The fruit picking season is slowly creeping to an end. As the harvest comes in and most of the seasons labour is done it is good to begin preparing your trees for winter. The main projects that should be done for every fruit tree is pruning and amending the soil. The fall is a great time to take care of your trees and perform these projects. While spring/summer pruning is also important it comes at a busy time of year in the garden and so can often get neglected. If you’re unable to prune in the spring you can always make up for it in the fall. The fall is also a great time to do outdoor work as the summer heat has subsided and the movement of pruning will keep you warm, and if you get chilled you can always head inside for a cup of hot cider.
Pruning is the number one way to maintain a healthy tree that will bear nice unblemished fruit. The first step in pruning is taking off any dead or diseased branches. This is the easiest step to pruning, dead branches are easy to identify and can usually be removed in large chunks. Dead and diseased branches must be removed as they will sap nutrients from the tree that should be going towards fruit producing branches, they also provide barriers to light and air movement getting into the tree.
Any cris-crossing branches should be removed. This will allow more light and air movement to get into the tree. It will also decrease the bumping of fruit burdened branches into one another which causes dropped and blemished fruit.
The health of a tree is dependent on the health of the soil below it. It is important to treat that soil the same way you would your garden soil. This involves providing compost and lots of organic matter. The first step is always raking away all of the fruit and leaves that have fallen. Particularly if your tree has experienced any disease that year it is good to remove this as funguses and pests will overwinter in the soil if they are left. Applying a ring of compost around the tree a foot back from the trunk will help to feed the tree and encourage root growth.
The next step is to mulch. When mulching add an organic bark or wood mulch and be sure to keep it away from the base of the trunk. Mulching is a slow way to feed your soil and as a result the tree. As the mulch sits around the tree throughout the winter worms will begin to pull the decaying mulch down through the soil and leave behind its castings. Worms also play the important role of pulling done any diseased leaves into the soil and digesting them discouraging those diseases from occurring in future years.
After having picked and seen so many trees around Toronto it is apparent that these steps are easier applied to some trees than others. Some trees are so big that pruning can become a much larger job than what can be taken on safely by one person. Other trees grow in a small patch of soil and the surrounding soil is covered in patio stone, a deck or poured pavement making soil care very difficult. The important thing is to try and take these steps as an ideal of what can be done for your tree and apply what you can.