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Fruit trees cast a spell in the home garden that few other plants can match. In spring, winter's bare branches become magic wands that burst into bloom, beckoning bees with a potion of pollen and nectar. As summer tiptoes across the landscape, the flowers wane into an enchanted sleep to reawaken as fruits.
LATE WINTER • Fertilize bearing trees. Feed trees that have entered their crop-bearing years with fertilizer. Don't fertilize trees after early summer. SUMMER
CAPTION: Keep fruit trees healthy for incredible harvests.
The real magic of fruit trees is that you don't need spells or incantations to grow healthy trees. Keeping trees fit and trim hinges only on following a simple regimen of year-round care.
FALL to EARLY WINTER
• Protect the bark. Young trees need a tree guard placed around the trunks. The guard prevents hungry mice and rabbits from nibbling the bark off your tree during winter, when natural vegetation pickings are slim.
• Paint the trunk. If you garden in an area that maintains snow cover through winter, paint the trunks and lowest branch crotch angles with white latex paint (mixed with water, half and half) to prevent sunscald. As the sun's rays reflect off snow in winter, the heat causes bark to expand. When the sun sets, cold air envelops the trunk, and the bark splits as it cools, opening a wound that's ripe for invasion by disease or pest organisms.
• Forty-degree days signal the time to traipse into the orchard and tackle some spring cleaning.
• A pruning primer. Prune trees while they are dormant. Shape trees with pruners or loppers. Make cuts to open the canopy and to arrange horizontal bearing branches four to six inches apart.
• Always remove any diseased or damaged branches, any crossing branches, any narrow-angle branches, and one of the branches in a fork. Cut water sprouts as soon as they form. Don't snip the stubby short branches (spurs) that grow on horizontal limbs; these spurs are fruit-bearing shoots.
• Bring branches in bounds. Use loppers to check the height of trees that are five years old. Cut back the uppermost vertical branch to a weak lateral limb.
• Spray your trees. If you want healthy fruit crops, spray your trees with BioNeem to control pests and diseases. Spray trees during dormant season as leaf buds are swelling and turning green. This is the most important spray of the season toward long-term pest control. Do not miss it.
• Train branches straight. Limbs that grow as horizontally as possible ensure that foliage receives maximum sunlight and, consequently, produces more fruit. To enhance the wide-angle spread of limbs, manually spread branches using limb spreaders or by tying branches to a brick or weight. Don't spread limbs until they are two to four years old.
• Blossom time is key. Pollination is the most important period in the fruit-growing season. You can enhance pollination activity by spraying trees with bee attractant, which lures bees to blossoms. Do not spray any pesticides in your garden while flowers are open, or you might affect pollinating insect activity. If you absolutely must spray to control pests during blooming, spray only after dusk, when pollinators are not active.
• Continue pest control. Expect to spray trees with Eco-Oil two or more times during the growing season. Do not apply any sprays starting two weeks before harvest.
• Trees should shed pounds. Fruit trees go through "June drop," a time when nature naturally thins a tree's crop. Thin fruit during this time, removing one or two fruits per cluster. You can also clip off entire fruiting branches. As fruit matures, continue to thin the crop by removing any diseased or pest-ridden fruits.
• Fertilize bearing trees. Feed trees that have entered their crop-bearing years with fertilizer. Don't fertilize trees after early summer. SUMMER