Sunday, March 22, 2009


Only twice, I think, in prior years have I managed to complete the pruning of my "gentleman's orchard" around Valentine's Day but the job is almost always done by the end of February. I've always considered mid-March to be rather late and have always had to contend with rising sap when weather has delayed the chore very long. Today is the 22nd, I can see the end of March from here, and not all the orchard is finished and the sap is beginning to rise. I'm pretty sure I should stop climbing ladders and clambering around in these trees someday. The trees are getting bigger, the chore takes longer, and I've been sore for most of a month now.

At its largest, the orchard consisted of 27 trees, but now it is down to 22; stone fruit like peaches and apricots didn't do well so they are history. The survivors are seven varieties of apples, a couple of kinds of domestic pear, four Asian-pears, four kinds of plums and four cherry trees. The odd-ball is a "bitter" quince; ideal fruit for making quince jelly (although the hard yellow fruit must be blended with apples to be edible); the irony is that no one has even tried, so far.

This year's persistent precipitation - both rain and late snow - has caused almost continuous delays in this important annual task. In fact, I finally gave up and started pruning, and while still on the first tree I had to contend with snow and snow pellets! Over the next few days, even working through several light showers, I endured so I could get the task done before the sap began to rise. The daily temperatures to date have been well below average, and until this past week there had been no sign of swelling buds or other clues to the spring awakening. Not so today. After only two or three days in the 50's, suddenly, and very suddenly indeed, several of the trees I had pruned over the past (soggy) week are full of fat buds and will be in blossom within a few days.

So far this year the weather has been so constantly cold and wet that I haven't even applied a protective spray yet this season. I like to get a couple of treatments of mixed lime-sulphur and horticultural oil to discourage scale, several types of scab, and some other things, and keep a large number of nuisance insects from hatching. If I can get these sprayings in before blossom time, it really cuts down on problems later and lets me get by without using even a mild pesticide. I'm racing the bud-break, hoping to time at least one spray application when everything is in bloom.

Although it has never happened before, there seems to be a chance that trees of several different kinds, which ordinarily take turns blossoming each year, could this season all be in flower at once. I've never seen that happen. All it would take is a few more days of warmth. The problem with that scenario is that I have not yet seen the insects required to do the fertilization at bud break to assure the setting of fruit for the season.

Most of the pruning job is done. I still have a plum tree to do (maybe an hour and a half), and all the cherries. Since I pruned all the cherry trees heavily last year, if I don't get to them right away, I can tidy them up after the fruit, if any, is firmly set. At this point, since low snow is still being forecast, I'm worried about frost. I need both warmth and friendly insects like mason bees - we don't get honey bees much any more. The cherries are vulnerable this year to bacterial canker since it has been so wet. That calls for a protective spray of a copper based treatment called "microcop". All the pruned material must be picked up and hauled away so the area under the trees can be mowed and the trees fertilized. That will be nice...

Then I can tackle the rest of the yard, etc., etc.

Anyone want to trade a condo for an acre of mowing and pruning?


At 10:05 PM, Anonymous Angel said...

Take a look at my flowering trees too!


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