High temperatures, hot nights, long days and kids on summer vacation cause fruit tree neglect. Gardening is the last thing you want to do in late summer, yet proper care really pays off now. It’s because your trees have completed their reproductive work. After harvest is the perfect time to pay them back for all the fruit with some tender loving care. The result will be more vigorous growth and a much better crop next year.
Pick up fruit. As the harvest dwindles away, keep fallen fruit picked up every day. It’s important to prevent disease in the fruits by preventing its spread. This is also crucial to controlling fruit flies and other insects to prevent congregation near outdoor living areas. Fallen fruit also ferments in the heat to contain alcohol. These redolent fruits lure wildlife of all kinds, and it’s well known that foxes actually get drunk gorging on fallen fruit.
Maintenance pruning. During the growing season your fruit trees may produce fast growing sprouts from below the graft union. These are the rootstock and should be completely removed from the base. Water sprouts are similar, but they occur on the older interior branches as long whip-like upright suckers. Suckers of any kind are so named because they draw disproportionate amounts of growth energy away from the tree and reduce yields. It’s why you must cut off all suckers and in the process look for dead, damaged, dying or diseased growth and remove it too.
Protect branches. When heavily loaded with fruit, your branches can break under the strain and destroy a good portion of the tree. The best solution is to thin fruit as it matures to limit the cumulative weight. Thinning reduces competition too, so the fruit that remains reaches maximum size and quality. Where thinning is not possible, use 2-by-4s to prop up laden branches from underneath. This helps protect the branch until all harvest is completed.
Food and water. In drier western climates, conditions can be difficult in the late summer where there is no rainfall. The soil can dry out to a surprisingly deep level by summer’s end giving younger trees little to draw on. This is doubly important where soils are heavy and clay rich so absorption is slowed considerably. To get water down in there where it’s needed, apply water slowly with a garden hose to re-saturate the root zone. Turn it on to just a trickle and set at the base of the trunk for a few hours. With younger trees it saturates the rootball from the growers and adjacent soil becomes thoroughly hydrated. Older trees benefit from a sprinkler placed beneath the canopy to slowly apply water over many hours within the drip line. This slow, late watering is key to enlarged root systems and improved vigor overall.
After completing all these tasks, lay a mulch of compost around the base of each tree to keep the surface moisture evaporation to a minimum. Nutrients in the compost will also decompose over the coming year to ensure no macro or micro nutrient deficiencies reduce next year’s yields.
Paint the trunk. Another way to protect trees, particularly young ones is to keep an eye on trunk bark. In youth the canopy is too small to shade the bark adequately. West side bark exposed to the direct sun will blister and start the process that kills more young residential fruit trees than any other. Borers, pests and diseases enter the tree through these blisters to kill quickly by girdling the trunk. This is why farmers have always painted the trunks of their young fruit trees with white, thinned exterior latex paint. It reflects both sun and heat keeping trunks cooler and preventing blistering.
Once planted, young fruit trees are too often ignored and older mature ones left to fend for themselves. But if you want your fruit to be the largest, sweetest and most perfect _ late season care is essential. Whether you live in the city or country, in a cabin, bungalow or mansion, get some rest by gardening again in the quiet peace that changes everything after the kids go back to school.
By Maureen Gilmer, Tribune News Service (TNS). Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at [email protected] or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.