Wednesday, May 12, 2010

High Mortality Rate Among the Fruit Trees This Spring

We've got some baby fruit trees we've had in the mini orchard for three years now.  Last year we did a good pruning and staked some of the branches to get the trees to grow a little more balanced.  The apricot tree that had always looked a little sickly really thrived last year after the pruning.  It put on tons of new growth and we were so pleased with ourselves.  Well, this spring it is dead.  So is one of the peach trees.  That's two out of our 6 trees.  Actually the two better shaped of the 6 trees (of course).  The dead apricot tree on the right, happy plum tree on the left:

I called my extension agent to find out why they might have died and he said there was a lot of winter kill this year because of the exceptionally cold, long winter we had.  Older trees didn't have as much trouble as younger trees because the cold didn't get all the way to the core of the trunk.  He had a peach tree die also.

If you don't know your extension agent, they are a fabulous resource!  Ours is the USU Extension office, other states will be something else.  The horticulture agent is the go to guy for questions on all things gardening.  And the other gal, she's there for cooking, canning, food preservation techniques and whatever else.  They specialize in your area, so can give you local advice.  I also asked about good varieties of trees, grapes, berries, etc. as we're looking to add to our fruit collection and got some good suggestions.  The plants I almost bought at the store the other day are not the best varieties for our area.  Good thing the store was closed before I picked anything out.

Live Peach tree:

Dead Peach tree:

I did find a replacement apricot tree and two cherry trees to add to the orchard, but no replacement peach yet.  The ones at the store hadn't started leafing out yet, so I'm waiting until I can make sure they're alive before I buy one.

There are a few things to consider when purchasing baby fruit trees.  First is the size.  There are standard trees, semi-dwarf trees, and dwarf trees.  It should say on the tag.  If it doesn't say, you can assume they're standard size trees.  Generally you don't need to plant dwarf trees unless you've got a really small lot.  Standard trees can easily get so large that you won't be able to reach the fruit at the top when it's ripe even with a very tall ladder.  We've settled on Semi-Dwarf trees that get about 12-15 feet high and 12-15 feet wide depending on the variety.  That way we can get a number of different varieties in our somewhat limited space and still get a good production of fruit on each tree.

Another thing to consider that I didn't realize when we first bought our trees, but did realize after sweet husband took a pruning class last year, is the shape of the tree.  For fruit like apricot, cherry, peach, you want about four strong side branches evenly spaced around the tree.  A strong central leader is not necessary.  You don't want all four strong branches on one half of the tree like our peach tree that survived has.  We're trying to train some of the branches to come to the other side of the tree with ropes and stakes.  But a naturally balanced tree is better.  Apple trees want a strong central leader.  Why, I don't know.  That's what our pruning packet says.  What you don't want is a tree that looks like a stick with no branches or one that is obviously lopsided.  If you're buying your tree from a greenhouse, nursery, or similar store you can pick through and get a nice, healthy looking tree.  If you order from a catalog or online shop, you get what you get as far as shape, but sometimes can find a particular variety or size that isn't available elsewhere. 

So there's what I've learned for fruit trees.  Next time we have a hard winter, I'm making them some sweaters.


BillyBob said...

After the winter we had here in Missouri, I was worried about the young cherry trees I put in last year. It seems like they all survived and are doing great with the rainy, cool spring we are having. Sorry you lost some of your little ones. From the pictures, your survivors are looking good!

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry.