For Release February 13, 2005
Dormant Season Fruit Care
by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent
Even though it is only the middle of February, it is time to get to work on your fruit trees. IF Mother Nature cooperates, you and your trees need to be ready to produce some high quality fruit. I say, "if Mother Nature cooperates" because the weather is the biggest deterrent to fruit production in our area. Early warm spells too often lure trees out of dormancy. Buds start to swell up and lose cold tolerance. Then we have a late, or not so late, frost or freeze move in and the blossoms never have a chance! But if you assume that there will be no fruit production, and you don't take care of the fruit trees properly, then you will be very disappointed if the weather does cooperate.
Probably the first thing that needs to be done is spraying any required dormant sprays. This always brings confusion! Most home gardeners will apply a dormant oil to their fruit trees in late winter. But most gardeners don't need to apply a dormant oil to their fruit trees. Dormant oil only controls scale insects. We rarely have scale insects on fruit trees. It happens occasionally, and when it does, you'll know it!
What home gardeners need to be applying is a dormant fungicide application to stone fruits, especially peach trees, to control peach leaf curl. Peach leaf curl is the disease that mid spring will cause peach leaves to pucker up, grow all distorted and bumpy and turn pink or red. The leaf becomes infected as it breaks dormancy and starts to grow. Once you see the disease, it is too late to treat. Severe infection will not kill a peach tree, but it will weaken it, hurting fruit production and making the tree more attractive to borers!
Control of peach leaf curl is easy but you have to spray now! There are several fungicides that will control peach leaf curl. The list includes, Bordeaux, liquid lime and sulfur, and chlorothalonil. The latter can be found under many trade names including: Daconil, Ortho Garden Disease Control and Gordon's Multipurpose Fungicide. The products labeled as fruit tree or orchard spray generally are not effective against peach leaf curl. Mix according to directions and then spray the peach trees making sure to cover all the branches and trunks with a good soaking spray.
The other critical bit of fruit tree management in late winter is pruning. From now until blooming is a good time to prune trees, as long as the temperature is above freezing. There will be some bleeding or sapping from the pruning cuts, but don't worry about that. It will stop on its own after while. Do not use a tar or petroleum based pruning sealer on the pruning cuts. If you feel obligated to do anything, mix up some more fungicide and spray that on the tree when you get through pruning.
Proper pruning technique on fruit trees is quite simple. Develop a sturdy framework, control the size of the tree, keep the tree thinned out to maximize sunlight penetration and enhancing ease of spraying, and maximize fruit producing wood. Apple and pear trees bear on stubby spurs that are several years old. Peach, nectarine, and apricot trees bear on one or two year old wood. So exactly how you prune each species is best answered by the free bulletin we have available at the Extension Office on pruning fruit trees.
Fruit production in Kansas isn't' always a sure thing. But with a little care at the right time, when the weather cooperates you can have bountiful crops of high quality fruit!
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