University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Spring News Article
SPRING TIPS FOR THE FRUIT GARDEN
Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant
Pruning, removing mulch from strawberries, and fertilizing blueberries are
some of the activities in the fruit garden during spring.
Late winter and early spring is the time to order bare-root fruiting trees
and shrubs if you haven’t done so already. They will be shipped before they
start to grow, in time for planting in your area. They will need to be
planted immediately upon arrival, so plan your spot now.
Make sure when ordering fruit trees that you get at least two different
selections for best cross pollination and fruiting. Some selections
are listed as “self-pollinating”, and not needing a partner, but fruiting
usually is better with a second tree. But choose these
self-pollinating ones, when available, if you only have room for one
Also pay attention to the space you have for a tree or trees, and the mature
sizes listed. You often can find varieties, particularly of apples,
that come in various sizes. This usually is related to what
“understock” or “rootstock” the desirable variety is “grafted” onto.
As soon as the buds start to swell, it's time to begin pruning apple, plum,
and cherry trees. Remove any dead, diseased, or broken branches, as well as
crossing and crowded branches, as well as twiggy, nonproductive growth.
Plum trees should be pruned to an open center (no central top stem), while
apple and cherry trees grow best pruned to a modified leader in which the
center is more closed and tree is more upright (main upright stem was pruned
off when planted or prior, and a second upright stem has taken its place).
Modified leader pruning results in a bit more open tree, letting more light
into the interior, and with stronger stems.
Spray horticultural oil on fruit trees, such as apples, plums, and cherries,
to smother any overwintering insects. Choose a calm day when temperatures
are above 40 degrees F, and be sure to cover all sides of the branches. You
can also apply it to evergreens to control spider mites and other insects.
Carefully follow the instructions on the label for proper usage.
Check strawberry plants twice a week for signs of new growth in early
spring. As soon as you see sprouts, remove the hay or straw mulch and spread
it in the rows to help control weeds. A topdressing of an inch or two of
compost will give plants a boost. If rabbits are plentiful in your yard or
neighborhood, you may need to surround your planting with a rabbit fence.
Check apple, cherry, and other fruit trees for nests of tent caterpillars.
Blast low-lying nests with water to destroy them, or knock them to the
ground and destroy them. A spray of BtK (make sure to get the “K” form of
this bacterial spray) will kill emerging caterpillars, but is not toxic to
beneficial insects, birds, or humans.
Blueberries benefit from an acidic fertilizer each year. Apply one half
pound of ammonium sulfate when the bushes start blooming, and another
half-pound four to six weeks later. If the leaves turn yellow with
green veins, they may have an iron deficiency. Applying two to three ounces
of ferrous sulfate or iron chelate around the base of the plants will help
If you have red raspberries and didn’t get them pruned after harvest last
year, do so now. Keep in mind the summer-bearing varieties
produce fruit on one-year old canes. So prune out those that fruited
last year to direct plant energy into the newer canes. You can prune
all canes from fall-bearing varieties, as they produce fruits on new canes
at the end of the first growing season. Pruning now will direct all their
energy into a bountiful fall crop.
Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening
consultant, and garden coach; gardeningwithcharlie.com
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