Honeychick Homestead

Homestead, Health, and Happiness

Fruit Tree Q&A with Orchard Keepers

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I’m very thankful for the free Q&A sessions that are offered by the garden centers in my area! It’s greatly appreciated by this beginner! If you’re just beginning as well, contact with your local garden center about what workshops they offer.

Today, Trevor and I attended a Fruit Tree Q&A at The Garden Company. Matthew Sutton of Orchard Keepers was the speaker. Orchard Keepers is a local company that provides orchard management, and support. They only use organic methods, so I was happy to get some advice from them about caring for our trees.  I found the Q&A very helpful, so I decided to share it.

WARNING, this is a long post!

Matthew suggests using UC Davis’s Natural Enemies Gallery to help identify pests. He said it helps us find out the beet approach on how to control them.

The pest most people were interested in controlling was the codling moth, that affects apple and pear trees. Here were his suggestions:

  • Cooper is effective for fungus during dormant stage.
  • An organic spray called CID-X spray however it’s not his first choice because it’s expensive.  If we did use it, it’s best to spray during a 7-10 day window, in the 2nd-3rd week in June.
  • Pheromone wraps are good for large orchards.
  • Wing traps may work but he thinks this option actually can attract more moths. It’s best to hang them last week of March or first week of April.
  • Prevention is the best option, and the one he prefers. He suggests removing apples with worm holes immediately, and pick up any on ground. If the problem is severe, he suggests removing all fruit at marble size. Although we miss a season without apples, it stops the lifecycle of the moth. He said our warm and dry winter may initiate early mating for moths, and it may keep them from reproducing because without leaves for the female there is no place to lay her eggs.

He mentioned that peaches and apricots get brown rot from moisture. He recommends removing all remaining fruit from the tree after picking, and thinning the fruit after pit ripening is helpful. When the trees are blooming, monitor blossoms for infection Infected blossoms turn brown. Remove infected blossoms immediately, and cut the limb, if necessary, to avoid canker.

Pruning and thinning were other subjects many of the attendees were interested in learning about. A majority of the Q&A was about pruning. Here’s highlights of what Matthew recommends.

  • Sunlight is driving force of production, and the goal is to let as much light in as possible.
  • When planting a new tree, make sure to get a tree that’s at least a year old.
  • When thinning or removing branches cut at angle near the branch collar. The collar is the concentric rings found near the base of the branch. Making the cuts this way helps promote healing of the pruning cut, and discourages the growth of rot and disease. If you don’t want a branch, remove it.
  • Heading cuts are used if you want the tree to grow less. The less you cut the less it will grow, and the more you cut, the more it will grow. The direction matters. Cut towards outside so more sun comes in and stimulates growth
  • When selecting a new tree, look for 4-6 scaffold branches with good vertical and horizontal spacing.  The better training you do in year one and two equals a better tree long-term. During the first two years just let the tree grow branches. If it bears fruit before 3rd year, knock it off at marble size, this is better for trees long-term health.
  • Use stakes to train branches where you want them to go.
  • If tree is too tall, don’t make big heading cuts (cuts from the top only); it promotes upward growth. This doesn’t allow much light to make it to the center of the tree, and it makes the fruit difficult to reach. A good rule to follow is to try to filling the space evenly, much like a Christmas tree.
  • Winter prune is the dormant prune which helps to stimulates growth and train. This is best done from the end of November until the end of March. Always try to do before buds swell.
  • Summer prune helps control undesirable growth and you mostly remove sprouts. This would be done once terminal buds are set, usually the end of July or August.
  • If a mature tree is overly vigorous and has many branches shooting up, they can be removed at anytime.
  • Get good quality tool, Matthew recommends ARS brand. Keeping them sharp is important. Sharpen beveled side. Disinfect between cuts. They use Lysol because it’s easy to carry and fast to disinfect.
  • Thin down all fruit except cherries and pears when fruit reaches marble size. Apples should have one growth per cluster. Plums and apricots should have 3-4 inches between each piece. Peaches need 6 inches between each piece.

I asked a question about apricot tree care, and he said the do well in our neighborhood. Most usually only get fruit once every five years. He said to watch out for brown rot, and fire blight because they get it often. Pruning is done in the summer, after the fruit has been picked. It’s okay if the leaves are still on. The reason for summer pruning is to avoid Utypa disease, which spreads on open prune wounds during wet weather.

I also asked about leaf debris in the fall. I had read conflicting info about leaving them on the ground or raking them up. He said disease is caused by fallen leaves. If we are using bioactive compost, it’s okay to compost them. My last question was about chickens in the orchard, and he said they are great for pest reduction.

Here’s his advice on irrigation

  • The amount of watering depends on soil type and stage of the tree. Once the crop is off, decrease watering by one-third.
  • For sandy soil, water every 5 days for a short duration.
  • A drip system best option for conservation, and it drips right into the roots.
  • Focus watering the top 12 inches of the roots. If the soil balls up and stays that way, it’s a sign of good moisture. If it doesn’t ball up or crumbles, you need to water ASAP.
  • Constantly wet soil will promote tree rot.

The last topic he covered was fertilizing.

  • Fertilize three to five weeks before above ground activity, the tree has active roots. The earlier you can fertilize the better. Usually fertilizing once, early in the season is enough.
  • Citrus trees need to be fertilized every 6-8 weeks.
  • Compost isn’t enough for young trees during the first and second year.  Blood meal is a good fertilizer during the first couple of years.
  • The amount of nitrogen in the fertilizer should be at least 6%
  • Cover crops in the winter are great for the health of trees. Use legumes or bell beans, and plant them at drip zone. At the end of winter, till them back into the soil.
  • Mulch in spring is great. It helps control weeds and holds in moisture

Once the Q&A ended, I was feeling both motivated and intimidated ! I’m looking forward to when this is all second nature for me.


Got any advice on fruit tree care? Help me out by sharing them!

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