Here we are in the heat of Summer with Autumn beckoning to us from just around the corner. The blossoms of Spring have fallen and are long gone, trees are flushed with new verdant growth, and hopefully laden with the developing fruit crops of the season. With as much excitement that comes with the anticipation of harvesting the first ripe fruits its easy to forget about some of the tasks of keeping our orchards in check. Caring for your home orchard is a year-round endeavor, here are a few tips for summer care for your fruit trees.
Mid-June, July, and August are ideal times to be implementing Summer pruning. The goal of Summer pruning is to shape our trees but also to cut back and limit the energy of excess vegetative growth (water shoots and suckers) that would be otherwise going to our fruiting wood and root systems of the tree. This is especially important for highly vigorous trees. Summer pruning also helps to ensure better air flow and light penetration into the interior canopy of the trees to help mitigate pests and disease and to ensure better ripening for fruit. Be cautious in how much is taken from the tree. A good rule to go by is to cut no more than 30% of the entire tree. Excess pruning can lead to sun scald on the fruit and interior limbs and lead to diminished health.
From Spring onward it’s also important to be mindful of thinning the developing fruit on your tree. As you may know trees tend to produce fruit in excess which is the tree’s way of ensuring their chance of reproduction is more successful. This doesn’t necessarily help when it comes to the size of fruit we want to see on our kitchen tables. Thinning helps to ensure that more energy is being put into less fruit in exchange for larger size and better eating. On the tree, fruit should be no closer to one another than fist length and never touching. Also take into consideration the bearing weight of fruiting limbs. If overburdened with fruit, branches will snap, try to imagine what the weight of future fruit will be and how that will affect the limb. Don’t be shy about your thinning.
For more information, check out Michael Phillips’ work, or get involved with the Home Orchard Society, or a similar organization near you!