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Fall Care For Fruit Trees

Don Trotter

Hello fellow Earthlings and welcome to the orchard. In this discussion we will be looking at many of the ways that we can care for our deciduous fruit trees to ensure a bountiful harvest of sweet and nutritious food from our trees.

Deciduous fruit trees have a distinct dormant period that is usually brought about by the onset of cooler weather. The most significant evidence of this dormant period is the loss of all the leaves on the tree. Aside from the most obvious signs of dormancy a few other things should be known about this time in the life of your fruit trees. During the dormant period your trees stop or drastically slow down the movement of sap. This is one of the reasons that the cool season is the best time to prune. Since sap has slowed many of the insect pests and disease organisms that are known to target particular types of fruit trees also go into a non-mobile or dormant state. This is known as overwintering. This is one of the best times of year to apply control measures to these pest organisms.

During the dormant period, your fruit trees have no foliage for insect pests to hide in. If the insect pests choose to stay on your tree during the winter dormant period they are exposed and much more vulnerable to your control efforts. Many disease organisms are also just as exposed and are much easier to control as well. The method used by most gardeners to control these bad guys is dormant spraying. One other really great thing about dormant sprays is that many of the most effective materials you can apply are of natural origin. Natural dormant spray materials are commonly sold at most garden centers and nurseries. Some of the most popular materials for use as dormant sprays are Lime (Calcium carbonate) and Sulfur combinations, Copper and Sulfur materials (Copper sulfate), and a myriad of Potassium salt based soap sprays. I am also a rather big believer in the use of paraffin oils instead of the more common petroleum based dormant oils.

Dormant spraying of your fruit trees is probably as important to the overall well being and productivity as proper pruning and feeding. Timing is easy, just wait until the tree goes dormant. I like to apply two applications of different dormant sprays before pruning, one after pruning and then dormant oil to seal in and suffocate the bad guys as well as seal out other unwanted visitors. My favorite spray program includes a couple of applications of a homemade spray, an application of Copper sulfate after pruning, and then I apply dormant oil. I like Lime/ sulfur sprays but do not apply them to apricot trees. My recipe for a homemade dormant spray is as follows:

For one gallon of water,

5 Tablespoons of Hydrogen peroxide

4 Tablespoons of Baking Soda

2 Tablespoons of a Castile soap

After mixing this material into my sprayer I find that if I shake this mixture vigorously it seems to blend up very well. I often agitate this material during application as well to ensure continued mixing. The reason I use Castile soaps is that they are of natural origin (most begin with olive oil) and they are rich in potassium salts that are known to eat through the protective waxy coating (cuticle) on insects. This exposes pests to the elements and often causes them to lose body fluids, thus eliminating them. The hydrogen peroxide and the baking soda are very effective at removing active disease organisms and sterilizing fungal spores.

The use of copper immediately after pruning allows me some piece of mind in knowing that no open wounds on the tree are exposed to disease and the final spray of dormant oil protects the tree from marauders looking for a home.

Protecting your trees during the dormant period really helps to ensure that you have less pest and disease issues during the growing season. By taking these easy steps toward prevention you will spend a lot less time reacting to diseases, fungi, and nasty little buggers. This proactive approach to fruit tree care will give you more time during the warm season to sit in the shade and relax with the comfort of knowing you did it naturally. Next time we'll be discussing the soil your fruit trees are growing in and how to improve it for healthier and more vigorous growth. See you in the Garden!

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