For Release February 12, 2002
Early Season Fruit Tree Care
by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent
Even though itís only mid-February, it is time to get started on care and management of those home fruit trees. Fruit production, in Kansas gardens, can be a very hit and miss situation. Our climate often has too much day to day weather variability to ensure consistent fruit production, year to year. But if you donít spend a little time managing those fruit trees, you wonít be in a position to take advantage of those good fruit production years when they come along.
What you need to do with your fruit trees depends on what kind of trees you have, how old they are and what kind of care you have given them in the past. Young trees, less than five years of age, need training to develop them into a properly structured tree. Trees older than five years of age may need some corrective pruning. By this age the structure of the tree is already formed and you just have to live with what youíve got and make the most of it.
Different types of trees have different pruning requirements. In general, cherry and apricot trees have the least pruning requirements, and apple trees require the most pruning. Peaches tend to fall more towards the cherry and apricot trees and pears closer to apples. Plums and nectarines are so inconsistent in their bearing and survival that we often donít worry about them, but plums should fall more towards cherries and nectarines more towards peaches. Grapes and, other small fruits, often get by with little pruning, but can benefit from aggressive annual pruning.
Pruning can be done anytime over the next couple of months as long as the air temperature is above freezing and the flower buds have not started to open. Pruning fruit trees when the flower buds are open will not harm the tree, it simply becomes too easy to knock off the buds.
One must learn where each type of fruit tree blooms so you donít cut off the fruit bearing wood. Sometimes it is helpful to spend a spring examining fruit trees in bloom so that you can learn where the blossoms develop. Then you can start pruning the next year. Apple and pear trees bear on long lived spurs. These short stubby spurs need to be kept on short strong branches. Too many spurs on long branches create weight that can not be properly supported resulting in sagging and breaking branches. Likewise, cherry trees produce on long lived spurs as well. Peach trees bloom on one year old wood (the new growth from last year), and apricots bloom on both new and old wood. Remember, you want to prune the tree to allow good light penetration, to keep the tree to a size you can work with, and to eliminate poor/weak structure.
Many trees, especially the stone fruits, need to have a dormant season fungicide application. A dormant oil is not a dormant season fungicide. Look for something that is labeled to control peach leaf curl. This spray can be applied any time now, and needs to be a full coverage drenching spray. Apple trees need their first fungicide treatment when new buds show one half inch of green. This treatment is essential for apple scab and cedar apple rust control. Remember disease control must be preventative. Once the disease has started on the tree, it will run its course, it canít be cured. Once a majority of the blossoms start to fall you will begin your combination insecticide and fungicide treatments that will need to be repeated about every two weeks.
Stop by the Extension Office, 119 East 9th Street, for copies of our bulletins on pruning and fruit pest control or to obtain information on organic fruit pest control options.
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