by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
Not only is fall a time for harvesting fruit, it is also a time to perform activities to keep your fruit plants, trees and bushes healthy and productive for the coming year.
Unless it is a must because of disease, damage or for removal of dead branches, fall is not the time to do any pruning. Pruning in early fall may stimulate new growth that will not harden before the cold sets in and pruning in late fall will not give the cut time to heal and will be an invitation for disease to enter. It is recommended that pruning and fertilizing are both best done in late winter to early spring.
One of the best practices you can perform for your fruit trees to reduce the occurrence of pests is to remove all dropped fruit and pick the tree clean of any remaining fruit that could fall later. Don’t forget to do the same thing for the grapes. Along with the fruit, clean up any fallen leaves too. Pests and disease can overwinter in fruit and leaves, so removing them will decrease the chance of having problems next growing season.
Mulch, a couple of inches will do the trick, just don’t pack it up against the trunk of the tree. Keep mulch about 4 to 6 inches away from the trunk to discourage mice and voles from chewing on the bark during the winter. For newly planted stock, it is recommended that a loose wrap be placed around the trunk. You do not want the wrap to be tight up against the bark. A tight wrap will trap moisture against the bark. A wrap will not only deter mice and voles from chewing but will also protect the tender tree bark from sunscald. Sunscald (winter tree injury) happens on the south side of the tree in rapid temperature fluctuations from sunshine on cold winter days. For the sunscald issue I like to use a length of plastic, flexible drain pipe. Cut it the entire length and fit it over the tree trunk. For older trees, hardware cloth can be formed into a cylindrical shape to cover the trunk to deter the animals. A section of wire fencing wrapped loosely around the trunk will keep deer from rubbing against the bark.
Strawberries need to harden properly for winter survival. It is recommended to wait to cover them until the hard frosts start to freeze the soil. Straw or chopped up leaves work very well for covering strawberries. Do not use whole leaves as they tend to mat down and smother the strawberry plants.
According to Rink, one of my fellow LaGrange Co. Master Gardeners, the old producing canes of raspberries can be cut back during the fall. Raspberries like a bit of acidity so chopped up oak leaves or pine needles make good mulch for them. Straw or wood chips can be used too. Fertilizing should be done in the spring as well as spraying before new growth appears for pests.
With cooler temperatures and an increase in rainfall, fall is the best time of year to plant or expand a home orchard. The soil is still warm, which encourages root development, while the tree itself is going dormant and will not need an enormous amount of water.
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects can be found online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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