Stella Otto: The Backyard Fruit Gardener

Today's Tip: Mow vegetation short around the base of fruit trees and bushes to reduce winter habitat for rodents.

SweeTango — a Lesson Driven Home

Head­ing off to the Swee­T­ango grow­ers meet­ing saw my hus­band and I lit­er­ally expe­ri­enc­ing a 100°F tem­per­a­ture change in an 8 hour period; from –24°F (yes that is minus) in chilly north­ern Michi­gan to 75°F in Savan­nah, Geor­gia. It was a wel­come change for us humans! It is, how­ever, not one that would do fruit trees much good. Sud­den extreme tem­per­a­ture swings, espe­cially when return­ing from the warmth to sin­gle dig­its, are what win­ter freeze dam­age is made of. With all the wild tem­per­a­ture swings expe­ri­enced by much of the east­ern half of the United States this win­ter, freeze dam­age may show it’s appear­ance in delayed form this spring. I’ll write more on that if it becomes a prob­lem in upcom­ing weeks.

Today, I’ll high­light one impor­tant take-home mes­sage that rang loud and clear in the grower meet­ing. Even though this was a group of com­mer­cial fruit grow­ers, the les­son is just as crit­i­cal for home gar­den­ers:
Thin­ning fruit mat­ters. Thin­ning fruit off imma­ture trees mat­ters. Thin­ning fruit early in the grow­ing sea­son mat­ters. I can’t say it enough!

  • Young, imma­ture fruit trees (and many berries too) need to have fruit (all of it) removed until the root and branch struc­ture is well estab­lished. Crop­ping pre­ma­turely will stunt future plant growth.
  • Trees just start­ing to bear should be thinned to match their vigor. Just allow a few fruit the first crop or two. Again, this will allow branch struc­ture to develop in a way that will ade­quately sup­port future, larger crops.
  • Bear­ing trees need annual thinning.This improves the size and qual­ity of the remain­ing fruit. Appro­pri­ate fruit set also encour­ages annual bear­ing, where over-cropping may lead to bien­nial bearing.

For the hows, whats & whens of thin­ning fruit and grow­ing healthy fruit trees buy The Back­yard Orchardist: A com­plete guide to grow­ing fruit trees in the home gar­den.



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