Sometime this spring, I will start getting calls about apple, pear, peach and plum trees that are not growing and producing fruit as they should.
The fruit has a disease or insect problem. It could be that the tree itself is showing disease symptoms or has an insect problem. The caller will want to know how to control or correct these problems.
It is usually to late in the growing season to do anything about the problem. The problem is easier to correct or prevent early in the season, which is now.
What you do for your fruit trees now will show many benefits to the tree and fruit later. A good sanitation program will help reduce disease and insect problems.
A sanitation program includes pruning and removal of diseased and dead limbs, twigs and branches, raking and removal of leaves and debris, periodically mowing around the trees, and disposing of rotten and diseased fruit. You can successfully grow some fruit, such as pears, by using sanitation practices alone. Most fruit will need a combination of sanitation and pest control to get a desirable fruit.
The first step in a good sanitation program is pruning. Start pruning fruit trees in mid to late January. The way to prune the tree will depend on the type of fruit. Apple and pear trees are central leader trees, with a main trunk that has scaffolding branches coming from it. To prune these properly, remove any branches growing straight up and any branch growing toward the center of the tree. Where a limb branches, remove the bottom branch.
Peach, nectarine or plum trees should 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 branches growing straight up.
When pruning, it is important to have a bottle of rubbing alcohol. After each pruning cut, wipe the blades of the pruners with the alcohol. This will help kill any disease organisms.
Pruning is a good time to remove the dried fruit from the previous season. These fruit are loaded with bacteria and fungi that will cause disease problems this year.
Start controlling insects and diseases before the leaves and blooms appear on the tree with dormant sprays. There are a number of sprays available. The most important thing to remember is to use dormant sprays a couple of times before the buds begin to break on the trees.
For insect control, use horticultural oil sprays. For them to work best, apply it when the temperature is below 36 to 70 degrees. If the temperature is too warm, you can get burn on the tree; if it is too low the oil can be difficult to apply.
Horticultural oil sprays are very good at controlling mites, scale and aphids. They work very well on the eggs of these insects.
To start a disease-control program, use two fungicide products. These are considered organic controls as well. The first is lime sulfur. Lime sulfur will give some insect control. To use these products, spray the whole tree. Lime sulfur can be used on trees after leaves have appeared, but some varieties can be damaged by lime sulfur, so read the label.
The other fungicide is Bordeaux mixture. This is the first fungicide ever used. It was applied to grapes in France in the 1700s. You can buy the mix at garden centers or you can mix your own. The mixture is eight tablespoons of copper sulfate plus eight tablespoons of hydrated lime. The hydrated lime makes this a very hot mix, so be careful when using it. It is used on peaches, plums and pears.
By using good sanitation, pruning, and timely applications of insecticides and fungicides, you can have a successful season with your fruit trees.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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