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Success with fruit trees includes winter preparation

Posted: January 20, 2013 - 1:07am

A variety of fruit trees can be grown in Columbia County, including apples, pears, peaches, plums, persimmons and blueberries. This is the time of year to plant new trees and prepare for the spring.

Before planting fruit trees, decide what type and variety you want. This could depend on how much time you want to spend taking care of them.

For example, peaches and plums require a great deal of care in order to get a harvest. A number of insects and diseases attack the fruit, and the trees have to be sprayed repeatedly with insecticides and fungicides from the time they bloom until the fruit is harvested.

Apples, pears and persimmons require very little care and most of the time need only fertilizer and water.

It is time for pruning and implementing insect- and disease-control programs for your trees.

Researchers at the University of Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental Science have written several publications on home gardening fruit trees. They can be found at www.caes.uga.edu/publications. There is specific information for the type of fruit tree, including site and soil requirements, variety selection, pollination requirements, pruning, fertilization, and disease and insect problems.

Extra care of fruit trees now will bear fruit later in the season. Many disease organisms and insects overwinter in dead wood on the tree, in cracks and crevices in the bark, and on fallen leaves under the tree. A good sanitation program lessens the possibility of disease and insect problems. The sanitation program includes pruning and removal of diseased and/or dead limbs, removal of leaves and debris, and disposing of rotten or diseased fruit.

The first step in a good sanitation program is pruning. The way a fruit tree is pruned will depend on the type. Apple and pear trees are called central leader trees. They have a main trunk with scaffolding branches coming off of it. To prune, remove any branches growing straight up and any branch growing toward the center of the tree. When a limb branches, remove the bottom branch.

Peach, nectarine and plum trees need to be pruned in a vase shape. The center of the tree will be open, with three to four main branches coming off the trunk. Again, prune any limbs growing toward the center and any growing straight up. Have a bottle of rubbing alcohol handy to wipe off the blades of the pruners after each cut. This will help kill any diseases on the wood that was pruned. It’s also good to remove the dried-up fruit from the previous season. This fruit is loaded with bacteria and fungi that will cause disease.

After pruning, the trees should be sprayed with either sulfur dust or a Bordeaux mixture (copper fungicide). Both of these fungicides are considered organic. Sulfur dust also will give some insect control. The whole tree should be sprayed during dormancy. However, some varieties can be damaged by lime sulfur; read the manufacturer’s labeling carefully before use.

The second step in a good sanitation program is insect control. Use a horticultural oil spray before the trees flower to control mites, scale and aphids. They also control the eggs of these insects.

Newly planted trees and existing trees can be deficient in the nutrients needed to thrive and bear fruit. The best way to test for deficiencies is through soil samples. Test results determine the amount and type of nutrients that should be added for proper growth. Have your soil tested before planting, and follow the recommendations. More information on soil testing can be found at aesl.ces.uga.edu/soiltest123/Georgia.htm or by contacting the county extension office.

There are now five locations in Columbia County to drop off soil samples, other than the extension office in Appling. They are Brown Feed and Seed, Ewing Supply, Green Thumb West Garden Center, Grovetown Farm and Garden, and Southern Landscaping.

Tripp Williams, Columbia County’s agriculture and natural resource extension agent, can be reached at (706) 541-4011, or trippj@uga.edu.

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