There are many things to do in a garden to prepare for Spring. Of course, Spring will happen in a garden whether you prepare or not, but a little maintenance can make the results more rewarding. If you have fruit trees or any dormant trees now is a great time to do some pruning and spraying to help with fruit production and help fight pests and diseases later. Pruning also helps to shape up your tree and gives you a chance to cut out any dying or diseased limbs.
These are some tools we find quite useful when we are pruning:
A long handled pruning saw and pruner, the yellow one is a Silky, a Japanese saw that cuts large limbs like butter, this is a serious pruner. One safety precaution when cutting large branches is to stand at one side and saw because those branches can be pretty heavy and you wouldn’t want to be under one when it falls. You should also invest in a hard hat and eye protection. The other long handled pruning tool is just that, a long handled pruner, ours is a Corona and works great for smaller branches that you just can’t reach from the ground or on a ladder.
A ladder is extremely helpful of course and we will be needing to invest in an orchard ladder in the near future, but any ladder will do the job just make sure that it is stable because when you get up there pruning you do tend to wiggle around a lot and you are looking up, you wouldn’t want to suddenly be looking up from a much lower level with sharp tools around.
Another very useful tool is a good pruning book and the best one is actually pretty old and not too thick so it can be read in an evening while you are contemplating your pruning activity. We are spotting this book at many good family owned nurseries. One nursery where we both worked sold out of it many times. It is called How to Prune Fruit Trees by Sanford Martin the copyright we are using is 1944, but hey, the method of pruning fruit trees has really not changed and this is a really well written book. He actually covers each type of fruit tree and has good diagrams.
My favorite weeding tool is a weed hoe. I don’t see them available much anymore and it is a shame because it does a good job fast. I do like to get down on my hands and knees and dig in the dirt, if you don’t you might rather use an old fashioned hoe, both will get the job done.
The tree we were working on yesterday was a pear tree and they are very susceptible to fire blight. Fire blight can get into the main trunk of a tree and kill it. It is a virus that is carried by bees and there is no magic spray to cure it so it has to be cut out. You know you have it when you see branches that look like they have been burned at the tips with a torch. The branch will turn black and it travels down the branch killing it as it goes. To cut it out you must cut the branch about 6 inches below where you see black. Because fire blight can easily spread you should keep a bucket of bleach water or some disinfectant near by to dip your pruning shears in after each cut.
Now is also the time to spray your fruit trees with a dormant spray fungicide. There are several brands on the market and good old lime sulpher spray is probably the best, because it breaks down faster and doesn’t harm the earth worms or mycorrhizaes. Some sprays cannot be used on stone fruit such as apricots so be sure to read the label before spraying. Check to see what your local nursery is recommending because a lot of products are being taken off the market is some areas. Ideally you will dormant spray 3 times during the dormant season, but you also need a good 3 days with no rain to wash off all your spray so it can be difficult to get 3 sprays in. I like to remind myself to spray by spraying around Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentines Day. You should spray all your fruit trees and roses, roses are related to the apple. Spraying will help eliminate fungal diseases later such as rust, black spot and mildew and many more. It is also good to use an All Season Insecticide at the same time to take care of over wintering insects that can be a problem now and later. Some insecticides can be mixed with the fungicide and take care of two jobs at once and since the insecticide also contains oil is doubles as a sticker to help it all stick to the tree, but you can always add a sticker to your spray as a precaution.
Besides caring for your fruit tree branches you should also care for the ground underneath. We had a lot of grass growing under ours that needed to be removed. There was a water basin already dug in, but now that the trees are much bigger we made the basin bigger too. This will help with watering and composting. Later you will be adding fertilizer within this basin to help promote blooms and increase fruit production. We try to make the basin go out to the drip line of the tree. Do not plant flowers or other ground cover under here because these plants will steal nutrition from the tree making the fruit less sweet and we all love sweet fruit, right?
As far as fertilizing for now a good compost is good and then later an occasional deep soak might be needed during the drier seasons. Dormant plants are not taking up fertilizer until they start producing leaves so save the fertilizer for later. Compost will be fine for now because it will break down slowly and feed the earth that will organically feed your tree later.
Fruit trees do not need constant watering or you will get watery tasting fruit that splits, but about once a month (depending on where you live) you might need to give them a good long soaking with a slow running hose to get that water down deep.
We tackled the pear tree yesterday now we have this huge fig tree to tackle and it is one that is suppose to be heavily pruned because it fruits on new wood. It has been neglected for a few years
Okay, this is a long post with no pretty pictures, but if you get this done right now (weather permitting) then you will lots of pretty pictures later.