When considering edible landscaping options, a backyard orchard may make a lot of sense. However, it is important to consider that while fruit trees can be lovely and highly productive, they are not without maintenance. If you are considering fruit trees as a part of your edible landscaping designs, here are some backyard orchard tips on caring for your fruit trees.
Keep your fruit trees pruned for branch strength, tree health, ease of access, and size. Although some say the time to prune is “when the shears are sharp”, I prefer to prune for structure, strength, and access in the winter, and for size in the summer. Your style and technique may vary with your climate and personal preference, but nevertheless, pruning is a must for backyard orchard care. For tips on pruning fruit trees in detail, go here.
After you have enjoyed the lovely fruit blossoms of spring, get in there and thin the fruit. I’m never as fast to do this as I would like, and the fruits are often forming by the time I get to them, but the earlier you get to them, the easier it will be to thin and the more energy will be sent to the remaining fruit. Thin the fruit so that they are not crowded, not too heavy on a branch, will receive good air circulation and sunlight, and are within easy reach.
It is sometimes hard to this, as it can feel like you’re “wasting” good future fruit. But a backyard fruit tree has the potential to produce so vigorously that it can break its own branches. This can harm the tree, and you’ll lose several years’ of future harvest when a big branch breaks. Additionally, by thinning, you’ll get larger remaining fruit. Remember, thinning is all about quality over quantity.
As the fruits near ripening, be careful with the water. Watering too much, too fast under a ripening fruit tree can cause the fruit to burst and ruin your harvest. Keep the water on a consistent schedule. If you are planting plants near fruit trees, keep this in mind as you water the neighbors.
Harvest time is the marathon we look forward to all year. But if you want to make the most of it, be prepared to hustle for the few weeks the fruit is ripe. Keeping on top of the harvest and picking ripe fruit every few days not only means you’ll get the most delicious fruit there is, but you’ll be leave less on the tree for the birds and flies, which are competing with you for your harvest. Pick ripe fruit frequently, and your potential hygiene problems will be minimized.
Fruit tree hygiene is critical. Failure to keep the area on, around, and under your fruit tree clean from fallen fruit will set you up for a season of misery. Fallen fruits attracts ants, critters, but worst of all, flies. Blow flies and fruit flies love to feast on fallen fruit, and their populations can quickly explode. Clean up fallen fruit daily to keep pests under control (which will also keep the neighbors happy) and protect your unpicked harvest.
After harvest, you get to catch a bit of a break for the rest of the summer and autumn. Many fruit trees will have a lovely fall display as they begin to drop their leaves. As tempting as it is to be tidy and remove the fallen leaves, leaving them under the tree as mulch can help enrich the soil and conserve moisture. In the long run, the leaves will begin to compost, adding nutrients to the soil, and encouraging beneficial organisms. By letting the leaf mulch accumulate, you will contribute to the long term health of your backyard orchard.
Coming Full Circle
By repeating these steps at the appropriate times of the year, you’ll find that your backyard orchard is healthy and productive and remains relatively free from pestilence and disease. Knowing these steps in advance will also help with the planning of your edible landscaping designs and future orchard.
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