Maintaining the health of your fruit trees during late winter is crucial to ensure a bountiful harvest. To help you care for your fruit trees during this last stretch of cold weather, check out our mulching and pruning tips below.Â
Selectively removing the branches that arenâ€™t serving your fruit tree helps prevent infections and encourages healthy growth. February is one of the most effective times to prune your fruit trees because the intense winter frosts are gone, but your trees are still dormant. Additionally, pruning is much easier during dormancy because there is no foliage covering your branches.Â
Preventing Mold Growth:Â
Floridaâ€™s perpetual humid conditions can cause a variety of mold and mildew outbreaks, such as sooty mold, powdery mildew, and many others. There are also species-specific conditions that can arise when proper airflow is not maintained. These include peach leaf curl, which arises from Taphrina deformans fungus (www.ipm.ucanr.edu). Another species-specific condition caused by poor airflow around foliage is fig rust. Fig rust is a fungus that leaves brown specks on the surface of the treeâ€™s leaves. Most tree fungi like peach leaf curl and fig rust are treated with copper fungicide. However, prevention is always the best practice. You can effectively prevent fungal and disease problems through proper watering practices, pruning, and training your fruit trees to have an open-center structure.
How to have an open-center structure:Â
To form this open structure, start training your tree as early as possible. Once you plant your fruit tree, identify three to four branches that can form the main scaffolds. These branches will ideally be at about a 45-degree angle in relation to the trunk and be on the opposing sides of the tree. The main scaffolds should form a vase shape. Then, cut the branches around the main scaffold. When identifying which branches need to be removed from your fruit tree, look for stems that are dead, disinfected, broken, weak, branches that are growing across each other, and branches that are growing inward or outward. To maintain this open structure, prune no more than one-third of your tree’s new growth annually. Removing too much of your treeâ€™s structure can adversely affect your treeâ€™s fruit production. As stated earlier, we suggest pruning your fruit trees every February, just before the spring bloom (www.nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu).Â
Considerations when pruning:Â
When pruning, consider your fruit tree type. Stone fruits (prunus varieties), such as peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, apricots, and almonds fruit on one to three-year-old wood. As a result, severely pruning these trees can result in a fruitless season. In contrast, fig-trees only fruit on new growth. As such, a severe pruning in February (removing up to one-third of your treeâ€™s structure) will not have an impact on fruit production (www.deepgreenpermaculture.com). Most of our fruit trees are grafted onto rootstocks that are adaptable to our Florida soils. Therefore, our fruit trees are more disease-resistant and productive. When pruning grafted trees, check the area around the graft to ensure that it is not buried in soil or mulch. Never plant your trees any deeper than they were in the pot they came in. You should also check for any growth coming from below the graft. Growth below the graft will take energy away from the scion (variety grafted onto the rootstock). If you find growth, remove it with the growth flush from the tree trunk. Finally, make sure to prune hygienically. After pruning each tree, clean your loppers and shears with rubbing alcohol. Doing so will prevent you from transferring any disease or fungus that might be on one tree to the next.Â
Pruning is necessary for maintaining the health and productivity of your fruit trees. Get out there and give your trees a trim! They will reward you for it with a bountiful harvest year after year!
Mulching is another crucial practice to maintain the health of your fruit trees. There are two times a year when fruit trees benefit the most from the addition of mulch. We suggest adding mulch to your trees in mid to late February and again around the beginning of December. In mid to late February, lay down 3 inches of fresh mulch around your trees no closer than one foot from the trunk and extending outward to just beyond the treeâ€™s drip line (www.gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu).Â
How to choose which mulch to use:Â
With all the mulch options out there, it can be difficult to pick the right one for your tree. Some of the main types of mulch include pine bark, pine straw, leaves, cypress mulch, hardwood mulch, melaleuca mulch, eucalyptus mulch, utility mulch, gravel/pebbles, and rubber mulch.Â
Rubber and gravel mulch:Â
Materials such as rubber and gravel will not biodegrade, making it one of the most durable mulch types. Additionally, gravel and rubber drain very well, which is especially helpful during Florida’s infamous rainy season. The downside of rubber and gravel is that it offers no nutritional benefits.Â Additionally, before mulching, make sure that the minerals contained within the mulch will not negatively affect your soil Ph (acidity or alkalinity).Â
Ground hardwood mulch:Â
Mulches made from ground hardwood are very durable.Â Such mulches include those made from Cypress, Melaleuca, and Eucalyptus. However, due to their high carbon content, they can rob your fruit trees of nitrogen. Additionally, since utility mulch often contains a mix of hardwoods and other materials, another concern is that it may hold damaging materials, such as weed seeds, diseased plant materials, and even trash.Â
Leaves as mulch:Â
Leaves are a form of mulch, and they provide additional nutrients to the soil for your fruit trees. However, there are some negative consequences of using leaves as mulch. Leaves do hold on to extra moisture, and they may reduce the soilâ€™s ability to drain. Too much moisture around your fruit trees can lead to mold and mildew outbreaks.Â
Overall, there are many benefits of using mulch. Mulch helps protect your plants and trees from extreme hot or cold weather conditions and prevents erosion around the tree roots. Mulch also reduces the need for additional irrigation in the dry season by keeping moisture locked around the root zone. Therefore, do all your plants and trees a favor and provide them with quality mulch every February and December.
Broome, J.C., D.R. Donaldson (n.d.) Peach Leaf Curl University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7426.html#:~:text=Peach%20leaf%20curl%2C%20also%20known,backyard%20gardeners%20growing%20these%20trees.
Eliades, Angelo (n.d.) What Age Wood Do Fruit Trees Flower and Fruit on? Deep Green Permaculture https://deepgreenpermaculture.com/2020/09/28/what-age-wood-do-fruit-trees-flower-and-fruit-on/
Orwat, Matthew (2017) When Should You Prune Fruit Trees? The University of Floridaâ€™s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences https://nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu/phag/2017/12/15/when-should-you-prune-fruit-trees/
Rudisill, Ken (n.d.) Fig Rust â€“ A Grin and Bare It Disease The University of Floridaâ€™s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences http://lyra.ifas.ufl.edu/LyraServlet?command=getNewsletter&oid=6070518&path=0.10&countyID=liberty.ifas.ufl.edu#:~:text=Fig%20rust%20is%20a%20fungus,are%20small%20blisters%20or%20pustules..
Choosing and Installing Mulches (n.d.) The University of Floridaâ€™s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/planting/mulch.html
Mulching Tree Fruit and Small Fruit (n.d.) UMass Extension Center for Agriculture https://ag.umass.edu/sites/ag.umass.edu/files/fact-sheets/pdf/mulching_fruit.pdf
Pruning Deciduous Fruit Trees (n.d.) The University of Floridaâ€™s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/pruning/pruning-deciduous-fruit-trees.html#:~:text=Deciduous%20fruit%20trees%20should%20be,of%20extreme%20cold%20has%20passed