Winter orchard care

Winter Orchard Care

Winter is a good time to get on top of a few things in the home fruit orchard. From managing weeds to pruning, there are plenty of ways to prep your fruit trees for the cold months ahead.

Managing weeds

One of the first things you can do is get on top of weeds. Eliminate any unwanted invaders that have set up camp in the root zone of your fruit trees. Pull them up or smother them with cardboard and mulch.

Pruning and shaping

Deciduous fruit trees are just about due for some pruning, but wait until they’ve dropped all their leaves so you can have a better look at what needs attention. Start by removing dead, weak or damaged wood. If you see two branches that are rubbing, prune one of them to avoid nasty wounds developing at the point of contact. Also consider the shape and size of the trees. To maintain an open vase shape, remove inward branches that cross at the centre.

For trees that produce fruit on spurs, such as apples, pears and European plums, shorten old, unproductive fruiting branches by half to make way for younger, productive, more vigorous branches. Hold off pruning apricots until spring.

Nectarines and peaches fruit on wood produced during the previous summer, so don’t prune them too hard; just shorten the summer growth by about a third – harder pruning can happen later, after your spring-summer harvest.

Figs produce two crops over the summer to autumn period: a small crop (a breba) early in the season on the tips of the previous summer’s growth; and a bigger crop (the main crop) on the new or current season’s growth. In winter, prune back some of the longer growth from the previous season to encourage plenty of new growth for the main crop, and leave a selection of shorter shoots to provide a breba.

Pest control

Winter is also a good time to control pests. Many gardeners spray bare branches and twigs of deciduous fruit trees with lime sulfur to help clean up disease organisms and overwintering pests. Don’t spray lime sulfur on evergreen trees, as it can burn the foliage. You’ll want to give citrus some attention. Check branches for gall wasp, and cut them out if you see them. Give trees a regular spray with diluted horticultural oil over the coming months. This helps to control aphids and scale, as well as stink bugs, which are sensitive to the oil while they are in their young, soft-shelled stage.

You’ll find more tips for managing your garden through winter in the June 2022 issue of ABC Gardening Australia magazine, out now.