Utilization of Community Leaves for Improving Orchard Soil Quality


This project addresses how best to apply leaf organic matter to the soils of stone fruit orchards in the Northeast. This project will compare the results of nutrient release and nutrient recycling from leaf organic matter as compared to conventional fertilizer. Specifically, the project will look at the effect of late-season nitrogen release on the winter hardiness of fruit flower buds. The project will also investigate the contribution of the large amounts of available calcium from decaying leaf matter and its effects on fruit quality and post-harvest storage life.

Demonstrate the use of leaf organic matter for improving the soil quality of young peach orchards.

Determine the best application strategy for using leaf organic matter on young peach orchards regarding tree growth, survival, and productivity.

Determine if the addition of calcium and nitrogen to the soil from leaf organic matter affects peach fruit quality and post-harvest storage life.

Approach and Methods
Community-collected leaves were applied either to the surface or incorporated into the soils at Aura Orchards in Gloucester County, New Jersey. Nitrogen was applied as a treatment to offset the decomposition needs of the leaves. In the case of newly-planted trees, leaves were either surface applied or surface applied then incorporated. In the bearing orchard, incorporation was not a treatment.

Leaves were applied at a rate of 20 tons per acre. Soil nutrient, leaf nutrient, and fruit tissue calcium content is being determined annually. Soil moisture, tree growth, and tree yield will also be determined. Fruit post-harvest storage life will be determined. Tree mortality will be assessed.

In planning this study, many questions arose regarding possible treatments and handling of treatments during years two and three that could not be specifically planned. Therefore, with permission of the funding agency, the proposal may be amended as it becomes necessary to fulfill the initial objectives.

The initial surveying and soil sampling is complete. One thousand cubic yards of leaves were applied during the winter of 2000. Trees were planted in the spring of 2000, and fertilizer treatments have been applied in the summer of 2000. Because of wet weather in the summer of 2000, soil moisture samples were only collected once. Soil, leaf, and fruit tissue samples have been taken for 2000 and are being prepared for analysis. Currently, our programmable freezer for evaluating bud hardiness is not working and another option is being sought. Tree growth measurements will be measured and recorded this winter.

Impacts and Potential Contributions
Improved orchard soils can increase orchard life span, increase productivity, and improve orchard profitability. The Northeast is in need of disposal options for the leaves considered a solid waste. The use of community leaves in orchards is beneficial to both the community and the farms. Public misconception of this practice as a detrimental dumping of waste has increased the importance of this research, particularly the educational component.

Reported December 2000


Timothy Bartle

Composting and Recycliing Management
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
Trenton, NJ 08625
Joseph Heckman

Extension Specialist in Soil Fertility
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, NJ
Ian Merwin

Associate Professor
Dept. of Fruit and Vegetable Science, Cornell Univ
Ithica, NY 14853
Steve Smith

Fruit Grower
Fred Smith Orchards
P.O. Box 6
Richwood, NJ 08074