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Down the Garden Path

Dormant pruning and sprays for apple fruit trees

The weather is sure messing with our plans for early work in the yard. There is at least a couple of projects that not only can be done, but should be done as soon as possible and at the right stage of growth.

Perhaps the more critical project is that of our earliest sprays in the home orchard. The foliage diseases for apples show up by wind with the spores floating along by the many thousands if not millions landing on the swelling buds just showing the smallest hint of green emerging leaves. The favored time of infection is during cool wet weather that allows the very tiny spores to survive longer in the wind without drying out and dying. Gardeners will need to protect the new leaves starting at what we call "Green Tip" all the way through "3/4 Petal Fall" when the fruit tree flower petals have mostly fallen.

Since new leaves grow very quickly, frequent applications and through coverage is very important. The spray bottle label may say to spray every 5-7 days, yet that is very weather dependent. Your spray on any given day may need to be repeated again if rain follows shortly after the application. It also means that if you were scheduled to spray the next day and rain is predicted, waiting until after that rain will expose the foliage to being diseased. Gardeners will most often find the multipurpose fruit tree sprays the easiest to use. These come premixed with fungicides for disease control and insecticides. Mix according to the label instructions. Fruit trees may only need 1 or 2 gallons of spray per tree in the beginning and several more per tree as the season progresses to get complete coverage on both the foliage and later the fruits.

While you are making your treatments, be aware that those flowers are opened and need to be pollinated by bees. Make your treatments late in the day after the bees return to the hive and or on days when the temperatures are below 50 degrees when the majority of bees stay inside the hive.

The second project is that of any dormant pruning you may want to do to your shrubs and ornamental trees. If you are going to completely renovate your shrubs (pruning completely down to the ground), do this as soon as possible before buds begin break. This may be too late already for the early growers in your landscape. If growth has already begun, renewal pruning should be considered. Renewal pruning allows for the majority of the plant to remain while removing a few of the oldest branches at the base of the plant. Ornamental trees will develop overlapping and crossing branches that will need attention. Flowering Crabapples for example tend to have a lot of water sprouts in the canopy that need attention.

Pruning any plant while dormant allows gardeners to easily see plant structure, damaged or broken limbs, interior limbs that have died, perhaps from lack of sunlight as the plants have grown bigger. Dead wood can be removed at any time of the year as the branches are non-productive and could harbor insects and disease.