Orchards are a delightful and lucrative addition to any yard or outdoor space, but they require just as much attention and care as any other plant. Although fruit tree pruning mostly occurs in the fall and spring, late summer fruit tree care is important for keeping your trees strong against insects, disease and stress. Our short guide will teach your how to properly inspect, water, mulch, and thin your fruit trees for a successful harvest that can be eaten fresh or preserved for the winter months.
Make sure to check your fruit trees regularly throughout the summer for signs of insects or diseases. It’s much easier to control pests and diseases by acting before they become established, so its important to learn about organic pest control for specific diseases and insects that attack fruit trees. It’s also important to watch how established trees grow, and take note of which limbs are causing too much shade, and which limbs to consequently prune in the fall.
Fruit trees rely on water for producing, plump juicy fruits. It’s therefore better to water them well and less often rather than watering them shallowly and frequently – this will promote stronger roots. Fruit trees in sandy soils need watering every 1 to 2 weeks and every 2 to 3 weeks in clay soils. Make sure to water all the way to the drip line of the tree roots, and avoid watering the trunk, branches or the fruit itself.
After a deep watering, its best to put down a layer of airy mulch, such as straw. The purpose of this is trifold: a layer of straw mulch controls weeds, keeps the moisture close to the roots of the plant, and acts as a cushion for windfalls or fruit that accidentally drops during harvest. Light bark dust also works as a mulch, but is more ideal for citrus and nut trees.
Fruit trees can often produce much more fruit than they can realistically ripen and support in one season. When this occurs, the tree will thin itself naturally earlier on in the summer, but you may need to help the tree out by taking more of its load off later on. Not only does thinning help prevent broken limbs and unripe fruit, it also eliminates diseased or infested fruits and prevents alternate year bearing. Thin out the smallest and gnarliest looking fruits off the tree, making sure to leave the larger fruits that are growing on the outside of the tree. These will receive the most sunshine and thus develop better flavor and size. Thin small pit fruits 2 to 4 inches apart, larger pit fruits 3 to 5 inches apart, and clusters of 2 to 3 hard fruits (such as apples and pears) 6 to 8 inches apart.
Although pruning fruit trees in summer is not a good idea, removal of damaged or dead limbs is best. Exposing the flesh of the tree in late summer makes it very susceptible to airborne diseases or pests, which are active at this time of year. However, leaving dead limbs and broken limbs hanging off the tree can do the same.
Handle your fruit very gently when harvesting it and placing it into your storage boxes. Remember that bruised fruit does not keep well, and can cause unblemished fruit to ripen faster. Make sure to sort your fruit after harvest and grade it from the nicest to the most blemished and smallest fruits. Store in cardboard or wood boxes in a dark and cool place to keep it for longer, or in a basket at room temperature to ripen it faster.