|Fall Care of Fruit Trees|
A few simple steps taken now will give your fruit trees a head start for spring.
Harvesting fruit from your own trees is a most satisfying activity, but care must be taken to ensure the fruit will last when stored through the winter months. Proper storage of winter keeper varieties of apples can provide you with apples through winter and into early spring.
Fall is also the time to look after the health of the tree. A few simple practices will help the tree through the winter dormant period and ensure its vitality for spring flowering and fruiting.
Here are suggestions for preparing your orchard for winter.
|• make sure that your tree
is watered well into mid-October
so that the tree goes into the winter with a good moisture supply. To know that you have watered sufficiently, place a pan or dish under the tree and water until the container accumulates 5-8 cm (2-3 in.) of water. This amount will water the trees deeply down into the root zone, whereas less water will only dampen the soil close to the surface.
• rake fallen leaves from under fruit trees
and put them in areas away from healthy fruit trees. This prevents leaf-borne diseases from recurring. It also reduces habitat for mice, which can be destructive to fruit trees. Cutting the grass around the base of the tree has a similar benefit.
• do not fertilize your tree under most circumstances
Most fruit trees in healthy soils do not require fertilizer. Do not apply fertilizer after July 1. Never fertilize young trees. If fertilized, they will take longer to mature and bear fruit. If fertilized in the fall young trees in particular will lack winter hardiness because they will continue to grow. Fertilize your fruit trees only if they shows pale leaves and weak growth. If these signs occur, a small amount (1 cup) of a balanced fertilizer (e.g., 16-20-0) for a larger tree will usually help it along. Use less for a smaller tree.
• pick fruit carefully
The stem should remain on a picked apple, but if the leaf spurs are breaking off with the stem, it's likely that you're picking too soon, or your picking technique isn't working. Try grasping the apple from the bottom and gently lifting it upwards till it is upside down; the twig usually breaks free easily. Another technique is to twist the fruit upwards and to one side.
• separate flawed fruit from perfect fruit when storing
Even the smallest nick or beak mark on the fruit will encourage spoilage. Flawed fruit should be set aside for fall eating and cooking; save only the perfect fruit for winter storage.
• wait until early spring for all major pruning
Only minor pruning should be done in other seasons.Pruning in the late summer or fall may encourage the tree to continue growing. It must stop growing for some time in order to harden-off before winter. If it does not have this hardening-off period, it will not become come fully winter hardy, and winter injury may occur.
• control insects
Did you have canker worms on your trees last spring? If you did, fall is the time to get some tanglefoot on the tree to prevent female moths from going to the top of the tree, where they lay the eggs that hatch into next year's worms. Did you have tent caterpillars on your tree last spring? Watch for their egg bands on the twigs in the fall. Remove any bands, and you will have few or no problems next spring.
• do not leave your fruit on the tree too long before picking
Plums are tricky, and
often fall from the tree just before they are ripe. They should be picked
when they are a little on the green side and allowed to ripen at cool room
• in cold climates, protect trees from sunscald
• compost or juice windfalls and damaged fruit
|Over the years, we've come to realize that the fruit from our orchard yields the greatest 'return on effort' of all our garden crops. Now that the price of organic apples has risen to as much as $1 per apple, we see real value in a mature fruit tree which may have 500 - 1000 apples! Considering this value, and the relatively small amount of work it takes to realize, it's well worth taking the time to care for your trees during and after the harvest to ensure future productivity.