What tasks should I be doing now in my orchard?



Although we may plan our lives by the calendar, Mother Nature has her own timing. Recent warm weather has caused fruit trees to bloom a little early this year. And despite the recent snow and cold, with any luck, a late freeze won’t put a damper on them. Gardeners should start planning now for orchard tasks. Consider these tips.

Pull out the pruning sheers. Although it is best to prune before trees begin to bloom and grow, it is still not too late. Most fruit trees can be pruned into May, if necessary. However, once trees leaf out and bloom, it becomes harder to see where to cut. Many people are afraid of pruning. Don’t be. The more you do it, the better you’ll get, and pruning normally does not kill a tree. The only pruning cut that does real damage is the one right at the base of the tree. When pruning, remember that you are not trying to stop growth, you are merely directing it. With this in mind, each time you make a cut, take a look to see where the tree will grow. Cut back to laterals and never leave a long stub.

Apply a dormant oil spray. This preventative spray smothers soft-bodied insects that can damage the tree. It controls scale, mites and aphids. A delayed dormant spray works best and needs to be applied right before the tree flowers or leafs out. Put it on just as a little tip of color appears on the buds, whether it is green leaves or flower petals poking out. It is important to apply it before either is completely extended or the oil spray will cause damage. The principle behind a dormant oil spray is to suffocate insects as they emerge in the spring. If applied too early, it may be gone or diluted by the time the insects come out. Dormant oil will not control codling moths, but it can reduce aphids and mites.

Clean weeds and other debris from the base of the tree. This may include removing grass if the tree is growing in the lawn. Remove all grass and other plant materials at least 2 feet away from the base of the tree (3 feet if possible). This helps prevent lawn mowers and weed eaters from damaging the tree and helps keep the crown dry. Protecting the tree’s base also helps the tree produce large, flavorful fruit.

Prepare for frost. If Mother Nature decides to give us a late frost, there isn’t much you can do to protect the fruit and flowers. If temperatures drop below about 25 F, enjoy the fireplace, have a cup of hot chocolate and get used to calling the apple tree a shade tree this year. However, a temperature of 29 F or above will only thin the tree a little, which might help reduce your work later on. Some gardeners have placed lights on the tree to protect the fruit and flowers from a late frost. Others place a heater under the tree and throw a sheet over the top to keep it warm. This works if the temperature is not too cold. It also gets you some strange looks from the neighbors.

Posted on 1 Apr 2005

Jerry Goodspeed
County Director, Horticulture Agent, Weber County

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