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3 Must Do Tips For Preparing Your Orchard For Winter

Preparing Your Orchard For Winter

Preparing Your Orchard For Winter

Preparing your orchard for winter will help make sure that the trees continue to thrive and are ready to bear healthy, disease-free fruit. Whether you’re growing an apple tree or peach, pears or plums, most fruit trees require the same basic care to prepare for the deep cold.

Here we give you a good overview of the tasks that are needed to clean up your orchard in the fall and maintain it during the early winter months. From clean-up to mulching, there are a few important things to do, and it should not take you more than a day or two to handle a small, backyard orchard. 

Taking good care preparing your orchard for winter will help the cold hardiness of both young and mature trees.

Why spend time taking care of your orchard in fall? Preparing your fruit trees for winter is important for overall health and growth of trees. Orchards in winter can be a bit of an adventure. The cold weather and snow make it hard to get out into the orchard with pruners and loppers, so prepare before the snow arrives.

Check out more Organic Fruit Growing tips on our blog.

Clean Up Trees

The first step is to remove any dead or diseased branches from the tree and the orchard floor. If a branch has been damaged, by an animal or weather, it should be removed before winter. Dead wood has a tendency to rot when exposed to moisture and air, so removing it before the ground freezes helps prevent decay. It’s also important to clean up all fallen fruit to reduce disease and pest issues.

Use clean pruners or loppers to remove the branches and clean up any torn pieces of wood. Make sure you use isopropyl alcohol to clean the cutting blades in between trees. If you are removing branches larger than 1/2″ use a pruning sealer to close up the wound and prevent infection.

Clean Up The Orchard Floor

There are varying views on leaf clean-up in the orchard when preparing your orchard for winter. For most commercial orchards, they remove every last bit of litter on the ground. For a small orchard or the backyard orchard, this is not necessarily the approach we use.  Leaves collect on the ground in order to create a habitat that grows the soil biology for healthy trees and plants. 

Removing leaves completely means that vital nutrients the trees need during the growing season are going to be missing next spring. Instead of removing all of our leaves, we mow them which helps them break down faster and we suggest this for most of you. 

However, if you have had issues with fungi, bacteria or viral infections in your tree, you will want to make sure you do remove these diseased leaves. An alternative is to utilize healthy compost by adding just a sprinkling over the drip line area of the tree to help break down the pathogens that can survive the cold of winter.

If you have fallen fruits you will want to remove them from the ground. They can reintroduce pests and diseases if they are left. Animals such as sheep, pigs, and chickens can help remove the fruits just remember to make sure your trees are protected. We had no idea that pigs REALLY like peach bark (who knew?!?) and I’m sure you didn’t either.

Do Not Fertilize Your Trees

A common mistake people make is to fertilize trees in the fall. Fertilizing your trees at this time of year is a waste of money. It doesn’t matter how much fertilizer you apply; by the end of the growing season, most nutrients have been taken up by the roots. 

The best thing you can do now is mulch around the base of each tree with wood chips or shredded leaves (easy to do on a small scale with your lawn mower) to protect them from frost damage. 

Protecting your trees for the whole winter requires them to get to dormancy quickly. Fertilizing them, especially with nitrogen heavy fertilizers, prevents this from happening quickly. If the trees are dormant in a timely manner, there is little need to worry about preventing freeze damage for cold hardy trees.

Protect Your Trees

Most freeze damage happens due to either a warm snap followed by a cold snap or from the sun warming up the trunk on the southwest side of the tree on a sunny winter Day (called sunscald or southwest injury). 

Sunscald is caused when sunlight warms the trunk on the southwest side of the tree. This causes water vapor to condense on the surface of the bark. When the temperature drops, the condensed moisture freezes and creates cracks in the bark of the tree. 

Trees are most susceptible to this in late winter, just before spring when days tend to warm above freezing and nighttime temperatures fall back below it.

To prevent warm/cold issues for branches when preparing your orchard for winter, we plant our most tender trees where they will be protected from too much sun in the winter. The low hanging sun provides good shadows. If you keep your tender trees, like peaches, in these shadows, it will prevent a lot of damage

For sunscald we either paint the trunks with watered down white latex or use tree paint, use tree wraps, or plant shrubs on the south side of the trees. This advice is for both young and mature trees.

Some of the shrub options that we use include honeyberry/saskatoons, juneberries, peonies, lilacs, blueberries (in damper areas), highbush cranberries, buffaloberries, shrub roses, red twigged dogwoods, elderberries, aronia, hydrangeas, rose of sharon, or any other small shrub. Some of these choices, like lilacs, will require good pruning to keep them small enough to not compete with the trees.

Paint the Tree Trunks

This method is quick and easy. You’ll need latex paint, brushes or some rags. First, scrape off any loose bark on the bottom third of the trunk. Next, take an old rag or paint brush and dip it into either watered down latex paint or tree paint. Then, wipe the entire length of the trunk with the wet rag or wet brush. This should remove any dirt and debris that may have gotten stuck in the crevices. Finally, let the trunk dry.

Use Spiral Tree Wraps

You can use tree wraps instead of painting if you prefer. Tree wraps are made out of plastic, paper, and woven fiberglass. They are often sold at hardware stores, online, or at orchard supply houses. They come in different sizes and shapes depending on what you’d like to cover. Important to note that tree wraps must come off trees during the growing season as they provide a perfect location for boring insects to hide underneath.

Protecting your trees from animal damage is a part of growing for almost everyone. From mice and rabbits all the way up to deer, four footed animals cause a whole bunch of issues that can be challenging to get ahead of. Fall offers a great time to start.

Deer Damage Control

If you live in an area where deer are common, you might want to consider protecting your trees from their damage. Deer love apples and tender young branches! 

To deter deer while preparing your orchard for winter, you could try installing fencing, but keep in mind that deer are very good jumpers so having tall fences is recommended. 

Another option would be to place electric fencing along your property line. Electric fencing works well because deer cannot see it at night and it scares them.  Some of our customers with just a few trees have done well with Irish Spring Soap. I agree with the deer and don’t like the smell at all. 

We have been most successful with using tree tubes to prevent deer damage. We don’t sit in our orchard all day (wish we could!) and the deer are most happy to take advantage of this fact, sneaking in at night and browsing up and down the rows until they find their favorite taste for the evening. 

This causes havoc on young trees and we’ve found that the tree tubes help get the trees tall quickly and out of the reach of most deer here in Maine.

We’ve used Tree Pro Miracle Tree Tubes very successfully and have had other customers have good luck with them as well. But almost any tree tube will help protect against deer damage, especially if it is at least 4 feet tall. 

You can leave these tubes on all year to help protect from voles, mice, rabbits, raccoons, deer… well, almost any four footed creature.  They don’t need to come off until they split from the tree trunk being large. 

We do remove the tubes in early fall and remove any leaves or branches that are below the top of the tube to keep the trees clean.

Voles, Mice, and Rabbit Tree Damage Prevention

These small creatures will chew through anything they can fit their teeth around. If you notice bark missing from your tree trunks, then you know that something has been chewing. 

Voles, mice, and rabbits eat everything from sap to roots, so it’s important to control these pests before they become a problem eating the bark of fruit trees. Young trees are the treat chosen most often, but even a mature fruit tree can be damaged.

To help prevent vole, mouse, and rabbit damage, you’ll want to create a barrier that will deter them from chewing.  Installed properly, Tree Tubes or Spiral Tree Wraps will control rodents and rabbits as well. But if you’re not using them, then you will need another option.

We have thousands of trees including baby trees that need good protection from voles especially. A good, aluminum window screening 24 to 36 inches wide will work and grow with your tree.  Wrap around the base of your tree. 

Do not tie or corkscrew it, you want it tight enough to prevent chewing but loose enough for the tree to grow. 

This works even on mature trees that are too big and branched out to use a tree tube on.

Ending the season strong

When you take care of your fruit trees, you will end up with healthy trees that can live for decades. By removing any damaged branches, trimming off any dead or diseased wood, and protecting your trees, you will be preventing rot and pests from killing your backyard orchard. We have been very successful in protecting trees with these methods and hope that you will be too!

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