When the Autumn weather hits, it’s time to start prepping your plants and trees for the cold, harsh Winter months. If you want lush, delicious fruit next spring and summer, then you need to put a little bit of extra effort in preparing your fruit trees to withstand Winter and come out the other side healthy and thriving.
Here are a handful of basic tasks to complete:
Timing Is Everything
Different parts of the country have different growing seasons. If you live in the central north, you may need to prep your trees sooner than if you live down south. Most people think Autumn is the perfect time to prune all trees, but this isn’t the case with fruit trees. Your local master gardening club can help with the optimal timing, but it’s best to wait for late Winter to arrive and branches to be in a dormant state.
Prune Dead Branches
Getting rid of dead and diseased branches keeps your trees healthy by putting the tree’s resources into the living limbs just before that Spring burst of growth. Pruning encourages fruit production, reduces infestations from pests and can even prevent tree disease. You want to prune while the tree is in a dormant stage, which is late Winter for most trees. Experts recommend waiting until February or even early March to remove dead branches because the tree’s wounds will heal more quickly with Spring right around the corner.
In addition to pruning away dead and diseased branches, use pruning to shape your tree. When you prune, remove any debris residing at the base of the tree as well. Removing junk helps prevent disease and makes for a tidy looking garden.
Add Trunk Guards
Young fruit trees, in particular, are susceptible to sun scald. Protect them by placing sun guards on the trunks before the first weather cools to below freezing. The sun reflecting up off the snow (or warm Winter days) heats the trunks and when the temperatures drop at night, the wood contracts. Expanding and contracting trunks result in peeling and cracking. A peeling, cracking trunk makes for a weaker tree.
Trunk guards also protect your trees from rodents in the area. You won’t have to worry about rabbits nibbling at your tree bark over the winter if you add a plastic guard and wrap the bottom of your fruit trees.
Mulch With The Right Materials
You might be wondering if it is okay to mulch your fruit trees. Protect fruit tree roots in the winter, but be cautious about what type of materials you use for mulch. You want something that decomposes slowly to protect precious resources through the dormancy period. Materials that work well include mulch made from hardwood, straw or a mix of gravel and mulch.
Water your trees well in October, so the tree stores up nutrients and moisture in its roots to help it through the Winter dormancy period.
Get Rid Of Pests
Freezing temperatures do their magic to rid your garden of many pests, but some overwinter and take up residence in your fruit trees. Of real concern are aphids, mites and moth grubs. These pests hide in a tree’s bark and winter there. As soon as the weather warms, they attack your tree. In the middle of Winter, before the temperatures warm, is the best time to spray your trees with an all natural oil-based treatment (you’ll be eating fruit from the tree, so never use a harsh pesticide). Repeat the process in late Winter. You can also place glue bands around the base of the tree to keep pests from crawling up the tree and wintering there in the first place.
Worth The Effort
Fruit trees take a lot of special care and effort, but growing your own apples or biting into that first Summer peach is worth all the time involved. Put a little extra work into prepping your trees for Winter and throughout the Winter and your reward will be healthy fruit trees that give you a bounty of delicious food.
Emily is a freelance writer, covering conservation and sustainability. You can read her blog, Conservation Folks, for more of her work.