Thanks for your well wishes. I share the hope that the fruit trees will not be fooled by February's unseasonably warm weather. We put a lot of mulch around our fruit trees to keep the ground around the trees frozen longer, and thus the roots dormant and the buds quiet. But of course, even that fails sometimes. I think the older trees, with deeper roots that don't thaw as quickly, tend to get fooled less often. They are wiser.
Which brings me to your question. It is very true that, if you follow the advice above and use mulch rings, there needs to be diligence about not letting the mulch close to the trunk of the tree, where it will almost certainly cause rot and disease. Many of our clients don't mind checking once a month or so, or after they water (which is especially a time when the mulch can move around), but if you have a lot of trees that can become a chore. The 2' pea gravel ring recommended by the Holistic Orchard, inside a larger mulch ring, is a nice alternative. Holistic Orchard recommends the pea gravel be 2"-4" deep for weed management.
We've never used or installed the pea gravel so if you do use it, I'd be interested to hear how it goes.