5 Fast and Easy Ways to Get Your Fruit Trees Ready for Winter
Winter is officially here – thanks to the winter solstice on Wednesday – and fruit trees, like other deciduous plants, are finally dormant. Even though the winter means colder temperatures and less outside work, the fruit trees in your yard, garden, or orchard will benefit from a few simple things that can be done during the winter. These activities will help the fruit trees grow and produce during the rest of the year.
- Clean up fallen fruit, leaves, and branches from around the base of the trees.
Fallen fruit, twigs, and leaves can harbor fungal spores or even insect eggs. These diseases and pest will hang out in fallen fruit or leaves over winter, and then back full force once the weather warms up in spring. By removing the overwintering location for these pests and diseases, you help break their life cycle at that particular location, reducing the instances of disease/pest recurrence.
Remove the fallen leaves/fruit/twigs by raking them from beneath the tree(s) and either bagging them for off site removal or burning them someplace on your property.
2. Mow around the base of the trees.
After the growing season, if you’re like me, there are a few (maybe more than a few?) weeds that have grown up around the base of the trees. And over winter, other weeds may appear. After the fallen fruit tree debris is removed, mow around the base of the trees, being careful to avoid injuring the tree with the mower. If the trees are smaller, the weeds can be removed by hand or with a gardening hoe.
3) Apply a layer of mulch around the trees.
After the fallen debris and weeds have been removed from beneath the fruit trees, apply a layer of mulch around the base of each tree, leaving a space of 2 inches or so from base of the tree. The mulch can be any dried, plant-based substance: compost, dried leaves, hay or straw, dried grass clippings, or pine needles. The layer of mulch can be 3-4” deep when it’s applied. The mulch will help the soil in many ways: it will provide a stable soil temperature, micronutrients, and enhance the environment for beneficial microorganisms.
4) Apply dormant oil.
Dormant oil is the generic (and somewhat antiquated) name for certain horticultural oils applied to trees and other plants while they are dormant. The winter is the time to apply dormant oil to fruit trees; it’s best not to apply horticultural oils to fruit trees after the buds break in spring. Dormant oil is an excellent option for gardeners who plan on growing fruit trees organically. Even if the trees are going to be grown organically, dormant oil reduces the insect pest population in the spring by smothering the overwintering immature stages of certain insects. Dormant oil can be purchased online or a most home improvement stores.
5) Prune trees at the correct time.
There’s a right time to prune fruit trees for every location under heaven; this time varies depending on how cold it gets for during the winter. In the southern U.S., prune fruit trees during the winter, preferably in January or early February. In the northern half of the U.S., prune in early spring, while the leaves are still off the trees and before the buds sprout. Apples, cherries, and pears should be pruned with a strong central leader; plums, peaches, and nectarines should be pruned with an open center, kind of like a bowl. Fig trees don’t need pruning, except to remove dead or diseased limbs. For an excellent tutorial on easy pruning, check out this page from Modern Farmer: http://modernfarmer.com/2015/02/right-cut/
Pruning gives you the opportunity to remove dead or diseased branches from the trees; take these off site for disposal or burn them.
Now comes the hardest part of fruit tree care in the winter….waiting for the trees to bloom in spring! 🙂