Summer Pruning

Friday, August 18th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Fall vegetables can be planted now for a fall harvest of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chard and lettuce.
    • Pansies and snapdragons can be planted now to replace long, leggy annuals. They will give you color this fall, winter and next spring.
    • Cut off the flower stalks of foxgloves, lupine, and delphinium after they bloom and you will get a second wave of flowers.
    • Feed rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias with a “bloom” fertilizer to encourage flowers for next spring.
    • Mums are the beauties of the fall garden. Choose plants now in a wide variety of colors.

Summer Fruit Tree Pruning

For many years pruning of fruit trees has been a winter activity. Pruning books tell us to prune when the trees are dormant, usually in January or February. But there is a new understanding of how trees respond to pruning that makes summer pruning the best way to control the size of your trees.

Winter pruning stimulates new growth because in spring the food stored by the tree over the winter bursts forth in a flush of growth. Pruned branches will burst out from many dormant buds. This works well with roses, for example, because the flowers are borne on new growth. So proper winter pruning will give you a healthy plant full of flowers.

In summer, food is made by the leaves through photosynthesis and this food is taken down into the roots and main branches and stored for next year’s growth. So summer pruning does not usually result in new growth.

There are two main kinds of pruning cuts used to prune fruit trees: heading cuts and thinning cuts. A heading cut is made to the middle of a branch, usually just above a leaf or bud, leaving a stub or short branch. Heading cuts are used to improve the shape of the plant by refocusing growth in a different direction. Winter pruning involves a lot of heading cuts to the tree.

A thinning cut removes an entire branch down to where it connects to another branch. So thinning cuts reduce the bulk of the tree and result in minimal regrowth. This is the kind of pruning best used for summer pruning.

Summer pruning can be spread out over July and August. It’s a little tricky because it’s harder to see the branch structure, but most summer pruning is done for size control. An apple tree cut all summer to a height of 7 feet tall will only grow, flower and fruit at that height or less. So next summer it can be maintained at that height without sacrificing any of the current crop.

Summer pruning can also be used for thinning the tree. Thinning cuts can be used to remove rampant growth and to let more light in through the canopy. More light to the interior branches will result in more fruit on the tree. Always leave enough foliage to protect the trunk and main scaffold branches from sunburn.

Watch your trees carefully and remove the “weedy” growth of suckers and watersprouts  as soon as they appear. Suckers are rampant growth that comes from below the graft and watersprouts are vigorous, upright branches that appear along the main branches of the tree. Both take energy away from the healthy growth of the tree.

It is recommended that apricot and cherry trees be pruned only in the summer. They are quite susceptible to disease when pruned during cool, rainy weather.

August is the last month to do summer pruning, so check your trees this week and make thinning cuts as needed to keep your trees under control.

Disease-Resistant Fruits

Sunday, February 19th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Potatoes are available now for spring planting. Choose from red, white, yellow and blue varieties as well as the popular fingerlings.
    • Spray for peach leaf curl with copper spray. Peach and nectarine trees may suffer from this fungus disease without a protective spray.
    • Roses should be pruned now. After pruning, remove all old leaves on and around the bushes and spray plants with Neem oil to prevent early pest and disease problems.
    • Asparagus will provide you with delicious, low-priced spears for years to come if you plant them now from dormant crowns.
    •  Give someone you love a pretty red Cyclamen today.

Disease-Resistant Fruits

Wet spring weather is prime time for diseases of all kinds, which can make leaves unsightly and even damage flowers. But it is especially hard on fruit trees causing diseases that last into the summer and damage the fruit as well as the foliage.

Spraying is typically done through the springtime to inhibit disease spores, but an even more successful way is to plant disease-resistant varieties. This is particularly beneficial for apples, which are prone to scab and cedar-apple rust; pears, which are prone to fireblight; peaches, which are prone to peach leaf curl; and apricots, which are prone to brown rot.

One of the best apple varieties for disease resistance is ‘Liberty’. This dark red apple has yellowish flesh that is crisp, juicy and fine flavored. It is primarily a dessert apple and it makes a fine pinkish applesauce. It is not susceptible to scab and very resistant to other apple diseases.

Other apples that are resistant to scab are ‘Golden Russet’, with crisp, aromatic, creamy yellow flesh and excellent sweet flavor; and ‘York Imperial’, a crisp, juicy apple with semi-sweet flavor that is a good keeper. ‘Empire’, a sweet and juicy red apple, and ‘Spartan’, with pure white, crisp, juicy flesh, are resistant to both fireblight and scab. ‘Stayman Winesap’, a late red apple with a lively flavor, is resistant to fireblight. ‘Honeycrisp’, a sweet, crisp apple, has some resistance to scab.

Some years, when the weather is just right, we can have a bad problem with fireblight on pears. It is a good idea to plant at least one resistant variety. Look for ‘Harrow Delight‘, with fruit similar to ‘Bartlett’, and ‘Warren’, whose smooth flesh is juicy and buttery with superb flavor. ‘Magness’, with soft, juicy, sweet flesh, and ‘Moonglow’, a large fruit for fresh use or canning, are also fireblight resistant.

Asian pears, which have round, juicy, crisp-like-an-apple fruit, can also be attacked by fireblight. ‘20th Century’, with sweet, mild-flavored fruit, and ‘Shinko’, with sweet, flavorful fruit, are both resistant to fireblight.

Peach trees can be severely damaged by peach leaf curl. ‘Frost’ peach is a delicious, medium-sized yellow freestone that is very resistant. So is ‘Q-1-8’, a semi-freestone white peach that is sweet and juicy with a sprightly flavor, and ‘Indian Free’, a white peach with red streaks through the fruit. It is tart until fully ripe when it develops a rich, distinctive flavor.

Apricots can have trouble with brown rot, which causes fruit to rot on the tree forming mummies. It is a problem when we have moderate temperatures and moist weather during bloom. ‘Harcot’, which has medium to large fruit with a sweet, rich flavor, is resistant to this disease.

Your orchard will be easier to maintain if you choose disease-resistant varieties whenever you can.

Pruning Fruit Trees

Friday, January 27th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • It’s bare root season, which means you can save money on fruit trees and shade trees by planting them now. A wide selection is now available.
    • Onion plants can be set out now for early summer harvest. Choose your favorite varieties.
    • Blueberries are a delicious fruit that can be planted now from young plants. Give them a rich, acid bed prepared with lots of peat moss.
    • Spray fruit trees with a dormant oil spray after you prune them. Spray from the bottom up, including the undersides of limbs and the ground around the tree, to prevent early spring insect infestations.
    • FREE Fruit Tree Pruning Class this Sunday, January 29, from 10 AM to 3 PM. Meet at Mendocino County Museum, 400 E Commercial St, Willits, and look for the signs. Call 459-9009 for more information.

Pruning Fruit Trees

The main purpose of pruning a fruit tree is to create a tree with delicious high quality fruit at a height where you can pick it safely.

When fruit trees are young, 1-4 years old, the main object of pruning is to establish a well-formed framework of branches that will be capable of holding and bearing the fruit. This framework can take many forms from the traditional open-vase or central-leader systems to the newer spindle-bush system.

The traditional open-vase is an excellent form for most fruit trees and it is the easiest to do. Remember that as the tree grows, a given branch will always be the same distance from the ground: it does not grow up with the tree.

For a fruit tree to fruit properly, it needs 6-8 hours of sunlight a day. Proper pruning will allow sunlight to penetrate throughout the tree so that all the flowers, fruit spurs, and fruit get all the sun’s energy they need in order to grow properly and produce fruit.

In order to maintain a balance between fruiting wood on the tree and vegetative growth, which will become new fruiting wood in time, trees must be pruned moderately, avoiding large swings of growth brought about by heavy pruning. This will also help the trees bear regular crops every year, especially on trees that tend to bear heavily one year and lightly the next.

Proper pruning also distributes the fruit evenly throughout the tree. And it creates better air circulation, which helps prevent certain diseases.

The two basic pruning cuts are a heading cut, which removes part of a branch, and a thinning cut, which removes a branch all the way back to where it meets another branch. We use these two types of pruning cuts at different times to achieve our pruning goals. Height control on fruit trees is best done with summer pruning, while winter pruning causes lush regrowth, especially in the top of your tree.

Sometimes a large, old, neglected fruit tree must be pruned in order to bring its height down to a more manageable level and to improve its fruit quality. This takes careful work over 2-3 years.

Pruning should always include the removal of dead, diseased and broken branches, cutting out unwanted growth like water sprouts, suckers, and crossing or rubbing branches, and improving the structure of the tree by removing narrow or weak branch attachments.

Learn where the fruit is produced on your trees so that you can prune your trees properly and not prune off the fruiting wood.

Proper pruning will make for a strong, healthy tree that will give you bushels of fruit for years to come. There is a lot to know about pruning, so take a pruning class, read books and observe carefully the results of your own pruning on your trees. Have fun and enjoy the fruits of your labor.