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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Protect the trunks of young fruit trees from Southwest injury by painting with white latex paint.
- 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.
- Make sure tree guards are in place for protection of young fruit trees. – see more on rodent pests coming Oct. 28
- Sort harvested fruit; use the ripest, store the best for later use, and juice or freeze any damaged but useable fruit
- Finish garden preparation for any new spring planting to come.
- 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.
- 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.
- Drain irrigation lines before freezing temperatures arrive.
- 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.
- 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.
- Add compost once the plants are dormant. This will put slow release fertilizer close at hand when spring rains and warm temperatures return.