Fruit tree care, and management, does not simply stop when the leaves fall off the tree late in the year. Fruit tree care is a year-round job and in order to get the best performance out of your fruit trees, it’s important that certain tasks are done at the right times.
With tree dormancy not too far away, it is a good time to look at some management considerations. When we talk about dormancy, we are looking at the time frame between when the tree drops the leaves in the fall and when buds begin to swell in the spring.
Pruning is one of those important aspects of management. As you prune, remember to burn, or dispose of the pruned branches, to limit the amount of disease inoculum present (as mentioned in last week’s article). During dormant pruning you can target diseased branches and help reduce the impact of diseases, such as fire blight or black knot, in your trees.
Pruning may seem like a daunting task, but there are some basic standards and practices to follow that can help you be successful at pruning and help increase your trees vigor and productivity. First, waiting until dormancy to start making pruning cuts will allow better visibility of the branches, and reduces that chances of the pruning cuts being an open wound when diseases are active. Make easy cuts first. Find diseased, broken, or damaged branches that are of no benefit to the tree. Water sprouts, suckers, crossed, rubbing, or downward growing branches are also ideal targets for pruning. As you stand in front of the tree that you will be pruning, think about what you want to prune out. Excluding the dead wood and suckers, find about 1/3 of the more significant cuts you want to make and mark those for this year. Plan to take an additional 1/3 next year and the remaining 1/3 the following year. Only pruning 1/3 of the healthy but prune worthy branches in a single year will prevent the tree from being stunted and will provide the opportunity for gradual, but healthy change in the tree’s shape/growth habit. A severe prune can stunt the tree and cause a significant reduction in the amount of fruit produced and reduce overall vigor of the tree for several years.
Fruit trees may need to be fertilized once a year in early spring before growth starts. It is very important to do a soil test to determine accurate fertilizer recommendations. Generally speaking, a common fertilizer recommended for fruit trees is one with an analysis of 12‑12‑12 or 10‑10‑10. However, fertilizers of other analyses can also be used. The rate of application needs to be adjusted based on soil test analysis and recommendations. More information on specific requirements, recommendations and guidelines can be found in the “Midwest home Fruit Production Guide” publication by The Ohio State University.
Branching off of fertilizing, competition of nutrients and moisture is one of the main reasons to control and limit the amount of vegetation under fruit trees. Reducing this vegetation also limits the favorable conditions and habitat available for diseases, insects, and rodents. Weeding is not a fun job, but nonetheless, a year-round one. More information on weed management in orchards can be found in the Midwest Fruit Pest Management Guide.
Hopefully, this is enough to keep you busy through late fall and winter. If you are interested in purchasing any of the publications mentioned in this article, give your county OSU Extension Office a call, or visit extensionpubs.osu.edu to find a full listing of all of the OSU Extension publications.
Frank Becker is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator with Ohio State University Extension – Wayne County, and a Certified Crop Adviser, and may be reached at 330-264-8722 or becker.5872osu.edu
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