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Fruit Trees Pruning

How to Winter Prune Your Fruit Trees (the 5 “D’s”)

Pruning fruit trees can feel really intimidating! I remember the first time I cut a branch off a fruit tree. I was convinced I’d just killed it. It turns out that pruning trees is a very important tool in the gardener’s toolkit. Replacing old wood with new wood is a natural process for a tree. This wood replacement happens through wind, too much fruit breaking limbs, etc. A tree is designed to respond to pruning by generating new, healthy growth. As you prune while trees are dormant (usually in the winter in North America), you’ll want to focus your pruning on what are called the “5 D’s” of winter pruning. Be sure to use a pair of quality pruning shears to prune off any wood that is: dead, dying, damaged, diseased, or deformed.

Dead and Dying

Dead twig held in a hand

Wood that is dead and dying should be pruned off without thinking twice. Cutting already dead wood is probably the easiest cut for most gardeners, as the wood is already dead. Nobody feels guilty pruning off a dried twig or branch. One way to visually tell if a branch is dead or dying is whether or not the branch is flexible. A healthy branch has some flex to it, while a dead branch is very rigid and brittle. A dead branch can often looks gray and shriveled. This IS one of the more crucial cuts, because dead wood is a common entrance for bugs to enter the tree. Keeping your tree free of dead or dying wood is an important step in keeping your tree healthy.

Damaged

hand indicating a broken twig

Wood can become damaged in many ways, often through some sort of apparent trauma. Leaving damaged wood on your tree is an invitation for trouble. Damaged wood can allow pathogens to enter the tree’s system. Boring insects can use a damaged section of a tree as an opportunity to set up shop. Damaged wood, as sad as it is to remove, should be pruned off right away to allow other healthy wood to grow in its place.

Diseased

a closeup of a diseased area on a tree branch

Diseased wood should scare most people straight. If your tree has a disease, it is IMPERATIVE that you cut this diseased wood off. Left unchecked, the pathogens can travel from the currently affected parts to the healthy parts of the plant’s system. There are many of diseases which affect different types of trees. These diseases range from devastating “fire blight” in apples and pears, to “bacterial canker” in peach and nectarine. When removing diseased limbs, there are 2 main things to keep in mind:

Cut a few inches below the visible diseased area

A disease will often be found further into the tree than is visible from the outside. When pruning off a diseased limb, cut a few inches below the visibly diseased area to ensure you removed all the diseased wood.

Sterilize your shears between cuts, and between trees

Plant pathogens are like human pathogens, in that they can travel from subject to subject through contact. In the case of a tree, the disease travels on the pruning shears. When you cut a diseased tree, you must sterilize your shears between cuts, or you risk spreading the disease to other branches on the tree. This is especially true when moving from one tree to the next. Any type of pathogen that makes its way onto your shears from a cut will affect other limbs or trees if not sterilized with bleach, Lysol, or a number of other sterilizing substances.

Deformed

A deformed tree branch

When tending to fruit trees, you want to train the tree so it will support long-term healthy production of fruit. A deformed limb will not benefit the structure over time, so it makes the most sense to prune it early. These deformities may compound and have unintended consequences if left to continue growing. Remove this type of wood and allow more healthy wood to grow in its places.

“Just Make The Cut”

A pair of pruning shears cutting a branch.

Tom Spellman (of YouTube gardening fame) says “If you’re wondering whether or not you should make the cut; just make the cut”. He has recognized that beginner gardeners are often apprehensive about cutting a branch. The truth is that trees are resilient, and we have the privilege of encouraging them to produce excellent fruit. By taking a principled stand and making those winter pruning cuts, you set your tree up to happily produce for the long term.

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Fruit Trees Garden Uncategorized

Protecting Plants From Too Much Sun

Too Much of A Good Thing

The sun is critical for fruit tree and plant growth. The rays of solar energy get absorbed by the leaves, promoting photosynthesis, allowing the plant to thrive and grow. Because we eat plants (or eat animals who eat plants) we’re all considered to be solar powered! There is a downside; Just like too much sun can give us a sunburn and speed up dehydration, too much sun can harm plants.

In this article, I walk through a couple options to keep your plants from getting too much sun. This is especially during the hotter months where plants are already dealing with higher ambient air temperatures.

Man standing in front of trees

Shade Cloth

The easiest method I’ve found to to protect your trees and plants is to use inexpensive shade cloth. Shade cloth is usually made of a UV resistant polymer, and comes rated in percentages of sun protection. For example, a 40% shade cloth will provide 40% shade, while letting through 60% of the sun. Most fruit trees or other plants generally left in the open benefit from a 30-40% shade cloth. That moderate coverage ought to provide enough protection from the sun’s rays. For more fragile plants (veggies and flowers), a higher shade value (60-70%) could be beneficial.

How to Use Shade Cloth

Draping

Man standing in front of berry bushes

I deploy shade cloth two main ways: I drape it over a tree or plant, and I use a wooden frame. Draping the shade cloth over plants is a very quick way to get your plants covered. I use garden clips to secure the edges of the shade cloth around branches to keep it in place in wind. It’s possible to also poke a stem or two through the shade cloth if you haven’t got clips available. One downside to draping shade cloth is that it makes contact with the actual plant. Depending on the plant, this added weight may cause some issues or damage.

Shade frame

Man standing in front of shade cloth frames

For a longer term or no-contact method, I created wooden frames out of 1X2’s and a few nuts and bolts. I then stapled on sheets of shade cloth to the frame. Shade frames have a few advantages, especially for smaller trees and plants. They allow a no-contact method which limits smooshing or bending of branches you’d see with the draping method. She frames are easily deployed and allow you to select the angle of protection, as well as the height. The cloth doesn’t need to be clipped to the tree, because it is already clipped to the frame. One nice thing about these frames is that they fold up, allowing you to stack several of them in a small space.

Pro-tip: Weigh the bottom of the frame down with a block or rock, as wind can topple these.

Paint Your Trees!

This might sound like a crazy idea, but it’s important to paint or whitewash your trees in order to prevent sunburn and sunscald. This is a larger topic which I will cover further in another article. In short, whitewashing your tree’s trunk and main branches is an important step to preventing sun damage, much like sunscreen protects damage to your skin. There are two main ways you can whitewash.

Latex Paint

For this method, you’ll want to get white interior latex paint. Mix the paint with water in a 50%-50% solution, and use a paintbrush to apply generously to the trunk and main branches. It’s possible to also put this solution in a spray bottle. Although, I’ve found that this sometimes creates clogs or my hand gets tired from all the spraying. There is a downside to using actual paint for this. While it isn’t dangerous to the tree or fruit, as the trunk expands, more and more paint will make its way into the soil, impacting the quality of the soil over time.

IV Organic 3-in-1 Plant Guard

Like the latex paint, IV Organic is painted on using a brush or diluted down into a spray bottle. Unlike latex paint, however, IV Organic is an OMRI certified organic whitewash. It contains many things that help guard against sun AND pest damage, such as diatomaceous earth, fragrant oils, etc. A big plus is as the tree trunk expands and bark falls to the ground, the soil gets better.

While it is more expensive, I’ve exclusively switched to using IV Organic because of its additional benefits, without the drawbacks.

Man standing in garden

What’s the point?

Whatever you’re using to protect your plants from excessive sun exposure, you’re essentially trying to take the edge off. Like sunscreen on your own body doesn’t prevent all sun from getting through, these methods serve to reduce the amount of UV rays causing damage on the warmest days. Whichever method you use, ensure that you’re protecting against the direction the sun is actually coming from (in North America, make sure to paint or protect the Southern facing side).

Protect them from excessive sun and heat, and your plants and trees will thank you for giving them a reprieve from the sun, and will reward you with tasty, nutritious fruit and vegetables!

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Fruit Trees Harvesting

How to Choose a Ripe Pomegranate

Pomegranates are one of the most unique fruit one can enjoy. Hanging on the tree, they resemble beautiful deep red Christmas bulbs. Open one up, and you’re met with gorgeous flesh covered seeds called “arils”, which resemble ruby jewels more than a juicy and tasty fruit. Pomegranate arils come with a variety of nutritional benefits, and are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins (C,K) and antioxidants.

We grow 3 types of pomegranate in our TBG orchard: “Wonderful” (the most common and commercially grown cultivar), “Sweet“, and “Parfianka” (hands down, the best pomegranate I’ve tried!). Because it’s such a unique fruit, many people have trouble detecting whether or not a pomegranate is ripe and ready for harvest. This article will share a few tried and true tips to picking the perfect pomegranate.

Red pomegranate held in a hand.

Color

The first indicator I look for in choosing a pomegranate is Color. I gravitate toward those which are a deeper red than the others around them. Take a look at the area where the stem meets the pomegranate. Is it still green? If so, give it some more time. If its color matches the rest of the fruit, move on to the next step

Shape

As a pomegranate grows, the arils inside will expand, pressing against the outer skin. A ripe pomegranate will generally take on a more angular, slightly cube-ish shape.

pomegranate held in a hand

Sound

If the shape is looks about right, a very telling indicator for ripeness is sound. By flicking the fruit, you can get a good idea of whether or not a pomegranate is ripe. In fact, among similar looking pomegranates, sound has been the most reliable indicator of a ripe pomegranate for me. A pomegranate’s sound will go from a dull thud to a more hollow “wood block” sound. Some people describe the sound as metallic, but it reminds me more of the percussion instrument. This change in sound means 2 things: 1) The skin is being pulled more tightly across the fruit, like a drum, and 2) The arils are swelling with juice, allowing sound to transmit better than through the soft pith.

Weight

Finally, you’ll want to choose a pomegranate by weight. Select a pomegranate that feels heavy for its size. Weight is a good indicator of juice filled arils. To physically pick your fruit, you’ll want to use a sharp pair of pruning shears or snips, and cut the stem off close to the base. Your pomegranate will last a couple weeks after harvesting, though the skin does get more tough and difficult to work with as it ages. Now it’s time to eat it!

Let’s Eat!

You may be like me, where extracting each aril is an enjoyable activity. For others, this sounds terrible! If you just want the juice, the easiest way to juice a pomegranate is to cut a pomegranate in half along its “equator” and to use a sturdy citrus press. Whatever way you enjoy them most, pomegranates are a tasty, healthy treat!

Categories
Garden

Creating a More Durable Garden Trellis

We’re going to be putting in a bunch of vegetables here in our raised bed square foot garden. One of the methods we’re learning to save space is to grow vertically whenever possible. This is great for vining plants. Rather than have them trailing along the ground, having them run up against a trellis is the way to go. What we’ve used before for trellising has been a white nylon netting. While it’s inexpensive and easy to work with (once untangled), a major downside to this netting is that it eventually breaks down in the sun, and begins falling apart. NOT what you want when it comes to suspending your precious cucumbers, melons, peas, etc. in the air!

man standing in front of trellis

Welded Wire Fencing

I used metal conduit to create the frames, fastening them to the back of the grow beds using wood screws. Wanting something that could support some weight, and wouldn’t break down in the elements, I bought a roll of 4×50 foot galvanized welded wire fencing. This has worked so well against our wood fence keeping the kids and dogs in, that I used the extra I had for my garden trellis.

Fastening the Panels

I cut my panels to size, and fastened them to the conduit frame using UV resistant outdoor zip ties. You could also use galvanized wire or some other more durable fastener, but these have held up for me. One plus of using the wire fencing for your trellis is that the bulk of the weight is on the fencing itself and not the fasteners. Another advantage of this fencing is that if a weld separates, the wire is still intact, and you can use a zip tie or wire to hold it together.

man standing in front of trellis

Something to consider as you cut the panels is that each cut will leave some sort of jagged edge. I rounded these off by bending the edges back with pliers. No more snags! All in all, both trellis materials work. I strongly prefer the metal panel, but if you’re just getting started, or want something more temporary, the nylon net will work great for 2-3 years even in plenty of sun.