Prune, Spray, and Protect for Better Fruit

Did you kick yourself last August as you sadly looked at wormy apples and other misshapen fruit?  Did you swear that you would take better care of your fruit trees this year?  If so, early spring is the time to prevent calamitous fruit.

Pruning and spraying may sound like complicated operations best left to experts, but this isn’t true unless your fruit trees have been neglected for several years. Approach your spring tree maintenance step-by-step and it will be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, especially since the outcome will be more delicious fruit than you can get at the supermarket.

Choose a sunny, non-windy day when the temperature is above 50 degrees and not expected to dip to freezing that night.  First prune, then spray, then protect, and your trees will reward you.

Prune to shape fruit trees and open them to sunlight

What you need: good sharp scissors-type hand pruners to cut branches up to ¾ inches (they cut cleaner than the anvil type) and lopping shears for branches up to two inches after you get into the spirit. Rubbing alcohol will sterilize your tools between cuts, yours and the trees, to prevent sharing diseases. After all, pruning is a type if surgery. Think of it that way and you’ll better protect your trees and yourself. (Remember to wear gloves.)

First look over each tree and picture what you want to accomplish and how it will look when you’re done. Prune out dead, diseased, weak, and injured branches and those that crowd their neighbors, to make your trees healthier, more attractive, and more productive. To control height and width shorten leaders and branches to a bud heading in the right direction. To open the interior to sunlight and air circulation thin inward heading branches back to the trunk just beyond their “collars,”(the swelling next to the trunk). Peaches and nectarines bear on the previous year’s wood, so prune them heavily or the fruit will appear farther and farther from the trunk.

Remove suckers coming up from the roots of grafted trees, or you’ll get a generation of mongrels. Experts differ on whether to coat cuts with a wound dressing, so I don’t.

If rabbits are a problem leave tender prunings of healthy wood on the ground, because these hungry critters will eat them before attacking bark.  After active growth starts, gather up the prunings and haul them away.

You won’t become a pruning expert overnight, but if you don’t get carried away, you can’t help but improve your fruit trees and their fruit.

Spray to smother pests that ruin fruit

What you need “superior oil” (ask for it at a nursery or hardware store,) and a sprayer to put it in. Thank goodness the heavy metal sprayers are a thing of the past. My light battery-operated one-gallon sprayer is a joy to use since it does the job swiftly and easily.

Oil spraying will kill scale and over-wintering eggs of such pests as red spider mites, aphids, whiteflies, and mealybugs. It actually kills any pest if is thoroughly covered with oil.

The old-fashioned dormant sprays that contained lime/sulfur would stain paint or anything else it touched, and leave you smelling as if you’d blundered into a nest of very old eggs.  Also, if you didn’t spray before leaves appeared, the lime-sulfur compound would burn them. The new superior oil spray is organic, so it doesn’t pollute your world. Since it doesn’t damage foliage, it can be used at any time.

Superior oil is also harmless to people and wildlife because it smothers pests instead of poisoning them. They don’t develop resistance to the oil, and it is harmless to beneficial insects after it dries. 

Spray until the tree is thoroughly saturated and dripping, early enough in the day so the bark will dry before dark.  Afterward, clean the sprayer tank with hot soapy water and rinse it. If you’re a completely organic gardener who doesn’t mind less-than-perfect fruit, you’re finished with spraying. Otherwise you can follow your good start with a general-purpose orchard spray schedule beginning after the flower petals drop and continuing every couple of weeks into early summer. Buying fruit trees with built in resistance cuts down on the necessity to spray them.

Protect your fruit trees from sunscald (No, that isn't sunburn!)

What you need: tree wrap or white latex paint and a paintbrush.

Wrap or paint your trees from the ground up to the bottom branches. This protects them from splits in the bark caused when sun has heated the trunk then temperatures have fallen disastrously at night. Tree wrap protects from chewing critters and is easier to apply, but I like the look of the pristine white paint that sets off my trees so elegantly.

After you’ve pruned, sprayed, and protected your fruit trees, you deserve to feel very proud of yourself. Nothing beats tree-ripened fruit you’ve grown yourself, and the effort you’ve put in will pay big dividends this summer when you’re enjoying better fruit from your well-tended trees.

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