After winter storms, inspect trees and bushes for damage. Make clean cuts where there are ragged tears and breaks to minimize fungal infection opportunity. Prop fallen trees back up, if the root system has not been damaged by snow, ice, freezing temperatures, etc. Keep the tree supported for the next year or two to ensure the root system has reestablished.
If you are planning to do some grafting this winter or next spring, December –February is the time to collect scion wood, from fully dormant trees. You need the previous seasons’ healthy vegetative growth for the scion (the shoot you cut from a desired variety that is used to propagate a new tree). Water sprout wood (the vigorous vertical growing shoots you normally remove from the center of the tree when you prune), or the terminal end of major growth at the top of the tree and the south side of the tree, will be most likely to have the flat pointed vegetative buds you need, instead of the plump fruit buds you don’t need. The wood needs to be about pencil diameter, and 8-12” long. Clean the wood with a mild bleach solution (1 tsp bleach/ 1 quart of water), dry, and place it in a plastic bag. Put a barely moist (completely wrung out) paper towel in the bag to provide humidity, seal, and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to graft. Scion wood, properly cleaned and not too wet or dry, can be stored 3-6 months; scion wood from early spring blooming plants will only store about 3 months. See the rootstock page in our catalog for more information on collecting and storing, and to select the rootstocks you will need to graft on
When should I expect to harvest the first fruit from my new fruit tree? Our standard answer is 2-3 years to first fruit. In some cases your trees may arrive with flower buds and be apparently ready to produce fruit. It is best, however, to remove any fruit that sets in the first two years. This allows the plant to focus its available energy on establishing a strong root system, trunk, and primary branches. After two years fruit trees are generally established well enough to continue growing strong while producing a moderate crop of fruit. Expect your tree to need another 2-3 years to produce heavier crops.
There are, of course, some exceptions. Newly planted fruit trees that are allowed to mature fruit in their first year might not initiate fruit buds again for several years, as they make up for the excessive energy drain making fruit in that first year. Small fruited cherries and plums can produce small crops right away without compromising growth, thin the fruit if a lot of fruit sets. Finicky persimmons may start fruiting between 3 and 7 years after planting, or more. To encourage earlier production in your persimmon feed your tree with a fertilizer that is high in Nitrogen and Iron the first few years. If you live near enough to Raintree Nursery you could also consider taking home more mature ready to bear fruit trees we offer each year. Allow the trees to re-establish for one year and they will be ready to produce nice crops of fruit for you.
How about first fruit for berries? Floricane blackberries and raspberries produce fruit in the second growing season of the cane; primocane berries produce fruit in the fall of the first growing season of the cane. It will take 2-3 years for the root system to be fully established and your planting ready to produce full crops.
Blueberries tend to be slow growing plants, again, 2-3 years is a reasonable time expectation to harvest good quantities, with full production needing another 2-4 years. There will often be some berry production in the first year, thin the fruit if a lot of fruit set, otherwise it is OK to allow those fruit to mature.
Day-neutral (everbearing) Strawberries will produce a good crop the first year when planted early enough to establish the roots, generally by mid-April. Remove blossoms until you have 3-5 mature leaves on the plant, then you can allow fruit to set. June-bearing varieties will also bloom in the first year. Remove those blossoms and position runners to fill in your row and you will be rewarded with a heavy crop in the second year.
Unusual Fruits and Berries, such as goumi, goji, Sea Buckthorn, currants, gooseberries, and Blue Honeysuckle tend to start producing fruit at 2-3 years, or when the plants are established.
One of the more significant fungal diseases in the Pacific Northwest on peaches is Peach Leaf Curl. Once the chill requirement for the peach tree has been met, the sealed bud scales “unzip” (the seal releases, but you will not be able to see any change), leaving them vulnerable to peach leaf curl infection. Peach leaf curl infections can only be prevented, control treatments are ineffective.
There are two primary methods of treatment. One is to apply lime sulfer fungicide three times, at two week intervals starting in late December through February in the Pacific Northwest but you need a dry day to do it., (Raintree Plant Owners Manual, pg 13). Time tables for treatment vary in different parts of the country; contact the co-operative extension office in your location for recommendations. Low chill varieties of peach may need even earlier treatment, see the November 2011 newsletter Insect/Disease Control section (under in the right side bar) for more information.
Another prevention method is to keep the stems of the tree dry. The peach leaf curl organism needs moisture on the stems to germinate and grow; keeping the stems dry prevents that growth. Put plastic (opaque or clear) over the tree, with supports to keep the plastic off the stems (condensation will make the stems wet), after the tree has gone dormant and before the buds have “unzipped”. Or train a tree against a wall under an eave where rain won’t contact the stems. Genetic dwarf peaches can be grown permanently in a container. Move the potted tree to a rain protected location, such as a carport or covered patio, during the cool wet infection period. An additional benefit to keeping the stems dry is you prevent other types of fungal disease infections that would normally also affect peach trees, such as brown rot or coryneum blight.
The easiest method would be to select a cultivar of peach that has some degree of resistance to peach leaf curl. Then you may only to need to spray during the first few years.
Once your trees, shrubs, and vines have achieved full dormancy (leaves on the ground for deciduous plants, no tender new growth buds visible on evergreen plants) you can begin dormant season pruning. If you tend to experience a lot of freeze, wind, or fungal damage during the more severe part of winter it might be best to leave the pruning for later in the winter, after the majority of the damage has occurred.
Delay pruning stone fruits (cherry, peach, apricot, nectarine, and plum) until early spring, when the buds begin to swell, to minimize fungal infections in your pruning cuts. Delay pruning of Asian pears that are susceptible to pseudomonas disease until after the spring rains have ended, to minimize infection opportunity. In the Pacific Northwest that generally means summer or early fall.
If you have not yet done so, cut out old dead fruited canes from blackberries, raspberries, and related hybrids and tie in the new canes for next year. Cut everbearing raspberries and blackberries to the ground after all the fruit has been picked. New canes will grow next spring and produce fruit in the fall. You could also cut the everbearing canes to just below where they fruited this fall, leaving the lower portion of the cane to provide you with a small crop next summer.