One of the joys of gardeners is growing their own vegetables and fruit.
We are fortunate that we can grow a wide variety of fruit trees in our area, including apples, pears, peaches, plums, persimmons and blueberries.
Now is the time to plant new trees. It also is time to start preparing existing trees for the spring, with pruning and an insect- and disease-control program.
A number of choices must be made when deciding to start a new fruit tree.
The first is what type of tree to plant. That will depend on how much time the gardener wants to spend taking care of the tree.
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 every seven to 10 days from the time they bloom until the fruit is harvested.
Apples, pears and persimmons require very little care. Most of the time they just need fertilizer and water.
The second choice is what variety to grow. There are many varieties of each type of fruit. Researchers at the University of Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental Science have a recommended list of varieties to grow in this area. They have been printed in publications for each type of fruit. The publications, available at www.ugaextension.com/columbia, tell whether the varieties are disease resistant, in which part of the state they grow best, and whether a pollinator is needed.
For existing trees, what is done now will show many benefits 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 will help reduce the incidence of disease and insect problems. That includes pruning and removal of diseased and/or dead limbs, twigs and branches, raking and removal of leaves and debris, periodically mowing around the trees, and disposing of rotten or diseased fruit.
Some fruit, such as pears, can be successfully grown by using sanitation practices alone. However, most fruit will need a combination of sanitation and pest control.
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.
It's important to have a bottle of rubbing alcohol handy to wipe off the blades of the pruners after each cut. This will help kill any disease organisms on the wood that was pruned. When pruning, it is also good to remove the dried-up fruit from the previous season. These fruit are loaded with bacteria and fungi that will cause disease.
After pruning, the trees need to be sprayed with either lime sulfur or a Bordeaux mixture. Both of these fungicides are considered organic. Lime sulfur also will give some insect control.
To get the best results with these products, the whole tree will need to be sprayed. Some varieties can be damaged by lime sulfur, so read the label to see which types of fruit it works best on.
Bordeaux mixture was the first fungicide, used in the 18th century on grapes in France. It can be bought at some garden centers in the area.
Gardeners can also make their own by mixing 8 tablespoons of copper sulfate and 8 tablespoons of hydrated lime. The lime makes a hot mix, and care needs to be taken when using it. This can be used on peaches, plums and pears.
For insect control, use horticultural oil sprays before the trees flower. Horticultural oil sprays are very good at controlling mites, scale and aphids. They also control the eggs of these insects.
Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (706) 836-2152.
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