Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Caring for Fruit Trees

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club (http://www.paulparent.com//) sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM.

"The most grown fruit tree is the apple! Apples are believed to have originated in the mountains of Kazakhstan in central Asia. Pears, plums, peaches, and cherries are also popular but the apple has one characteristic the others do not have: the ability to be stored during the winter. Apples can be eaten when ripe in September and October but, when stored properly, will last well into the winter months. Not long ago, when fresh fruit was nearly impossible to find during the winter months, apples were king. Today, with modern shipping, any fruit is available at anytime of the year from around the world. But for the home gardener, this is still the best fruit for ease of winter storage.

It does not matter what type of fruit tree you plant; just follow these steps and all types of fruits will provide you with a nice crop of fresh fruit in the late summer to late fall. Begin by selecting a location with full sunshine. This location should be sheltered from the wind when possible and warm during the day. Try to avoid frost pockets and, when possible, plant on the side of a hill rather than at the bottom of a hill, because cold always slides down the hill and collects at the bottom. This is most important in the early spring when the fruit trees are in bloom, as a frosty morning could kill all your flowers and no fruit will form.

All fruit trees prefer a soil that is well drained and rich in organic matter. When planting fruit trees, be sure to add plenty of compost to help get them off to a great start. A slightly acidic soil is preferred; pH 6.0 to 6.5 is recommended. In a wet location on flat ground, the tree will struggle. If you have a clay-type soil plant something else, because your trees will never do well. Newly planted fruit trees must be watered regularly during the first year, and I recommend it be twice a week, 5 to 10 gallons each time. If the summer gets hot and dry, water more!

Fertilizing in the spring is best--before the foliage appears on the tree--with an organic slow release fertilizer such as Tree-Tone, Milorganite or Dr Earth Fruit Tree Food. Lime is necessary when you see moss growing on the ground around the trees. No moss growing--no lime needed. Mulch piled around the base of the tree will help the tree in many ways. Mulch or compost should be 2 to 3 inches deep and 3 to 4 feet wide around the tree. This will keep the weeds away, keep the soil cooler during the summer and hold surface water longer around the tree during the summer. This planting bed also prevents YOU from hitting the trunk of the tree with the lawn mower or weed whacker when maintaining the yard. Compost around the base will slowly feed the young roots every time it rains, to encourage a good root development and a better tree. ( I really recommend compost around the tree for the slow breakdown of good organic matter!--Mike Skillin)

At the time you plant your fruit trees, use a single stake driven into the ground to support the tree for the first couple of years and tie down the tree with wire and a hose sleeve to prevent damage to the tree. This will help create a straight growing tree. Wrap the trunk of the tree with a circular ring of hardware cloth wire to protect the bark of the tree for the first 5 years from mice and rabbits. The wire ring should be 3 inches away from the trunk of the tree and pushed into the soil 2 inches deep. The height of the wire should be 24 inches. (Remember to remove the supports before the tree grows into them!)

In February or March, prune your tree to control size and create a better shape on the tree. When the outdoor temperature is above 40 degrees, spray your fruit trees with dormant or horticultural oil to kill eggs laid on the tree last fall by insects. This will really help with insect problems during the year. Also spray your trees with Liquid Copper Fungicide to help eliminate disease spores left on the plant last fall. These two sprayings should always be done before the foliage develops on the tree. When the tree is in bloom, "DO NOTHING" to the tree or you could cause all the flowers to drop, resulting in no fruiting on the tree. Once the flowers fall from the fruit tree, develop an every-other-week spraying program to control disease and insect problems. For organic control use Organocide fruit tree spray from Organic Labs, or the new liquid Fruit Tree Spray from Bonide Lawn and Garden. Do this until 2 weeks before harvest."

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