Organic Fruit Tree Care
More and more, people are getting interested in planting trees on their property that are not only beautiful, but also productive. Our goal is to help you grow healthy, nutrient dense fruit that is free of toxic chemicals, tasty, and as locally grown as you can get – right in your own back yard!
OPC’s expertise includes a proven Organic Fruit Tree Program that focuses on building orchard health as an integral part of managing pest and disease pressures. Whether you have several fruit trees or dozens, we can develop an organic program tailored to your needs.
Step 1: Soil Analysis & Amendment For Fruit Trees
Just as various shrubs, trees and turf have their own soil and nutrient requirements, so do fruit trees.
Besides specific nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium needs, certain trace minerals play a key role in the quality and growth of fruit.
For example, boron is an essential nutrient with a very narrow range between being deficient and toxic to the fruit tree. Depending on when the deficiency appears during the growing season, it can cause bud and shoot dieback, excess fruit drop or malformed fruit development. In excess, it can cause leaf yellowing, dieback and early leaf drop which affects photosynthesis and energy production.
Calcium, sulfur, zinc and manganese are other important trace minerals that are required in the proper amounts and ratios for high quality fruit production.
We recommend a professional soil analysis when starting an organic orchard/fruit tree care program with us and then every year or two depending on the lab analysis and recommendations.
Pruning fruit trees takes an understanding of a tree’s response to different types of pruning cuts, a bit of practice, and an artful eye.
Fruit tree pruning should be done with a vision towards developing good scaffold structure, achieving good light penetration, planning where you want to see new branches develop to replace old wood in future years, and encouraging ongoing fruit bud development.
Regular pruning improves tree vigor and fruit growth, especially with apples and pears, which develop on second-year wood.
When to Prune Fruit Trees
Most of the structural pruning and major pruning cuts are done during the dormant season in late winter or early spring before any signs of new growth.
At this time, any dead or diseased branches are removed, as well as conflicting limbs and branches with narrow crotch angles. We use clothespins and limb spreaders to help establish strong crotch angles. This is also the time to control the overall height of the tree and to maintain or create layers of main scaffold branches.
Summer pruning is reserved for more minor cuts. Water sprouts are long, straight vertical shoots, the bulk of which should be removed to keep energy directed towards fruit production. Minor training cuts may also be appropriate.
For more details on the best timing for fruit tree pruning, see our article here.
Building Orchard Health
Fruit trees, as with all trees, prefer more fungal-based soils (versus bacterial) – see our article on compost tea for more details. Consider how they would grow in a non-cultivated natural woodland environment: leaves, branches and woody matter fall to the ground, decompose and then these nutrients eventually cycle back to the tree with the help of all the members of the Soil Food Web.
In a cultivated orchard, we ensure that the proper nutrients are available via the soil and foliar applications. This allows a tree to be able to realize its full genetic potential and to express natural defense mechanisms.
Our organic fruit sprays serve as much to build health as they do to prevent problems. In spring, early summer and fall, actively aerated compost tea, fish hydrolysate, seaweed extract, molasses and pure neem oil help supply essential nutrients and fatty acids to feed not only the tree, but also the beneficial microbes in the soil and on the foliage. These probiotic sprays serve to help build a healthy immune system and keep microorganisms in balance.
Just as we recognize that weeds in a lawn are symptoms of soil or cultural imbalances, so are pests and disease often symptoms of health imbalances in the orchard.
Prevention is Key
The first principle in managing pests and disease in a holistic approach is prevention. . . building orchard health and supporting the tree’s natural immune system and defense mechanisms, as discussed above. A diverse landscape designed to invite beneficial insects and a variety of birds will help keep some of the insect pressures in check.
That being said, there are still a myriad of pests eager to share in the bounty of your orchard. As with managing pests and disease in other areas of the landscape, we use an integrated approach to managing problems.
The Treatment Process
In addition to nutritional and microbial support, our orchard sprays are formulated to address the fungal and pest pressures that accompany the various developmental stages of the fruit. Through regular monitoring and growing degree day (GDD) tracking, these sprays are timed to the phenology of the fruit tree, such as quarter inch green, pink, petal fall, etc.
What We Use For Fruit Tree Treatment
Pure neem oil, sulfur, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), spinosad, and kaolin clay are some of the organic and biological pesticides and fungicides that we incorporate into our sprays, as appropriate. Depending on the size and make-up of the orchard, we may also incorporate various cultural control methods, such as using trap trees, installing sticky traps, or putting up physical barriers.