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.

Winter is coming — Is your Fruit Garden Ready?

First snow in the fruit garden - October 24

First snow in the fruit gar­den — Octo­ber 24

The arrival of win­ter is inevitable and much as we all love to gar­den, the occa­sional break from plant­ing, bat­tling pests, and har­vest­ing is an impor­tant and wel­come respite. The break is impor­tant for our fruit­ing plants as well. Although it may appear that our plants are doing noth­ing, that’s not really true. Many nec­es­sary phys­i­o­logic processes are going on inside the plant to pre­pare it for next year’s growth and har­vest. Here are a num­ber of things you can do to insure that your fruit gar­den enters win­ter in proper con­di­tion to with­stand the dor­mant sea­son and emerges primed for strong growth next spring:

  1.  Reduce irri­ga­tion water grad­u­ally. This will sig­nal the plant to start shut­ting down active growth and “harden” its tis­sue for pro­tec­tion against extended cold or freez­ing temperatures.
  2. Prune bram­bles if you haven’t already done so. Remove spent flor­i­canes and thin the remain­ing canes to the strongest ones. How many you leave will depend on what type of bram­ble you are growing.
  3. Mow ground cover around the base of your fruit trees and the edges of your gar­den to reduce habi­tat for over­win­ter­ing voles, mice, and rab­bits that may be inclined to feed on and dam­age plant trunks, branches, and roots. – see more on rodent pests com­ing Oct. 28
  4. Pro­tect the trunks of young fruit trees from South­west injury by paint­ing with white latex paint.
  5. Clean up fallen fruit and leaves. This will reduce over­win­ter­ing dis­ease innocu­lum and pest lar­vae. It will also make your fruit gar­den less entic­ing to rodents and deer seek­ing food.
  6. Make sure tree guards are in place for pro­tec­tion of young fruit trees. – see more on rodent pests com­ing Oct. 28
  7. Sort har­vested fruit; use the ripest, store the best for later use, and juice or freeze any dam­aged but use­able fruit
  8. Fin­ish gar­den prepa­ra­tion for any new spring plant­ing to come.
  9. Test your soil.  Where needed, apply lime, potash & phos­pho­rous fer­til­iz­ers that take a long time to break down in the soil. The win­ter mois­ture and snow melt will help per­co­late the avail­able nutri­ents to the root zone in time for spring growth. Do not apply more sol­u­ble fer­til­iz­ers such as nitro­gen until spring.
  10. Cut out any bro­ken branches that occurred as result of a heavy crop load. This will give the limb the oppor­tu­nity to form a clean scar and heal properly.
  11. Drain irri­ga­tion lines before freez­ing tem­per­a­tures arrive.
  12. Peach leaf curl spray can be applied after the tree is dor­mant and all the leaves have fallen. Alter­nately be pre­pared to apply a pre­ven­tive spray early in the spring before any green tis­sue emerges.
  13. Have pro­tec­tion ready for straw­ber­ries if you gar­den where win­ter winds or cold are severe. Wait until after a few hard freez­ers before putting down float­ing row cov­ers or straw mulch. This will insure that the plants are truly dormant.
  14. Add com­post once the plants are dor­mant. This will put slow release fer­til­izer close at hand when spring rains and warm tem­per­a­tures return.