Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Spring Orchard Chores

Get to know your buds!  I mean the buds on your orchard trees.  The stage of the bud will determine what to do in your orchard to have a healthy, productive harvest.

March and April Chores

In March and April the buds are in the dormant stage and the progress to the delayed dormant stage.  In dormant stage the buds are tightly closed.  It is a very easy stage to identify.  Specific tasks should be done at this stage.

Dormant Stage Chores:

  • Prune apples and pears.  Remove dead, diseased, and crossing branches.  Prune to allow light in 
  • Pruning Apples and Pears
  • Prune tart cherries.  Remove dead, diseased and crossing branches.  Use heading cuts to shorten lengthy branches
While prune watch for signs of fire blight.  This appears as dead leaves that did not fall from the tree on terminal tips that are bent in a sheperd's hook. Trim 10" below this and clean pruners with clorox wipes after pruning.

Delayed Dormant stage of buds will occur at different times for each fruit.  It includes the stages when the sap begins to flow and the buds begin to swell.  It also includes some stages beyond this depending on the type of tree.

Apples:  Silver Tip, Green Tip, Half Inch Green
Pears:  Swollen Bud, Bud Burst, Green Cluster
Peaches:  Swollen Bud, Calyx Green, Quarter Inch Green, First Pink
Cherries:  Swollen Bud, Bud Burst, Tight Cluster
Apricot:  Swollen Bud

Delayed Dormant Chores:

  • Prune peach, apricot, nectarine, plum, and sweet cherry

  • All fruit trees spray  an application of horticulture oil or dormant oil

Pests that Dormant oil targets:

  • In apple and pears - Green apple aphid, rosy apple aphid, blister mites, San Jose scale
  • In peach, nectarine, apricot and plum- Green peach aphid, leafcurl plum aphid, peach tree borer
  • Cherry-  black cherry aphid

Each fruit trees has a specific aphid that attacks that tree.  Eggs of aphids overwinter around the the buds.  Eggs hatch is in spring and feed on buds and leaves.  Large infestations cause the leaves to curl and if you uncurl the leaves you can see the tiny aphids.  Around June the aphids develop wings and leave your fruit trees for weeds and other host plants.

Blister mites feed within the leaves all season long.  Mites over winter on the bud scales and hatch at bud swell.  By petal fall, the mites lay their eggs and their feeding produces blisters which provide shelter for the mites. 

San Jose scale is an odd insect that is immobile its entire life.  They have a stylet that pierces the tissue to feed on plant tissues.  They overwinter on the bark and over 200 crawler can hatch from a given female.  This is the only stage the insect is mobile.  Large infestations can weaken and eventual kill limbs.

Peach twig borer that affects peaches, nectarines, and apricots overwinters on the bark as a larvae.

Dormant or horticulture oils target these pest by suffocating the eggs or larvae of these pests.

Fertilizer Applications if Needed

All fruits trees could use a soil application of chelated iron if iron chlorosis has been a problem in past years.  It is important to apply it now in and in chelated form.  Spread dry form around the drip line of the tree.  Peaches are especially vulnerable to this.

Apply a nitrogen fertilizer if you had less than 8" of new growth the previous season.  I apply blood meal, 2 parts bone meal, and azomite or greensand mixed together.  I do not end up doing this very often because I seem to have over 10" of new growth each year.

Soil test is you have concerns about other deficiencies. 

Spread a compost around the tree and you are setting the stage for a healthy, productive harvest.  Of course, in Utah,  spring is fickle and the threat of a late frost or even snow is still there.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Pruning Apples and Pears

Proper pruning increase the harvest.  The white powder is Kaolin clay an organic insect deterrant.

The goal of pruning is to improve the health, fruit yield, and appearance of the tree. 
When to prune:  Before the buds swell.  This is when the tree is dormant.  Late winter or early spring is ideal.

Three easy steps to pruning:

1.  Health and Healing
Prune out all diseased, dead, and damaged branches.  Prune out any branches that cross or rub.
No dead or diseased but lots of crossing and rubbing branches.

2.  Heading cuts:  
Purpose:  Heading cuts are designed to control the height of the tree and encourage branching off the main limbs. 
Procedure:  With a heading cut, part of a shoot is  removed by cutting 1/4 inch above a lateral bud leaving behind a stub. Heading cuts stimulate growth of buds or branching below the cut because apical dominance has be en removed.
 Another variation of the heading cut is to cut back to a lateral shoot instead of just a bud.  Choose a lateral branch that is directed outward and upward with a good angel and make cut just above that branch.  Less growth is stimulated by this type of cut. (Pruning Fruit Trees by Mark S Burnell)
This is a standard tree.  The canopy will be headed back by 10-20% to control the height.  I don't have a fence around my orchard so I don't want my trees too short or the deer get the harvest not me.

3.  Thinning Cuts

Purpose:  Thinning is necessary because fruit trees produce too much new growth which shades lower wood and will reduces flower bud formation and fruit development.  The goal of thinning is to reduce crowding, increase air circulation, and sunlight penetration to lower parts of the tree. Thinning cuts are also used to establish the main scaffold branches by removing unwanted lateral branches when the tree is young and being trained.
(Pruning Fruit Trees by Mark S Burnell)

Procedure:  Thinning cuts remove entire shoots, leaving no stub behind.
  When thinning branches, the angle of the branch will be the factor that determines whether to remove the branch or leave the branch.  The ideal branch angle is between 45 and 60 degrees.  Branches with this angle will develop into very strong branches that can bear the weight of the fruit.  Branches with a narrow angle, less than 45 degrees, can be bent down to the proper angle when they are young and flexible, using toothpicks, sticks, clothespins, or by tying them down.  Branches at a narrow angle that have hardened and can’t be bent are probably best removed.
(Pruning Fruit Trees by Mark S Burnell)

Thinning cuts are also used to thin out crowded spur systems. They should be 4-6 inches apart.

Too many vigorous shoots thinning needed.  The spurs on underside of  the branch can also be removed because they will be shaded.

Still a little unsure?  Here is a step by step process suggested by the Royal Horticulture Society:

To start with

  • Always use sharp bypass pruners, loppers and a pruning saw
  • Start by removing crossing, rubbing, weak, dead, diseased, damaged and dying branches


  • Shorten the previous year’s growth on each main branch  by about one third to a bud facing in the required direction. This will encourage the development of new branches and spurs and maintain a good shape 

  • Leave young laterals (side-shoots) unpruned so they can develop fruit buds in the second year 

  • Only remove the young laterals if they are crossing or if the growth is too crowded, i.e. growing closer 4-6 inches at the base 

  • Remove strong shoots 6in  growing towards the center of the tree 

  • On older trees, remove/thin out any spur systems that have become congested. Where thinning or removal is required, remove spurs on the underside of the branches, where the developing fruit will not receive enough light, and produces inferior fruit (Royal Horticulture Society)

This apple variety Sungold seems to have a very upright growth habit.  It's best to spread limbs when the tree is young.  I did not do that, but suggest that training trees the first few years makes pruning easier and is less complicated and discouraging than correcting a mature tree. 



As sections of the branch framework are removed the pruned tree is likely to produce watershoots - which are tall, upright branches, that produce no flowers or fruit. By only remove 10-20% of the canopy per year fewer watershoots will be produced.

If watershoots arise, there is no need to remove all of them but they will need thinning out;
  • Consider if any strong, well placed watershoots may be used for as replacement branches in the future and tip prune them by about a quarter to an outward facing bud to encourage branching 

  • If well placed and not causing congestion of the crown, leave some of the weaker (thinner and less upright) watershoots unpruned. They may produce fruit buds and act as secondary branches 

  • Remove any remaining water shoots 9 inches or more in length at the point of origin
  • If you spot new watershoots, rub them off during the growing season as they appear

Avoid giving your trees a "hair cut"

 I cringe when I see tree topped off.  It looks like you took a chain saw to the tree and cut off the top.  When this is done you will have a thicket of young growth shot up from each cut.  It will be non fruiting wood that will have to be removed each year.  Not a healthy practice for the tree or the pruner. 

Pruning is one area that I did not take the time to learn properly when I planted my orchard.  I did not train my trees when they where young because I didn't understand the purpose of pruning and how essential it is to having  larger yields and well sized fruit.  Also with apples lack of pruning will result in biennial fruit bearing and very small fruit.  So take the time to read and learn from experienced people in your area, the extension office, and other resources.  Managing an orchard is a lot of work but the harvests are worth it! 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Applying Dormant Oil

We are having a warm spell.  Perfect time to get work done in the orchard and yard and enjoy the sunshine.  Right now you should be focusing on two things:

1.   Pruning peaches, apricots, and sweet cherry (if needed). It is OK to prune them up to pre-bloom.  You have a little more time with apples and pears but they should be pruned also.
2.  Apply horticultural oil and/or copper now, or in the next few weeks to all woody plants including perennials, ornamentals, berries, shade and fruit trees.
Horticulture oil is the proper term for the oil.  It can be used as a dormant oil or a light summer oil.

Despite the fact that we call it “dormant oil”, the timing of a horticultural oil spray is not when trees are still dormant.  A better term would be a “delayed-dormant” because the oil should be applied after bud swell which results from the sap beginning to flow.  This just happens to coincide with the increased activity of the overwintering insect, such as aphid eggs, scale nymphs, and peach twig borer larvae.  The oil smoothers insect eggs and larvae.  It is effective against aphids leafhopper nymphs, mealybugs, mites, plant bug nymphs, psyllids, sawfly larvae, scale, thrips and the early stages of caterpillars.
 A young apple tree pruned and ready to spray.  This is a heritage variety:  Ashamed Kernel a cooking apple.

In my zone, some trees like plum and apricot have already bloomed but it is still ok to apply the oil to peaches, cherries, apples, and pears. 

When to Spray

There are a few factors  to consider when determining the right time to spray: the bud stages of your fruit trees and temperature.
Peach blossoms at pink tip stage.

Bud Stages

The window for application extends from bud swell to when leaves just start emerging. The last point at which you can safely apply oil is:
  • apple: half-inch green (ideally, application is made at green tip stage)
  • pear: cluster bud
  • apricot:  up to first bloom
  • cherry: white bud
  • peach/nectarine: pre-bloom (when the pink shows through the bud)
(Information from USU Extension)

Here is a link to pictures of the bud stages to help you identify what stage your buds are in.  It also includes information on critical temperatures for frost damage.

Plum tree blossoms already opening do not spray when flowers are blooming.


When using horticulture oil, the air temperature is important.  Horticultural oil should on be applied when the night time temperature will not be dropping below 45 degrees F.  This gives a 24 hours period of appropriate temperatures.

After pruning these blackberries,
I will spray them with dormant oil.

Types of Horticulture Oil

The active ingredient in organic dormant spray or horticulture oil is cotton seed oil. When the oil is dry it does not harm beneficial insects. 

 Non organic sprays may be petroluem based. 

This is a nanking cherry I pruned as a small tree.
Beautiful in full bloom.

Summary of Horticultural Oil Application

  • Trees need to be in the proper bud stages before spraying.  This is when the sap begins to flow and buds swell.

  • The temperature will stay above 45F for 24 hours

  •  Horticulture oil can be used as a light summer spray directly on foliage or as a dormant oil on the bark of ornamentals, berries, shade, and fruit trees.  The application rate is different for each use so follow manufactures instructions.

  • When spraying apple trees, if fire blight is a problem you can add copper
  • Make sure you thoroughly cover all cracks and crevices.  These harbor insects. This oil works by smothering insects and eggs so there must be direct contact with the spray.
Apricots are always to impatient to bloom and usually freeze.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Spring Chores

I love this time of year!  Spring bulbs are the first assurance that there is hope after a bleak winter.  This is also a busy time of year.  I've included a to do list for the month of March.  It may seem overwhelming but it feels so good to work outside, and what a sense of satisfaction when the orchard, yard, and garden are pruned, cleaned, and ready for the season.

  March Gardening Check List

Start New Garden Beds:
  • Make the beds 4x8 and at least 10” deep.  Fill with a sandy loam soil, add compost (Nutrimulch is very good), peat moss, and an organic dry fertilizer.  Use a shovel to incorporate the compost into the soil. You can  till the ground under the box put do not cover the bottom of the box with anything.  Remove all weeds and rocks under the box
  • You can make your own mix of organic dry fertilizer.  I mix it in a 5 gallon bucket. 
  • One part blood meal, two parts bone meal, and a couple handfuls of greensand or azomite. 
  •  Organic fertilizers feed the microbes and the microbes then provide nutrients to your plants. This blend can be used on everything in your yard: flowers, berries, trees, fruit trees, vegetables, perennials, and shrubs.

Prepare Existing beds:
  • Add at least one or two bags of compost to your existing beds
  • Broadcast the dry organic fertilizer over the top then add the compost
  • You can use a shovel to work it a new bed. It does not need to be worked into an existing bed that you have been gardening in regularly if you are satisfied with you soil.
  • Water your bed good and you are ready to plant
What to plant Now!
  • Plant peas 2 “ apart.  It’s best to have a trellis of some kind.  You can soak the seeds the night before for faster germination. You can also inoculate them.
  • Plant spinach, kale, swiss chard, beets, kohlrabi, mustards, pac choi.  Remember to plant the seeds no deeper than 3x the width of the seed
  • Plant lettuce.  Lettuce needs light to germinate so sprinkle seeds on surface and lightly brush the surface.  I prefer to start them indoors and transplant outside.
  •  Plant carrots at the end of the month. Carrots do not germinate if the seed dries out or is planted too deep.  I cover both lettuce and carrot seeds beds with a clear panel. It warms the soil and keeps it from drying out.  You can use landscape cloth or burlap.  Be sure to remove it when the seeds begin to germinate.
  • I recommend planting broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage from transplants.  Wait to put them out until April unless you have protection.
  • All these plants are cool season crops and do not mind cold nights and light frosts.  If planted in the right season they taste better and are pest free. Plant when soil temperatures are 55-70

Raspberries pruned and tied to a trellis

Clean up the landscape:
  • Cut perennials down to the ground
  • Prune roses and flowering shrubs.
  • Weed, weed, weed....weeds wake up early
  • Broadcast dry fertilizer around and add a layer of compost throughout your landscape
  • Spring bulbs of tulips, daffodils, crocus,  and hycithias should be up and on the way to blooming.  Enjoy them!
  • Prune out to the ground canes that bore fruit last year in raspberries and blackberries. (burn or take prunings to the dump)
  • If it is an ever-bearing raspberry you can prune just below where it bore fruit and it will bear below that
  • Thin out the new canes so you have 12-14 per square foot in raspberries
  • Tie the raspberry canes to a trellis
  • Cut blackberry canes to about 5 or 6 ft high and tie to trellis
  • Trim back lateral canes to 12 to 18 “ or 12 buds
  • Spread dry fertilizer around
  • Add compost

Fruit Trees
  • You should be pruning and spray a dormant spray
  • .Weed and clean out water wells
  • Broadcast fertilizer if needed.  Based on last year’s growth.
  • Add at least 2” or 3” or compost Keep compost away from trunk
  • Now is the time to apply a fertilizer with a pre-emergent in it.  I use WOW Supreme from Garden's Alive.  It is organic so my clippings can be used in the compost pile.

  • Turn compost piles and rewet them 

  • This is kidding season have your kidding pens cleaned and ready

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

What To Plant in Early Spring?

Is it snowing outside yet you are already making plans for the garden? Are you busy browsing the seed catalogs and making your list of new and old varieties you gotta plant?  Let's look at the earliest spring crops you can plant.  They are cold hardy and many enjoy a light frost because it converts starch into sugar and sweetens them up. Cool season crops offer early harvests and delicious fresh produce.

These crops need cool temperatures to germinate, grow, develop fruit, and mature.  Once the heat sets in the quality and taste of these crops declines. Radishes get hot and pithy in the heat.  Aphids tend to take over brassica crops like broccoli and cabbage as temperatures warm up.  Planting cool season crops at the right time is critical.

Cool Season Crops

  • Need to mature when weather is cool
  • Can be planted in spring and early fall
  • Direct seeded when soil temps 45-50
  • Flavor often improves with light frost
  • Do not like heat encourages bolting and aphids
  • Divided into hardy and semi-hardy

When To Plant

Soil temperature is the determining factor on when you can begin planting. It is also important that you know the average last frost date for your area.

Generally you can plant these crops as soon as the soil is dry enough to work and soil temperatures are between      .  Seed packets will usually tell you the best soil temperature for germination and will also suggest how many weeks before your last frost you can plant.

To determine soil temperature use any thermometer and insert it an inch in the soil in the middle of the day.

How To Plant

Most cool season crops are seeded directly into the garden. However you can start broccoli and cauliflower, cabbage, and lettuce indoors. They need more time to mature and direct seeding them usually means they mature to late in the season when temperatures are high. They are generally planted 2-4 weeks before the last frost date of your area.

 A general rule for planting seeds is to plant the seed 2-3 times as deep as the seed is.  Lettuce is the exception.  It need light to germinate.  This is why I prefer starting it indoors.  You can gently press the seeds into your trays and you don't have problems lettuce seeds migrating to unwanted areas in your beds.

What to Plant

Hardy Cool Season Crops

  • Most cold tolerant
  • Planted 2-4 weeks before last frost generally mid March to Mid April
  • Seedlings endure freezes and grow when air temps in 40’s

Hardy Cool Season Crops    

  • Asparagus
  • Brussel Sprout *
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Chives
  •  Collards *
  • Corn Salad (Mache)
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Mustards 
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • radishes
  • Rhubarb
  • Rutabaga*
  • Spinach
  • Turnips*
* Best Planted as a fall crop

Semi-Hardy Cool Season Crops
  • Tolerate light freezes or a few hours of frost
  • Grown when minimum air temps 45-60
  • Direct seed and transplant in April

Semi-Hardy Crops

  • Beets
  • Carrots,
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Chinese Cabbage
  • Artichokes
  • Lettuce 
  • Parsnips*
  • Potatoes
  • Sorrel
  • Hardy Herbs

A fall planting of some cool season crops is possible which extends your season considerably.  In my zone this planting can be done at the end of July. 

-Beets and carrots can be seeded directly into the garden.  

-Rutabagas, collard, and turnips are best seeded directly into the garden as fall crops.

-Transplants of broccoli, kale, lettuce, Chinese Cabbage, and Brussel sprouts can be planted at this time. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Signs of Spring & How to Warm Your Soil

A beautiful apple blossom with large king bloom in the middle.  Oh how I am looking forward to spring.

Outside the north wind is blowing and I trudge through ice and snow bundled up as I go feed the goats, chickens, and ducks.  But the day before I was 70 miles south visiting family and it was a beautiful 70 degrees.  I meet fellow gardeners in the garden section of the local nursery with dirt already under their fingernails.  I admired the transplants of broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and kale already in the store and sighed.  Spring has sprung there but sadly not in New Harmony.

Peach trees in bloom.

Deciding when to plant is a perhaps one of the harder decisions especially to a new gardener or if you have moved to a new location.  

Determining when spring has sprung has more to do with observing natural events than a particular date on a calendar.  The official declaration of spring occurs with the vernal equinox which is around March 21 or 22nd.  This date has no bearing on the appearance of spring for the gardener.  In some areas of the north "spring" won't actually make its appearance until May or June and in the south is may already be too late to plant some crops.  

Pear blossoms

So what does the Spring equinox tell us?  On this day the suns rays fall straight down on the equator.  Around the globe the length of daylight and night are equal.  From then on the hours of daylight will increase.  For many that is reason enough to rejoice.  This day does influence the behavior of animals.  Increasing daylight triggers courtship, migration, and other behaviors.

So how do you determine when spring has arrived?  The temperature of the air is less important to plants than the temperature of the soil.  The only dependable thing about spring is that is is fickle.  It toys with your emotions appearing then quickly retreating.  In our part of the country they say, "If you don't like the weather wait 5 minutes and it will change."  To understand planting schedules it is more important to look at nature herself and the observe when certain indicators begin the "spring" forth.

Early spring bulbs

Some signs of spring:

  • Buds swell
  • Sap begins to flow
  • Appearance of certain insects
  • Appearance of certain birds
  • Spring bulbs emerging
  • Emergence of weeds
  • And the smell of the soil warming.

Emerging tulips are a welcome sign of spring.

Warming Soil

I want to focus the last one-  warming soil. Why is soil temperature important?

As the temperature of the air rises and sunlight increases it begins to warm the soil.  This warming of the soil awakens the living organisms in your soil.  Microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and protozoa come alive and restart the process of decomposing organic matter. This process of decay is what will make your soil rich in nutrients and gives it the earthy smell that gardeners love.  Earth worms migrate up  when the soil is frost free eating there way through soil, aerating as they tunnel, and depositing castings which enrich the soil.  During winter months or drought the earthworm burrows deep in the soil, encases itself in slime, and "hibernates" until the soil warms and there is moisture.

What The Gardener Should Do

This is why I feel it is important to add organic matter in the form of compost and aged manures in the garden in the fall.  You want organic matter available for these organisms in early spring.  It is the food source of soil organisms and combined with the warming sun will awaken the soil food web essential to organic gardening.  I add additional compost again when planting along with and organic dry fertilizer.

The minimum temperature that seeds of cool season crops can germinate is 40 degrees.

It is possible to assist nature in warming your soil.

Build Your Soil

 A sandy loam soil with organic matter will warm more quickly than a heavy clay soil.  

Raised Beds

Soil in a raised bed warms more quickly than bare ground.

Plastic Mulches

Plastic mulches can be used to warm the soil.  For northern gardeners they can be used to warm the soil to get an earlier start on melons, tomatoes, and peppers.  Stretch the plastic mulch tightly across the bed and secure the edges.  I recommend using a plastic mulch specifically for gardening.  Black or clear plastic do NOT allow for the movement of air and water and are used more for solarizing the soil or killing weed seeds.  

Hoop Houses or Low Tunnels

This is what I use in early spring to get a head start.  Low tunnels increase air temperature during the day and retain heat at night.  An additional row cover can be placed over plants under the low tunnel.  They are inexpensive to build and easy to remove and relocate.

Early spring crops grown under a low tunnel.

You can see row covers in the background and a low tunnel.  Both allow you to plant earlier.

Cold Frames

Cold Frames are a bottomless box of glass or plastic placed over an existing bed.  They are more expensive and you must monitor the inside temperature more closely because they offer more protection from frost and heat up more readily than a row cover.

Hot Caps

Hot caps cover individual plants creating a mini greenhouse.  They are an options if you have only a few plants to protect which is rarely the case in my garden.

Word of Caution

For those of you that are like me and get spring fever in February whenever the sun shines and snow melts and seed packets arrive in the mail, be gentle with spring soils.

Seed packets will say to plant as soon as soil can be worked.  So what does that mean?

Because spring soil has a lot of moisture in it, the soil compacts easily.  Every time you step on your garden soil your weight squeezes out the air and when the moisture evaporates it drys into a hard clod.  Even hoeing or turning a wet soil can compact the soil particles together.  While weed seeds don't seem to mind hard compacted soil, garden seeds are more particular.

So when is it OK to "work the soil?"  Grab a handful of dirt from your garden beds, squeeze it, then open up your hand.  If the ball of soil crumbles on its own or crumbles when you poke it then go ahead and work compost and dry organic fertilizer into the soil.  If you have sticky mud ball then wait for the soil to dry out. 

When working the soil in open ground and if you cannot avoid walking on your soil, lay boards out on the garden soil to distribute your weight.  It is a better option to have specific paths to walk on and avoid walking in your planting areas at all.  

"When a spadeful of earth crumble, the plows may be started, but not while the spade comes out of the ground smeared."  John P. Morton & Co.  Western Farmers' Almanac 1884