A GROWING CONCERN: Do your fruit tree maintenance now

THE WEATHER PATTERN on the North Olympic Peninsula has definitely been interesting this year.

We have gone from freezing temperatures in March to record-high temperatures to days of rain, clouds and more rain, then sun and high temperatures.

Still, with all the variance and unusual circumstances in our weather conditions, the Peninsula is as always an extremely conducive place for growing trees, plants, flowers, vegetables and fruit.

With that in mind, I received a few questions concerning fruit trees.

I want to address those inquiries by first restating that we live in an absolutely ideal climate and topography for fruit production (perhaps the best in the world).

Those aforementioned record-setting hot days of April and May still dipped into the 50s and 60s at night.

It is hot nights, with temperatures in the 80s or above, that stress out fruit trees.

Temperatures also must be in the single digits or lower to cause deleterious long-term damage to fruit trees, and that just doesn’t happen here.

All of these factors means our fruit takes longer to ripen.

This extended period to ripen enhances and consolidate the sugars, so our produce is not bitter.

If you ever wanted great fruit, then here on the Peninsula is where you should have fruit trees or berries, so please consider planting some new species or varities this fall, starting in October.

Now, as far as apples are concerned, August is a great time to perform several pruning tasks.

First, before the new sucker shoots leap forward and grow what could actually be a couple of feet, prune them away.

To do so now achieves several benefits, most notably getting rid of those nasty, energy-purging suckers.

Our goal is to get as much moisture and energy as possible toward great fruit production, and suckers are in direct conflict with this goal.

Because of the accelerated growth of suckers, what is now an easy job will become more difficult in later years.

In addition, one should never prune away more than 30 percent of a fruit tree.

Pruning more will cause the plant to become vegetative as opposed to fruit-bearing, and may take years to recover.

Next, seek out and remove any and all branches that rub against another branch.

Then remove crossover branches – those that shoot three across other branches.

These are all undesirable, and the sooner they are removed, the more energy is directed toward desirable growth and fruit production.

Then, as always, look for any dead, dying or damaged limbs and stems and prune them away, for these will foster disease and insects.

Finally, shape-prune your trees by clipping off an errant branch here or there.

Again, the quicker you shape the tree while growth is new and small, the easier the task is and the less energy you have wasted.

The tree looks much better as well.

In addition, if you do these chores now, you will allow far more sunlight to penetrate the interior of the tree, which in turn means a far better change to evenly ripen the fruit.

And with all those suckers gone, crossover branches removed and errant limbs cut away, air movement will be increased, which greatly reduces disease, mold and mildews.

These pruning chores are great for apples, pears, peaches and nectarines.

But be very careful with cherries and plum trees; the sap bleeds very readily, and any large cuts can cause great damage.

Good luck and happy harvesting, canning, baking and eating jams or drinking juice.

________

Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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