Whether you have a commercial or on-farm orchard for private use, harvest time is always one of the busiest seasons. But once the snow flies, it is time to enjoy the “fruits” of your labor.
However, believe it or not, a successful fruit harvest in the summer and fall starts with preventative maintenance around the orchard in the winter season. We’ve gleaned a few general maintenance tips from orchards, Extension sources and other tree care experts about practices orchard operators can take to ensure a bountiful harvest in the next season:
Pick it up. General cleanup is a must around fruit trees. Dead and fallen branches, as well as fallen fruit that still remains on the ground, should be cleaned up and removed to prevent disease issues, to reduce the attractiveness of the site to rodents that might damage orchard trees, and to provide a cleaner setting for spring work among the trees.
Fruit tree diseases often can overwinter on dried fruit that fell on the ground last fall and remained under the tree through the winter. Leaves from the trees that have been infected by fungal diseases may carry spores over the winter, and could reinfect the trees the following spring. Sanitation around the orchard, beneath and between trees, is so important for this reason.
Minimal pruning. Although most fruit tree pruning should be reserved for late winter and early spring, a little light pruning of offshoots around the base trunk of trees, and removal of dead or diseased and dying branches, can be done in the early winter months. Orchard operators wait until late winter to do heavy pruning because that is when the tree is fully dormant, and no leaves remain on the branches.
By conducting some light pruning earlier in the winter on unnecessary branches, sprouts and offshoots, producers are allowing the trees to put more energy into new growth as we get into spring. This also spreads out the maintenance workload that gets much busier as spring approaches.
Mulch it. It is always a good idea to provide wood mulch around trees to protect them from injury from mowing equipment, weeds, moisture-robbing sod and rodents, and to provide an insulating layer to the soil and root structure during the cold winter months. If you have a wood chipper, dispose of those fallen branches by chipping them for do-it-yourself, inexpensive mulch.
Planning and preparation. Winter also is a good time to take stock of your orchard tools and conduct maintenance on mowing equipment, as well as pruning and weed control tools.
Mark areas in the orchard where invasive weeds are a problem, and plan any new plantings for the new year. Make note of disease or insect issues from the previous season and develop an integrated pest management strategy going into the new season.
Learn more about winter maintenance around the orchard or in your fruit trees by contacting your local forester, certified arborist or Extension educator.