Saturday, December 20, 2008

Winter chores plentiful if you have fruit trees

By Patrick Byers
University Extension

My idea of a good way to spend a cold winter afternoon is curling up with the latest nursery catalogs, sipping a hot mug of spiced cider and enjoying strawberry jam on warm muffins.

However, these delicious fruit products do remind me that there are winter chores to be done in the home fruit planting. Besides, what better activity is there to shake off cabin fever?

An important winter chore in the home fruit planting is dormant season pruning.

Apples, pears, and grapes may be pruned before January 1, but wait until February to prune stone fruits. Fall bearing raspberries may be mowed in late February. Other brambles and gooseberries may be pruned after the first of the year.

Specific information on pruning can be found in MU Extension guides available at the nearest MU Extension center or online at

Winter and early spring are also good times to repair and maintain the various structures associated with home fruit production.

Rotted or broken trellis posts should be replaced. Repair and tighten sagging or broken wires. Damaged stakes should be replaced. Repaint signs and other wooden structures such as arbors, gazebos, tables, and seats. Cold frames should be made ready for the spring. Check the sides of planters or raised beds for signs of damage.

Organic fertilizers should be applied in fall or early winter to allow for decomposition before spring.

Organic matter tends to tie up nitrogen as it breaks down, leading to temporary nutritional problems. This problem can be avoided if sufficient time is allowed for the material to break down before plants start growth in the spring.

Mulches for winter protection of strawberries should be applied after the soil is cold, usually after December 1. Be sure to replace any mulch that the wind has removed from strawberry beds.

Rodents can feed on fruit plants in the winter and cause extensive damage or plant death. Plastic, wire, or paper protectors may be placed on the trunks of young trees.

A general cleanup of brush, weeds, and debris will make the planting less attractive to rodents. Do not place mulches, which provide cover for pests, close to trunks or stems. Cats, traps, and baits are other ways of reducing rodent damage.

Pest control is another winter chore. Remove the egg cases of tent caterpillars during pruning. Prune out and destroy any diseased or dead plant parts such as cankers, fireblight strikes, and fruit mummies.

Dormant season pesticide applications are an important part of pest management. Dormant oil sprays are effective controls for mites, scales, and other insects. Dormant season fungicides are important in controlling several fruit diseases. Be sure to follow all label directions.

For more information, consult the "Home Fruit Spray Schedules" available from MU Extension.

Winter chores set the stage for a bountiful harvest the following season.

For more information on home fruit production, contact MU Extension Horticulture Specialist Patrick Byers at the Greene County Extension Center in Springfield at (417) 862-9284.

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