If you have a home orchard, this is the time of year to start protecting young fruit trees from deer damage. Landscape trees like crabapple, weeping cherry or ornamental pear need similar attention in fall. An ounce of prevention right now could insure that your young trees live to a ripe old age; they are very vulnerable right now and protecting them is easy.
Rubbing or uprooting by bucks in the fall is a common problem. A simple way to prevent buck rub damage is to wrap a short piece of wire fencing loosely around the trunk (see photo). We’ve had great success with this method, which doesn’t trap moisture around the bark, or invite insect infestations, the way corrugated tile can.
Deer like to nibble the new growth during the winter, which destroys next season’s fruit buds. This can be prevented by spraying trees with a good deer repellent like “Liquid Fence” once a month starting in September and continuing through the winter. Always spray deer repellent on trees when planting, since deer are attracted to newly turned soil and will investigate right away.
Rabbits like to nibble the tender bark of fruit trees during winter, which can kill them by stripping the vital inner bark trees need to carry food and water. We use plastic tree guards to protect young bark from rabbits. This method also protects from herbicide spray drift, which can scar the smooth bark of young trees and stunt them.
We see many orchards with crooked trees. We recommend hardwood tree stakes for the first few years to prevent this. Sturdy stakes will also support wire fencing, the ultimate deer deterrent. We also recommend killing weeds and grass in the root zone with Roundup to eliminate competition for water and nutrients. Roundup will not poison the soil, but be careful not to spray any on the bark or foliage.
Soaking your trees with “dormant oil” helps control certain insects and diseases from getting started in your young orchard. Dormant oil spray, like Bonide “All Seasons Spray Oil”, is liquid paraffin in a ready-to-use spray bottle or a concentrate you can mix up in your own sprayer. It smothers insect eggs on the bark, breaking their life cycle.
When planting young trees, mix a sustained release multi-mineral, low nitrogen fertilizer with the soil around the tree. Espoma Tree Tone, a specialized fertilizer containing trace minerals like Boron and Zinc, is perfect for this. Trace minerals help prevent problems like blossom end rot and premature fruit drop. Fertilizers with high nitrogen content are not good for fruit trees.
Mixing the fertilizer with the soil when you plant is the best way to feed young trees. Later, annual feeding is best done by scattering Tree Tone in the root zone before mulching. You can fertilize now, anytime during winter, or in early spring. Sustained release fertilizers will remain in the root zone until the soil temperature warms, allowing trees to uptake the nutrients.
Right now is the best time of year to expand your home orchard. Fall planting gets you one year closer to bearing fruit than if you wait until spring. Fall weather is ideal for low-stress planting. The soil is still warm enough for root development, while the tree itself is going dormant and doesn’t need much watering. Cooler temperatures and increased rainfall help as well.
The most common mistake when planting young trees is digging the hole too deep and smothering the roots. The container soil should be level with the area around the tree, and should be left exposed so the roots can breathe. If you add soil over the root zone, it prevents air from reaching the roots and smothers the tree. Remember: plants breathe through their roots!
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers.” “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are on the “Garden Advice” page at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.