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Summer perennial maintenance

Tip-pruned blackberries

As you can see, we're working on getting our perennials back in good order this month.  The brambles quickly expand out of their allotted rows if we're not careful, but a bit of tip-pruning and tying up sets them straight.  I'm actually in awe of the effects of tip-pruning since the blackberry canes I snipped last year have turned into compact shrubs nearly solid with berries --- I'll try to remember to take another photo in a couple of weeks when the berries are ripe so you can get a better idea of what the plants look like.

Working with our trees in the summer still gives me fits, though.  The Pruning Book didn't present much information about summer pruning, and I haven't found many tips on the topic in The Holistic Orchard either.  (I've only poked through the index of the latter, though, not read the book from cover to cover.  I can tell it's an eye-opening book, but haven't had the brain power to settle in for a solid read this week.)

Twig damageOne thing I'm sure of --- I should prune out diseased or insect-ridden wood whenever I see it.  The dead peach twig tips from oriental fruit moth are easy to distinguish, but I got stuck on what to do with them after cutting.  I'm hoping that if I drop the twigs to the ground and cover them up with a healthy dose of wood chip mulch, the larvae inside will perish due to lack of nutrition.  I may regret taking this lazy way out, though.

Meanwhile, I'm second-guessing my diagnosis of fireblight.  Although the symptoms looked right on the pears and apples, I saw identical bark lesions on the peaches and noticed dead twigs and leaves that looked the same on the blueberries.  Since fireblight isn't supposed to hit those other species, I'm a bit stumped.  Could the issue be as simple as frost damage after all?  But if so, why did it spread?

Summer pruned peach

Then there are watersprouts.  I learned from The Pruning Book that it's best to yank out the entire watersprout, getting the base so that it doesn't regrow.  I couldn't seem to develop the knack for ripping the twigs without stripping the bark on the branches left behind, though, so I simply pruned watersprouts off as close as I could.  I do feel better about this method than about my previous crazy technique of cutting the watersprouts off a few inches above the branch --- that type of heading cut just makes one big watersprout turn into five small watersprouts. 

Developing figStill, my peach trees look awfully naked with their tops cut off.  I'm only about 45% sure I'm doing the right thing there, so please do your own research before following suit.  A few more years of trial and error may be necessary to figure out the best methods of summer pruning peaches.

(P.S.  Look!  It's the year of the first homegrown figs on our farm!  Assuming nothing happens to the cute little fruits before they ripen, that is.)

Our chicken waterer takes the guess-work out of keeping healthy chickens.


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Hi - we had believed our peach tree had fireblight and lost an entire season's peaches. We almost cut her down, but decided to spray her with organic antifungal and treat the trunk lesions with white vinegar. We were very happy to have beautiful peaches last year - right up to a day or two before harvest - then saw the peaches turn to brown sunken spotted hardballs overnight - the cause? Stink Bugs!! The local extension looked at the tree and told us the stink bugs could have caused the trunk lesions as well.

Good luck with your figs! This is our third year and nothing can compare to fresh figs from your own trees :) Are you allowing them to tree and wrapping in winter, or cutting back to bush each year? We were wrapping, but had to move the figs and decided to cut them back and mulch heavily for winter when we did. We have two beautiful fig bushes, but no figs just yet.

Comment by DharmaDogs Fri Jun 22 08:47:41 2012
My late uncle grew figs for years and had tons fruit from them. In late fall/early winter he used to bend down the figs and cover with a black plastic and cover with mulch during the winter. He just pruned in early spring.
Comment by Marco Fri Jun 22 10:05:31 2012
What about just burning the dead peach twigs? Probably about the same amount of effort as burying them and you get to have fun burning something, too. ;)
Comment by mitsy Fri Jun 22 11:50:45 2012

Do you tip prune once they reach the trellis wire height or do you prune again after that? This is the first year I tip-pruned at the higher trellis wire height, but the laterals are now 6-7feet long and arching to the ground as well.

I'm starting to come to the realization that I didn't space my plants far enough apart either.

Comment by Brian Fri Jun 22 12:24:12 2012
Is it possible that a lot of the tree branch death is due to cicadas? When we had our year of the cicada a couple years back the egg laying and resulting larvae tip killed basically all the branches of our maples, blueberries, birches and a variety of other trees.
Comment by Rebecca Fri Jun 22 14:19:48 2012

DharmaDogs --- It sounds like there may be a lookalike disease for peaches? To the best of my researching ability, fireblight doesn't hit them.

I'm so sorry you had trouble with your tree! Peaches do seem to be very hard to grow organically....

We let the figs grow as tall as they get (really only a shrub so far) and then wrap leaves around them for the winter. That only protects as far as the leaves go up, though, so anything over about three or four feet gets nipped back.

Marco --- That sounds a bit like what we're doing, but more laborious. I figure it's okay if the fig stay a bush, so I don't bother bending it down. :-)

Mitsy --- I always find it a lot more effort to burn things than you would think. We don't have an outside fire pit, so I'd have to make one, and then dry the twigs (making sure the insects didn't make their way out in the meantime). Plus, I'd have to do what I did last year, which was a pain --- prune into two locations, with the healthy wood dropping to the ground under the tree and the unhealthy wood going in a container. (That year, I just filled the bucket with water to drown the larvae, and presumably it worked. I did forget about the water until it turned to goop, though....)

Brian --- I wait to pinch off the tips until they're trellis height. If I remember, I plan to pinch back the side shoots of the black raspberries once they get a foot or so long to promote further branching, but I'm okay with just pruning those side branches in the winter if I forget. (That's what I did last year, and it worked well.)

Rebecca --- You're the grand prize winner!!! I never would have thought of that, but you're totally right --- cicadas do lay their eggs in twigs and the damage looks identical to what I'm seeing. I wonder if I don't have fireblight at all, and the cicada damage just killed the leaves on those twigs?

Comment by anna Fri Jun 22 18:12:03 2012

I have always had a lot of problems with sun damage on my fruit trees. Peaches, and my apples get hit the worst, but blueberries and the figs get burnt leafs too. I dont know if you have problems with the sun, but its something to look at.

Comment by Fl Fri Jun 22 21:53:57 2012
Fl --- Good hypothesis, and I see that in books all the time, but never seem to notice it on the ground. Sun damage usually happens in the winter when plants are leafless, I believe, and our damage never seems to appear then.
Comment by anna Sat Jun 23 12:53:19 2012

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