FRUIT TREE WINTER CARE

Winter is the perfect time to get into the garden and tend to your fruit trees to achieve the best possible crops over the warmer months!

Maintenance

No matter what fruit trees you are growing it’s important to do some basic jobs that will keep your trees healthy and happy. 
 
1. 
The soil

It is important to remove weeds and lightly loosen up the soil to remove any larvae that may be nesting in the surface of the soil. It also helps to aerate the soil to discourage soil borne diseases and fungi. Do this gently so as not to disturb any surface roots. A layer of mulch at this stage will suppress weeds, add organic matter and support the microorganisms in the soil. 

2. Mulching

Applying a layer of mulch is important for retaining moisture in the soil over summer and helps to insulate the soil from the searing summer heat. Keep mulch away from the trunks to avoid encouraging fungal attack during wet weather. 

3. Orchard Hygiene

Clean up dropped and rotting fruit and any fallen leaves which may be harbouring disease. This reduces the chances of any leaf or fruit borne pests/diseases reinfecting the plant during the next growing season. It also removes the habitat for pests that like to over-winter in leaf litter. 

4. Fertilise

Compost, especially homemade, can be placed around your fruit trees to give them the best possible start for the spring. Late winter/early spring is the time to think about giving your fruit trees a feed. As a general fertiliser sprinkle down some blood and bone. Try to avoid applying a fertiliser that is very high in nitrogen, as this will encourage too much vegetative growth. Applying some sulphate of potash will encourage your tree to flower and fruit better.

Citrus trees will naturally look sad over winter with their leaves yellowing somewhat; this is normal and will correct itself when the weather warms up. An application of a seaweed solution can help your trees immensely; this improves their immune system making them more resistant to fungal disease, drought and frost and it also helps out the microorganism in the soil. 

5. Protecting Frost Sensitive Trees

Some trees such as citrus and avocados and young saplings need to be protected from frost. If you live in a frosty area you can keep your trees alive by covering them with shade cloth or Hessian to increase the thawing time, and placing a barrier around them to protect them from cold winds. Regular applications of seaweed spray will help with their resistance. 

6. Re-potting root bound shrubs

Any trees that are grown in pots can be inspected to see if their roots are too restricted or have gone through the bottom of the pot. If necessary re-pot into a slightly larger pot with a good quality potting mix.

Pest/Disease control

There are a multitude of pests and diseases that can affect your trees, investing in a good book will save you time and possible heartbreak. Some of the most common problems are dealt with below. 

A good way to help control unwanted pests in the garden is to encourage biodiversity. Plant a range of beneficial insect attracting plants near your trees. These not only encourage good bugs into the garden but also encourage bees to pollinate your crop! 

Beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewings and hoverflies can now be sourced and purchased online to build up numbers quickly. Attracting small birds into your garden will also help; they love to feed on pesky bugs! Companion planting is another good way to lower the incidence of pest and disease problems. 

If applying a spray use safety equipment, even if what you are using is “natural”- it’s still possible to have a reaction to one of the ingredients. 

If leaf curl or bacterial canker is a problem you will need to spray your tree before bud burst (end of July/start August) with a copper based spray such as Bordeaux and follow up with another spray 2 weeks later. As an alternative, you can try a spray of cold chamomile tea every week for three weeks and remove all affected leaves. 

On your evergreen fruit trees, inspect leaves for pests and diseases such as small eggs or hard scales. These can be rubbed off by hand if only a few or sprayed with white oil or pyrethrum if the infestation is too large. This is very effective for many bugs such as citrus bug (bronze-orange bug), caterpillars, aphids etc. 

Codling moth can be managed by wrapping Hessian or corrugated cardboard (10cm wide) around your tree’s trunk and then regularly removing the hiding bugs. If you know you have a problem with these bugs, hang jars of port topped with oil in your tree from the beginning of spring (you don’t need to use lots of port) and regularly inspect the developing apples for holes (discard these). 

Diatomaceous Earth is natural and non-toxic and is great to have on hand to deal with many pest problems such as pear and cherry slug, harlequin beetles and slugs. Best used locally and directly on the pests so as not to get rid of beneficial insects. 

Once fruit has begun to form you may need to net your trees to prevent the birds and other wildlife from stealing your crop!

Natural Pest/Disease Control Recipes

White Oil – Excellent for a range of insects. Mix 1 cup of vegetable oil with ¼ cup of dishwashing liquid and mix well. Dilute as needed -1 tablespoon in 1 litre of water. Spray. Alternatively, you can use half rhubarb tea (below) and half water instead of the plain water for added oomph. 

Rhubarb Tea - A potent insecticide. Chop 150g of leaves into a large pan and cover with 500ml of water. Boil for approximately half an hour, strain. 

Bordeaux – Excellent for fruit tree diseases such as leaf curl and rots. Mix 5g of builders lime in 250ml of water. Then mix separately 5g of copper sulphate in 250ml of water. Making sure the lime mix is well-dispersed pour it into the copper mix. Use with 2 days. 
 
With a bit of attention and care now for your fruit trees, you will be more than compensated in the warmer months with fruit trees that are healthy, shapely and producing plenty of fruit. Preventative measures taken over winter will help avoid many issues that can result in problems that can be difficult to tackle if left until spring and summer. 
 
Creating a garden full of biodiversity, adding compost and mulch and fertilising at the right time, all help to produce beautiful crops of organic, homegrown produce.

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