Summer’s here, and each long hot day brings your fruit trees closer to harvest. However, from bugs to sunshine, there are many summertime risks to a tree’s health. With some extra care now, many potential problems can be minimized or prevented altogether.
Protecting Your Tree
Trunk wraps are useful tools to prevent a variety of problems including sunscald, rodent damage, insects, and mechanical damage. There are many types of trunk wraps available, including Spiral Tree Guards. Simply wrap your tree with one of these low-cost options and it will be protected the whole season long! If you weed eat around your trees, protect the trunk with a Tree and Plant Guard. Sunscald can also be prevented with a coat of white paint. Use interior latex paint, and dilute with equal parts water. For newly planted trees, paint a single coat from just below soil level all the way to the top of the trunk. If the canopy has not grown in enough by the second year to shade the trunk, a second coat of paint should be applied at that time. For older trees, paint any areas of the trunk or larger limbs that could be subject to sunscald.
Deer and other large browsers can quickly kill a young tree and damage your harvest, either by eating it or by scratching their antlers on the trunk. Deer fencing is the most simple and effective solution to keeping your tree safe from deer, elk, cows, or whatever your local wild (or not so wild) pest may be. If fencing is not a suitable option for your landscape, there are many other tools available, such as motion-activated sprinklers, deer repellent sprays, and glow-in-the-dark “predator” eyes. Birds are also a threat to the harvest, and seem to know just the right time to fly in and eat your fruits just before you plan on harvesting them. Keep the birds off with bird netting before they become a problem. You can also try bird scare tools such as the bird chaser balloon, but you must be vigilant in switching these out every week or the birds will get used to the once-scary object.
Mounding can be beneficial where the drainage is good, and the soil is sandy or loamy, as it can help keep the root zone moist by creating a basin for water. However, the roots should not be kept in soggy soil, so avoid mounding in order to help excess water drain off if your soil has poor drainage or is heavy clay. To make a mound, pile dirt in a donut-shaped circle around the tree, with the “donut hole” at the original ground level. Do not pile any dirt within 6 inches of the base of the tree, to prevent an eroding mound from covering the trunk. Pack the dirt down slow down the erosion. The mound should be removed in the wet season so that it doesn’t hold too much water in the root zone at that time. Mulching around your tree is a great way to save water, decrease weeds, regulate the soil temperature, and provide organic matter to the soil as the mulch breaks down. You can mulch with wood chips, straw, cocoa hulls, or other biodegradable materials, or with pre-cut mulch mats made of coconut coir
. If using loose mulch, make a layer four to six inches thick, and begin mulching six inches from the trunk. The mulched area should extend out three or four feet from the trunk. If you are installing drip irrigation, run the tubing underneath the mulch.
The amount and frequency of irrigation will depend on many factors, including soil conditions, weather, and mulch. A newly planted tree will need up to 10 gallons of water per week for the first growing season, however it may need much less if the weather is cool or it has a thick mulch layer preventing evaporation and cooling the soil. Older, established trees need less water. To know if your tree is getting the right amount of water, dig down 6 to 12 inches and check the soil moisture with your fingers. Checking this frequently will give you a good feel of what is normal for your soil, so you can identify correct moisture levels as needed. A soil moisture meter can be a helpful tool; use one with a long enough probe to check at the proper depth. Do not judge moisture by the soil on the surface. Drip irrigation is a good investment for any tree. Drip irrigation
conserves water and saves time. Or, if you have built a mound around your tree, you can simply fill the well in the middle with five gallons of water once or twice a week. Give some extra care to your fruit trees this summer to enjoy a bountiful harvest for many years to come!