Winter Maintenance of Fruit Trees
Winter is on us and that means fruit tree maintenance. What we do now will have a big effect on the health of our trees and the quality of next season’s crop. How many times have we looked at our peach or nectarine trees in the spring and wondered how we could stop the Curly Leaf or had some beautiful looking peaches or plums one day only to find Brown Rot on them the next. Make the time to deal with the problem now and you will be rewarded.
We prune fruit trees for a number of reasons. To cut out dead or diseased wood, to make the tree a more manageable size or shape, to get rid of unnecessary recent growth to improve fruit yield and to allow light and good air circulation in the tree to name the main ones. A classic ‘vase’ shaped tree that is neat and symmetrical looks great but is not necessary for a good yield of fruit.
- Remove split and damaged branches which could break more when laden with fruit and will also be subject to disease
- Cut out crossed branches which could cause damage to fruit next season
- Ensure the tree can get plenty of light and air circulation by removing branches that are too close to each other. We are aiming for good light and air to the whole tree.
- Shorten the height of the tree, if necessary, to what you can manage. Cut the framework branches to an outward pointing bud at the top to ensure the tree stays open.
- Remove all dead and mummified fruit as these will carry fungal diseases over to the next season
- Shorten the current season’s growth so the tree can manage the fruit crop. Properly managed trees will have larger fruit while unpruned trees will have more fruit but the fruit will be smaller and may suffer damage from rubbing on branches.
When you have done this remove and bin or destroy all prunings, etc that are diseased. This includes leaves at the base of the tree, mummified fruit and twigs. All of these could carry over disease for the next season.
Using a spray unit, give your tree a thorough spray with a sulphur based spray according to recommendations for your tree type eg apple, peach, etc. Spraying while dormant kills fungal spores that are in the bark and around the buds on the tree. These include Apple Scab, Brown Rot, Curly Leaf, Lichen, etc. Spray the ground around the tree as well as fungal spores will also be on the ground ready to launch onto the treat the first opportunity in spring. The spores for Curly Leaf in peaches overwinter in the bark and buds and enter the sap stream in early spring making control virtually impossible for the season. If you are mainly a weekend gardener take the first opportunity you can as damp, windy or wet days can hit us at any time.
Winter is a good time to give your trees a feed of old manure, pelletised manure or blood & bone. Go by packet recommendations as too much may promote excessive foliage growth at the expense of fruit
Don’t be daunted by the whole process, you will learn as you go, there is always next year to hone your skills.