NZ Gardener - Garden Diary 2018 - - Growing Tips -

SUM­MER IS a great time to be in the or­chard, with lovely, long days to ad­mire the ripen­ing crop on your trees. There are a few jobs you can com­plete un­der the sum­mer sun that will im­prove your tree health, re­duce tree height and im­prove the quan­tity and qual­ity of your crop.

WA­TER­ING & FEED­ING Wa­ter stress, caused by a lack of wa­ter, or over­wa­ter­ing fol­lowed by un­der­wa­ter­ing, can cause the devel­op­ing fruitlets to drop. Keep young trees well wa­tered, pro­vid­ing a good drink at least once each week. Ide­ally, leave a hose drib­bling in the “drip line” of the tree for an hour or so for a deep wa­ter­ing. Ap­ply a thick layer of mulch in a doughnut shape around the base of the tree. It’s im­por­tant to keep mulch away from the trunk, in par­tic­u­lar the bud union on a grafted tree (where the va­ri­ety is con­nected to the root­stock) to pre­vent the bark from rot­ting. Mulch will pro­vide a layer of in­su­la­tion for the soil to re­duce evap­o­ra­tion of mois­ture, as well as help­ing to sup­press weeds from grow­ing around the base of the tree. Just like a grow­ing child, fruit trees need a bal­anced diet. Ap­ply­ing a “side dress­ing” (sprin­kling a gran­u­lar fer­tiliser on the ground around the tree) of a spe­cialised fruit tree feed a cou­ple of times through sum­mer will pro­vide the per­fect bal­ance of N, P and K. Ni­tro­gen sup­ports the leafy growth of branches, phos­pho­rus pro­motes tree health and root de­vel­op­ment, and most im­por­tantly (and in the largest ra­tio), potas­sium looks after fruit growth ear­lier in sum­mer and en­cour­ages the ini­ti­a­tion of buds later in the sea­son for the next crop.

SUM­MER PRUN­ING Sum­mer prun­ing is one of the best ways to keep fruit trees small. Giv­ing your trees a clip in De­cem­ber, then again in Fe­bru­ary, will slow down growth. Ad­mit­tedly, this will also re­duce the crop, which is a tough call. You may even prune some of the baby fruits off, but as they say, no pain, no gain. Prun­ing dur­ing sum­mer causes a small amount of stress on the tree, which stunts growth slightly. Also, by re­mov­ing some leaf cov­er­age, sum­mer prun­ing re­duces the avail­able en­ergy for the tree to use to grow. Suc­cess­ful sum­mer prun­ing can keep a 10-year-old plum tree to 1.5m tall, com­pared to 4m-plus if left to grow un­tended. Best prac­tice is to prune new growth back by half in De­cem­ber, fol­lowed by an­other clip tak­ing half of the sub­se­quent growth in Fe­bru­ary.

As with all prun­ing of fruit trees, care needs to be taken to pre­vent bugs get­ting in through the wounds. Prune only on a sunny day when there are at least a few fine days fore­cast ahead. Prun­ing when rain is fore­cast is ask­ing for trou­ble – dis­eases thrive in warm, wet con­di­tions. Seal all prun­ing wounds that are thicker than your pinkie fin­ger with a prun­ing paste like Bac­seal. This will pre­vent dis­eases en­ter­ing through the prun­ing wounds and also helps them heal quicker. Use clean, sharp se­ca­teurs, ster­il­is­ing the blades with methy­lated spir­its or bleach. A per­ma­nent part of your prun­ing kit should be a sprayer bot­tle of meths and an old rag to wipe the blades. If prun­ing more than one tree, stop and clean the blades be­tween each tree.

PESTS & DIS­EASES There are a few bugs and blights that can nig­gle fruit trees in the warmer months. Keep a close eye on your trees, in­spect­ing the fruit, leaves and bark for signs of pests or dis­eases. In­fes­ta­tions and in­fec­tions can de­velop rapidly, so reg­u­lar ex­am­i­na­tions will help catch prob­lems in the early stages. Brown rot on stone­fruit is the most com­mon dis­ease and can dev­as­tate a crop within days. More com­mon in hu­mid con­di­tions where it thrives, this fun­gal dis­ease starts as small brown spots on the fruit, quickly spread­ing to cover the en­tire skin with pow­dery, tan-coloured mould and rot­ting the fruit.

Pre­ven­tion is best. Cop­per sprays in win­ter will sup­press dis­ease spores that over­win­ter on the tree, as will re­mov­ing any in­fected “fruit mum­mies”. Brown rot is most likely to cause prob­lems 2-4 weeks from har­vest, when the sugar lev­els of the fruit are in­creas­ing. Ap­pli­ca­tions of Yates Na­ture’s Way Fun­gus Spray fungi­cide dur­ing this pe­riod, ev­ery 10-14 days, is rec­om­mended. This prod­uct has no with­hold­ing pe­riod.

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