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How to cover fruit trees from frost and other fall dangers
Fall has come, and soon we'll be enjoying all the goodness of fresh, nutritious fruits from local orchards. But here's the hard part: to protect and nurture the fruit trees you grow this fall, winter and spring, you need to be ready when the cold and wind arrive. This is what I learned as I prepared trees for a couple of very cold winters in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
The key to protecting trees through the cold? Think of an onion: Never leave an exposed onion on a table. The same holds true for fruit trees: Do not leave a tree exposed during the coldest parts of the year. A quick, regular cleanup of leaves and debris around the base of your trees will help keep them from taking a beating from the elements, and it will protect them from wind-caused damage.
Winter winds are typically the strongest in the early evening, and it's possible to see your trees take a beating from the winds if you stand directly under them. When preparing for your trees for winter, you want to check on them in the early evening. Look for low spots or ground fog that suggests a breeze is coming and cover trees accordingly. Don't forget to clean up debris. With a few leaves and debris in place, trees will be better able to handle wind.
Winter gets in your way
Most fruit trees and berries will be safe for long periods of time (December, January, February and even March) if you don't need to harvest them. But when the weather is colder, days are shorter and warmer, and wind increases, fruit trees get in your way.Imagine an extra step to clean up your yard and shed, as well as your garage or back deck, if you want to hang up bags of clothes or sacks of fruit from the previous fall's harvest.
Keep fruit trees in check during spring
Frost is another tough opponent, and fruit trees take the hardest hits in spring. Unlike other trees or plants, fruit trees do not shed their leaves in the winter, so the main tools you have to combat winter and spring attacks are pruning and clearing debris.
Pruning, like weeding, is a practice that many consider out of style. But when you have fruit trees or plants to care for, keeping things neat and orderly is important.
Trees do a few different things in spring. One is to shed their leaves in preparation for the warm, sun-filled days that are on the way. Pruning and removing debris around fruit trees or plants makes it possible for the trees to have a fresh start once the leaves return. Another important thing a fruit tree does in spring is to harden itself. Pruning promotes this process. In Minnesota, pruning in the spring helps reduce the development of a secondary growth system that leads to a lot of new branches. Less new growth also reduces the volume of wood, which is something fruit trees can use during the summer. Finally, if you can prune and cover fruit trees during the spring months, the plants will have a chance to put down more roots and grow faster during the warm summer months.
Another way to get fruit trees ready for spring is to plan for increased watering. Plants and trees are happy to drink water, so giving them more than their fair share in spring and summer will make them thrive.
Spring cleaning also means spring protection. Without pruning or cutting, fruit trees could become low to the ground or be out of balance due to wind and snow.In fact, before summer temperatures arrive, you can protect trees by removing any soft and wet growth (especially from water), as well as any leaves or debris that can get caught in your wind-generating machine.
May is peach month
Bugs like to hide in fruit trees in May, June and July. Prune them out and apply an organic insecticide.
Make friends with your fruit tree
Try to get to know your fruit tree, so you'll know when things need to be done. When your trees have foliage, you'll see a little mound on top of the tree that is shaped something like a brick.
Fruit trees produce small fruits called drupelets. When you see this, it's a sign that you should check to see if your fruit trees need to be pruned. Most trees with fruit produce drupelets at the same time, usually in early June or early July.
If your trees have flowers, they also need to be protected. I think of flowers like houses. In fall, you prune down the tall weeds that choke out your flowers. In spring, you clean up debris, add fertilizer and water, and have a picnic with your flowers. It is a small and simple way to show them your love. But it is a daily reminder to get the job done, or your flowers will die and your fruit will be no good for anybody.
Winter weather stresses trees, but fruit trees will recover if pruned in the spring.
The key to this practice? Don't wait to clean up leaves and debris around fruit trees. Trees recover from periods of drought and cold and other climate fluctuations throughout the year if you practice regular cleanup and pruning.
The three factors that will protect fruit trees are weather, cleaning and pruning. Your knowledge of fruit trees and how they behave can help you apply these practices.
When you see your fruit tree during the first or second week of June, it's time to start pruning. That's when you want to start working on the trunk of your trees and plantings and remove all wood that gets low to the ground or has dead branches.
As for leaves, you want to remove all that you can. Some leaf cleanup is simply a matter of keeping your backyard neat and tidy. But leaf cleanup is an opportunity to make your fruit tree into a state of balance. If you notice your fruit tree has unbalanced growth, that's a good sign that you need to prune it.
If you see your fruit tree with a red stem, that's not a good sign for fruit, as the red stem can act like a wick and carry away moisture