Fruit tree challenges, part 2

Larry G. Field
Thursday, February 28, 2019
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Another trick that I have self-taught is that of marking limbs that are in need of pruning but don’t appear to be when the tree is dormant and has no weight on those limbs. Two of my apple trees are in my lawn. Some limbs will hang much lower than expected when loaded with apples, interfering with lawn mowing. I normally mark such small limbs with flagging ribbon at the site that they should be cut, while they are loaded with leaves and fruit. These small limbs I cut after they become dormant in the fall. Major pruning is left for spring so that the open wounds can immediately begin healing. I apply pruning spray to the large wounds; but some experts are reversing their view on this process.

I prune flat topped apples as follows. I acquire or build a 20’ length of 3/4” PVC pipe. I crowd a ladder into the tree to be pruned as far as is reasonably possible. I climb the ladder, stand the pipe vertically close to the center of the tree. I study the new growth that followed last season’s pruning and mark the pipe with a marker pen at the site that I wish to prune. The cuts made last year will trigger the cut limbs to send new growth limbs out laterally just below the cuts. This new growth will turn up vertically and grow perhaps five feet the first season. Most new growth will have an obvious bud within about three inches of its base. I prune the new growth high enough to allow at least one bud to remain above the base of the limb, this bud will be between the base of the new growth limb and the fresh pruning cut. I continually move the ladder and measure PVC pipe while making cuts. My ground is flat and therefore the measured cuts will make the top of the tree flat. I continue to prune until no limbs reach higher than the average.

This process will allow the tree to grow about 3 inches taller every year, one foot every four years. In 40 years the tree will grow about 10 feet in height to an unmanageable height. That is where I am now with my largest tree. If it fails to survive the upcoming severe pruning, it will be replaced with one of the many in my garden that I have grown using selective pollination, breeding.

The only successful means that I have found for controlling fire blight is rapid removal of infected areas with a clean sharp pruning tool. Remove the infected plant material to the landfill. Apples and pears are susceptible. I have yet to learn how to control insect dam- age. I have tried every technique (insecticides, repulsive smelling sprays, insect traps, etc.) possible with no success. I am now trying two or three such control measures simultaneously. Codling moths do severe damage to apples. Smaller insects damage some varieties of plums. Insect damage seems to increase with increases in temper- ature, insect breeding season. I quit all pesticide applications near the end of August and water frequently and heavily to encourage the absorbed poisons to dissipate.

Apples, plums and apricots should ripen during the growing season, but leave them on the trees as long as possible to sweeten. Some peaches and pears will ripen but others will not. If you are a pear lover, you probably get tired of visiting the grocer and find- ing nothing but hard green pears. You have probably learned that if you purchase them and leave them at room temperature, they will ripen. This should tell you something about harvesting pears. If you purchase green pears knowing that they will ripen in your house, think about the process that brought them to you. They have been harvested, transported to fruit warehouses, sorted, packaged, transported to a retail warehouse, shipped from there to a grocery distributor and then, eventually to a retail outlet, and they are still hard and green and can be on display until sold—but you know that they will ripen. In my lifetime I have enlightened six different pear growers in Mont. and Idaho that had not considered this observation. Obviously the pears are being picked while very green. The six people that I mentioned would have green pears when the first frost arrived and would allow the pears to be ruined. FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, pick them and let them ripen indoors, as they will! Do the same with late peaches.

Above I mentioned leaving the fruit on the tree to sweeten. You must weigh this against having them ruined if they ripen to the point that they fall and bruise. If they are beginning to ripen and a strong wind arrives, most will probably fall and be ruined. Monitor your fruit and at the first signs of falling due to ripening, pick all from that tree.

I grow rapid developing pears, peaches and apricots, Stanley Prune Plums plus another 4 smaller fruited plums and Jonathan, Winesap, McIntosh and Pixie Crunch apples. In recent years the only fruit we have preserved is frozen apple pies & sauce. The oth- ers we pick in the fall and store as long as suitable for food, first in the unheated garage and pole barn (cool storage) and when too cold there, we move the select pieces indoors to the refrigerator. All but apples will spoil within the first month. Apples may last until early March, we are still enjoying last summer’s crop today, Feb 18, with no sign of spoilage.

Most fruit will continue to sweeten until and after harvest. Stanley prunes, following a frost that doesn’t ruin them, will nearly double in size and increase tremendously in sweetness in just a couple of days, so much so that nearly all will break their skins due to the rapid size expansion. They will not keep long with broken skins but can be processed.

Do not bruise fruit while harvesting

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