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From LDN's Fall Home Improvement Magazine

Getting your fruit trees and orchard ready for winter

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[September 30, 2013]  The apples and pears are just getting ready to pick when you should begin the maintenance on your fruit trees and orchard. Peaches and plums finished in the first part of August in this area. Those trees had fantastic production because of the rainfall we had earlier this year.

Healthy fruit trees have a natural cycle of producing heavy fruit one year and then light fruiting the following year. Maybe it's because they wore themselves out and need a rest. The best way to have good, even production from year to year is to prune your fruit trees each fall. It has been shown that pruning them back as much as one-third causes the trees to have even, heavy fruiting. That pruning allows the tree to remain solid to support its heavy fruit without breaking limbs, and it helps the fruiting area to remain within reach. Pruning can begin anytime after the tree has finished producing fruit.

Fall is a good time to carefully trim the weeds from around the base of the fruit tree and apply a new plastic wrap to guard the trunk of the tree, to prevent field mice and larger vermin from making a nest at the base and snacking on the fruit tree's succulent bark during the winter.

For the same reason, clean up and clear away any fallen fruit from around the tree and orchard. Even though the fallen fruit is not appealing to you to eat, it is a treasure to pests, vermin and rodents. Raking up the fallen leaves from around apple trees can help prevent scale pests.

Fertilizer low in nitrogen can be dropped or dug in around the drip line of the fruit tree to facilitate spring growth. Keep the amounts low so that the fertilizers aid in growth without burning off fine roots.

Check the level of soil moisture. If the soil is too dry, freezing can have a greater effect on fruit trees. Soaking the soil area around the base out to the drip line can help the fruit tree better survive a harsh winter.

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If the daily temperature has dropped below 90 degrees, dormant oil spray can be used to protect the trees from insect pests. Prior to the killing frost, many varieties of fruit trees become infested with spider mites, whitefly and scale insects. Dormant oil spray is made of paraffinic oil and does not contain any poisons. The oil causes the insect pests to stop breathing and also coats the tree with a layer of oily protection. The oil may cause the leaves of the fruit trees to turn and fall prematurely, so use it on apples and pears after the fruit crop is done. Most dormant oil sprays recommend that you wait until the tree is fully dormant before application, but if the whitefly or aphid infestation is severe, then it may be time to use another fruit tree-friendly pesticide to control the pests. Read the label and follow the instructions carefully.

Finally, one of the pests that attack apple trees is cedar apple rust. This causes spots on apple leaves and the fruit and causes the leaves to fall prematurely. Cedar apple rust can be controlled by making sure there are no cedar trees within 150-200 feet of apple trees. This includes junipers, phitzers and other columnar cedars. Early fall elimination of these cedars, where the cedar apple rust overwinters, will break the cycle of cedar apple rust.


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