Orchard Care

Q. Do you have information about orchard care? I think we do pretty well with the pruning (read lots of books) but is there a best way to fertilize the trees? I’d like to let the grass grow under the trees and just keep it mowed to keep the weeds down unless that’s a bad idea.

We have a fairly high water table, (about 6 feet down we hit water in the summer months) so I’m not sure how often to water, either. Any advice?

A. Shallow disking to eliminate weeds saves all nutrients for your trees. If you keep the grass, etc. that’s growing between the trees in your orchard mowed properly, it is not a big problem that way. Do remember, however, that any growing materials under or around your trees can harbor pests and diseases.

There are two reasons for pruning fruit trees: 1) to increase light to the center (and all parts) of the tree, and 2) to shape the tree to your desires. “The best time to prune is when you have a sharp knife (pruning shears – JK).” (Dr. M)

Watering should be done at least once every 7 to 10 days. However, once your trees are well established, if you have a permanent water table only 6 feet down, you may not have to water as often. Never allow your trees to show signs of water stress, such as wilting of the leaves. Unless you have a serious problem with drainage, it is better to water too often than not often enough.

You should feed your fruit trees 4 times each year.

If you are transplanting small trees, you need to do the following: Dig a hole 12″-15″ (30-37.5 cm) wide and deep. Make a Pre-Plant mix with 5# (2 kg) lime with 4 ounces (114 grams) Epsom Salts and 1 ounce (28.5 grams) of borax.  Make a “Weekly Feed” mix with 25# of 16-16-16 (11.36 kg) fertilizer plus 4# (1.8 kg) of Epsom salts and 10 ounces (285 grams) of the Mittleider Micro-nutrients.

Mix 2 ounces (57 grams) Pre-Plant mix and 1 ounces (28.5 grams) with the soil going in the hole. Plant the tree. Water regularly.  Wait 3 weeks, until the roots are settled and well established in the soil, then apply 1 ounce (28 grams) Weekly Feed to the soil around the tree, keeping at least 3″ (8 cm) away from the trunk. Apply Weekly Feed again in 45 days, and again in 45 days, watering thoroughly each time.  In long growing seasons an additional feeding can be made.

For established small trees, loosen the soil at the surface and apply Pre-Plant mix at the end of the dormant season.  Trees should receive Pre-Plant once each year, in amounts double the Weekly Feed applications which follow. Two weeks after applying the Pre-Plant, apply Weekly feed as follows: For a 1″ to 2″ (2 1/2-5 cm) diameter trunk – 1 ounce (28.5 grams).   A 2″ to 4″ (5-10 cm) diameter trunk gets 4 ounces (114 grams). And a 4″ to 8″ (10-20 cm) diameter trunk should receive 8-12 ounces (228-342 grams).   After 45 days and 90 days, and in long growing season areas – when next year’s buds begin to form – repeat the above applications. Large trees of 12″ to 16″ (40-80 cm) diameter, would get 1-2# (454-908 grams) in 4 applications.

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