The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Annual chores for fruit trees

Apple kill mulch"I was wondering if there is something you do to your fruit trees each year to help them grow. I have just started doing that espalier thing for my trees. It is their first year, I put in aged horse manure and mulch around each tree. But I was wondering what type of annual chores your do for your trees."
--- John

I'm a very hands-on gardener, so even our fruit trees (the lowest -maintenance parts of our garden) get a lot of care scattered throughout the year.  It starts with pruning and feeding each tree in late winter, the latter generally being a topdressing of horse manure scattered very lightly underneath the canopy.  In a perfect world, I would mulch each tree at the same time I fertilize it, then keep topping up the mulch as needed throughout the year, but in reality our older trees tend to have small weeds grow up underneath by summer, then Mark cuts the growth back a couple of times with a weedeater.  If I have extra cardboard, I may lay down a kill mulch instead, which is particularly handy around younger trees who can't stand much competition.

Training a peach treeYounger trees also get more structural attention in the summer when I prune a second time (removing watersprouts) and train the limbs into shape.  At the moment, I'm training peaches to the open center system (which I love) and apples to the central-leader system (which I'm not as sure about yet).  After they start fruiting, most trees will begin to maintain their shape on their own and will need less summer pruning and training, but the warm-weather attention is very handy with young trees since it keeps them on track to produce the growth you really want while they're small.

Culled peachSpeaking of fruit, I start paying attention to the developing fruits as soon as the petals drop.  I worry myself sick about late frosts (although I've yet to come up with any preventative that works there), then after the last freeze, I thin the tiny fruits hard.  I think thinning is one of the most-overlooked aspects of getting high-quality fruit in the backyard --- don't skip it!  I also perform some pest management, which mostly consists of removing troubled fruits and twigs.

Peaches ripening insideFinally, I pick and pick and pick!  I've learned that fruits on the same tree don't ripen all at once, and I get a much better harvest if I pluck early fruits as soon as they start to develop infection, then keep picking problematic or particularly ripe fruits as the season proceeds.  We gorge on fruits, dry them, then give extras away or experiment with other preservation techniques.

Sweet potato mulchThat's the bare bones of our fruit-tree management schedule, but, of course, I'm always experimenting with new techniques.  For example, this summer, I'm trying out sweet potatoes planted beyond the tree canopies then used as a living, noncompetitive groundcover under the trees.  Last winter, I started experimenting with grafting new varieties onto medium-sized pear trees, and next year my dwarfing apple rootstock will be big enough to stool and propagate to extend our high-density planting.  But that's all advanced tree husbandry --- the techniques mentioned previously should be enough to get you off to a very good start.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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What a great post Anna. Very useful. Thanks!
Comment by Karen Wed Sep 4 07:30:52 2013

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