While most of us are focusing on the change of seasons, pulling out spent summer crops and replacing with fresh seedlings for the cooler months, it’s important not to neglect your fruit trees. Most of the deciduous fruit trees are coming to an end of their fruiting for the season, which is a perfect time to give them some loving.
While the stone fruit finished a few months ago, most of the apples and pears are finishing now. A good tidy up, prune and feed is going to set your trees up for another great season next year. Picking up any fallen fruit around your trees is going to reduce the chances of disease, while a tidy up of the weeds or grass under the canopy before feeding and mulching will reduce unneeded competition for your trees.
Unless your trees require some major structural cuts, pruning after harvesting allows for rapid healing while nutrients are still flowing through the tree, and the potential of a little additional growth ahead of the next growing season. Removing any damaged, diseased and overly dense branches is certainly worthwhile, as is cutting back long branches and establishing more fruiting spurs on those trees that require it. Hygiene is quite important while pruning, so keep a bottle of vinegar or methylated spirits nearby so you can clean the blades of your secateurs or loppers between trees, or if you come across some disease. There are plenty of videos online to assist you if you are a novice pruner, and it’s a great skill to have in the garden.
After a tidy and prune, your trees will appreciate a feed to take them into dormancy. There are many ways to provide the nutrients your fruit trees want, and your unique situation will determine which approach you use. Location, pet status, animal rights views, and sensitivity to smell will all be factors in your decision. Homemade compost is probably the most local and accessible food source and can be very nutritious, particularly if you combine your backyard chook poo and/or worm juice and castings. If you don’t have a cranking compost system or if you have more trees than your compost can satisfy, other alternatives could be local composted animal manures (chicken, cow); plant-based fertiliser such as freshly cut comfrey, nettle and even some grass clippings in the mix; or bagged pellet fertilisers from the local garden supplier.
A thick layer of mulch after the feed and your trees will be happy as they head into their winter snooze. If you prefer to use tree mulch instead of straw mulches, make sure it has been stored or composted for a while before you spread it under your trees. Fresh woody mulch will only suck goodness from your soil in order to break down, and I would certainly stay well clear of cheap pine or other bark and woodchip mulches.
It can feel like a real mish getting all this done, but we all know the rewards that come with it greatly outweigh the effort.