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By Roger Boddaert
Special to Village News 

Caring for fruit trees this winter


Last updated 2/2/2020 at 2:48pm

Small saws are good for pruning medium sized branches.

Midwinter in Southern California is the time of year when gardeners should be taking care of their fruit trees to enjoy summer fruit for their table.

With such diverse climatic zones in California, the vast array of fruit trees can produce an abundant amount of fruit for months on end with proper planning.

But in order to obtain the fruit, there are some stewardship items to take into consideration, and one of them is winter pruning.

The first question is, do I have the right variety with the right chill hours for my area?

Trees are bred to grow in assorted climates with the proper amount of chilling winter hours to set fruit. Chill hours are based on temperatures that stay below 45 degrees Fahrenheit during the trees' dormant period.

So, understanding this key feature in producing fruits, you're on your way to enjoying plums, peaches, apples, nectarines, apricot, pears, pomegranates and more.

Maddock Nursery in Fallbrook has a large assortment of bare-root trees now with the proper chill hours for all the climatic zones in Southern California.

Backyard orchard culture begins with summer pruning. Keeping trees in a manageable size is important to consider, and proper pruning can obtain that criteria.

There are lots of styles, methods and techniques of summer pruning, but it is important to start this program for good fruit production.

Tree height is the ultimate decision of the pruner. Wherever there are vigorous shoots above the chosen height, cut back or remove them. Sucker growth below the grafted main trunk should be removed.

When limbs cross one another, one or both should be eliminated. You want to stop branches from rubbing against one another, which could lead to an open point of entre for bugs or the start of a fungal disease.

When removing large limbs, first saw partway through the limb on the underside ahead of your intended cut. Do this step so you won't tear the trunk as it comes off. Also, don't make the final cut flush to the main trunk and be sure to leave a collar or short stub. This allows the cambium tissue or healing growth to seal itself.

You want to prune to allow a certain amount of sunlight to enter the overall canopy for healthy growth. But it is important not to over prune, allowing too much summer sun that might cause sunburn or sun-scalding to the interior branch structure.

To develop an espalier, fan or other two-dimensional forms, simply remove everything that doesn't grow flat. Selectively thin and train what's left to space the fruiting wood. The art of espalier is a way to utilize a flat fence or wall plane to be very attractive and creative in appearance.

I have created walkway fruiting tunnels by espaliering fruit trees and trained them up and over a path. So, you are in an edible tunnel as you stroll and harvest your summer fruit, plus it's something different for any landscape setting.

There are many sizes of fruit trees with various heights, but you have the option to keep the size of the tree in proper scale and size for your harvesting by height reduction.

When planting bare-root trees, you want to find an open, airy location for good solar radiation for the tree's overall health.

You want to make sure you have the right variety for the proper chilling hours in your area.

Drainage is most important so the planting hole should drain well, for no fruit tree likes its root system submerged in a bowl of water.

Sometimes it is wise to stake the newly planted tree to give it a crutch for its few juvenile years to get it straight and sturdy, using tape to secure it to the tree stake. Place the stake on the north side of the trunk. I prefer 2-inch lodgepole stakes pounded into the soil to be sturdy and never use wire of any sort to tie the tree to the stake. The wire will cut into the trunk and cause multiple problems.

When planting new trees, never plant below the grafted portion of the tree, always keeping the graft high above the soil level.

When I set new fruit trees out, I mix an organic starter fertilizer with the back-fill soil at the bottom of the planting hole, which will boost the tree's vigor and growth.

After the tree is set into its new home, I create an earthen berm around the tree to capture rainwater and irrigation water to aid in the tree health. This berm will have to be increased as the tree grows larger to be effective and do its job.

Make sure you get acquainted with your soil and understand its drainage and nutritional value. A soil test performed by a soil laboratory can take the guessing out of what you have to work with. San Diego Soil Lab can do that for you.

The watering of fruit trees is very important in getting them established and on their way for years of productive fruit.

I use a tensiometer which can tell you the existing amount of moisture in the soils from dry, moist to wet, and that takes away the guessing of when and how much to water depending on your soils, location, exposure, wind and sun exposure.

After the trees are planted with proper baby fertilizer to start, proper staking and berming, you'll want to apply some good clean organic mulch into the bermed area. And make sure no mulch is up against the trunk of the tree as this can lead to fungal disease in the tree.

An application of mulch can suppress weeds, aid in moisture retention and mycorrhizal fungi or good fungus as it becomes available to the newly developed root hairs and reduce summer soil heat by 10-20 degrees.

Regularly pruned trees are much more apt to produce quality fruit. Fruiting buds tend to form on limbs that have adequate air circulation and light infiltration which is your goal when pruning

So, there are many horticultural procedures when planting new fruit trees or maintaining older existing trees to consider. I use dormant horticultural oil against overwintering bugs and a fungicide for peach leaf curl, and this is the time of year to apply it.

To gain information and more in-depth knowledge, there is a little paperback book titled "How to Prune Fruit Trees," which is in its 25th edition. It is a handy little pruning book to have in your garden shed and use out in your landscape setting.

The book was originally written by Sanford Martin back in 1944 and has been a little homeowner pruning booklet of valuable information referred to over the years. Recently it has been expanded by Ken Andersen of Walter Andersen's nursery, and I highly suggest it as a fabulous guide for fruit trees, roses, berries, citrus, watering and mulching, backyard orchards and pruning tools.

I had the great fortune back in the early 60s to sit on the board of directors of the Southern California Horticultural Society with Sanford and learned so much from the knowledge man, thanks Sanford.

All types of hand pruning shears will help throughout your garden pruning.

We must understand that food and food production come from long distances and we do not know exactly how it is grown.

This is why I promote and suggest growing your own fruit trees, veggies and herbs in a healthy, organic way to ensure no GMO, pesticides or herbicides are sprayed on foods that we eat.

Start your own community food co-op on your street and share the bounty with one another, for there is no reason that 50% of food produced in this country is wasted. Isn't that sad when whole areas of the world have malnutrition and children are dying from starvation?

Roger Boddaert, the Tree Man of Fallbrook and Maker of Natural Gardens, can be reached for his professional services at (760) 728-4297 to help and aid in your natural gardening experiences.


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