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Solving Fruit Tree Problems

Good Garden Hygiene

While good garden hygiene and care is necessary to fruit tree health and output, it’s not a guarantee against problems. There's always some critter insisting you share my bounty, or some disease intent on sullying virgin trees. I’ve certainly had my fair share of problems over the years and have solved most by organic methods.

Feed Your Fruit Trees

Unequivocally, the number one problem for most home fruit tree problems is lack of water and nutrients. Few leaves and with brown edges are warning flashes to us. Most areas of Canada simply don’t get enough summer rainfall to reach tree roots. And surrounding nutrients are quickly absorbed in the first few years. Trees are like athletes - they can’t produce if you starve them. So it's necessary to water trees well and often, and I add yearly shovels full or bags of manure compost. An inground watering rod is a good investment.

Repairing A Broken Fruit Tree Branch

Repair to Fruit Tree

Even a broken branch can be repaired. Reposition the branch and tie up, then apply grafting wax and there is a good chance the graft will take and in a few years it will be as good as new.

Bright cherries are invitations to all birds and it’s a battle to keep ripening fruit. Time to buy tree-sized netting. Talk a friend or two into helping you put it on, and you’ll quickly enjoy peace of mind. Birds simply won’t land anywhere they might catch their feet, nor where they can't see to put their feet (another reason to mulch strawberries). And rarely will birds will fly up into a netted tree.

Another cherry tree problem is the borer, a form of tree grub which bores into the trunk and branches to live, feed and propagate. Sticky resin patches, smaller than a dime, will indicate the openings (they come in numbers). I tried the mineral oil in the hole route but it did nothing, so I had to use a systemic insecticide which soon cleared the problem. Failure to treat will eventually kill the tree.

Fireblight likes pear and plum trees, and resembles burned branch tips. It’s a windblown, alkaline virus. A spray solution of one part white vinegar to 3 parts water used several times everywhere will quickly solve that problem. Affected parts must be cut off and burned, and secaturs dipped in vinegar after each cut to not spread the problem. I’ve also treated plant rust the same way, but thin the solution to 5 parts water to 1 part vinegar.

Disfiguring galls (knobs) on plum trees are caused by a bug living in the knob. The problem is particularly bad in older varieties of plum trees where a bluish bark mold also likes to gather. Neither kills the tree, but fruiting is adversely affected. It’s best to simply cut and burn the tree and replace it, in another spot, with a resistant variety.

Burn off tent caterpillar nests with a hand held propane torch. They won’t kill the tree but their numbers will increase annually and stop fruiting in those areas. Ants and other crawlers require a wide cloth band spread with Tanglefoot mid-trunk. Avoid spreading the goo directly on bark. It dries out and you can’t remove the dead. Replace the band and Tanglefoot midseason, more often if the problem is heavy.

Coddling moth in apple trees is not a problem I’ve had, touch wood, but apparently hanging traps specific to them have a high success rate. Ask at your garden centre.

Peach leaf curl unavoidably blows in on rain. Affected leaves will soon drop off (gather and burn) but new leaves will appear. Feed peach trees well to rejuvenate leaves, especially with fish buried under the tree. The resulting peaches are luscious. If wasps like them too, cover peach clusters with paper bags and fasten tops.

If trees flower but don’t fruit at all, then a pollinator tree might be needed. Garden centres can recommend companion trees. Sometimes late frosts kill blossoms and any chance of fruit that year. If it happens often, and the tree size is manageable, cover with plastic sheeting until you know all frost has past. If size is unmanageable, plant something more reliable. It’s also possible that not enough bees are around to pollinate. I encourage them with bright flowers.

Also consider your garden area. Local garden centres sell trees hardy to the area. But trees can’t survive winters in open windswept, heavy snow-laden areas. Some form of windbreak increases fruit tree success, be it a line of trees, shrubs or the leeward side of a house. I have an L line of mature maples to the windward side which creates a microclimate. And to avoid winter trunk girdling by hungry rabbits (which kill trees), I protect trunks with vinyl tree wraps or slit lengths of weeping pipe.

There are no guarantees in life, except death, taxes and insurance salespeople, so home orchardists can only try their best. Gardening always has and will be a journey

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