July: keep the good work going and growing

Summer has arrived, the lush growth of spring and early summer surrounds us; here are some tips to guide that growth where you want it:

Put spreaders in narrow crotches of well placed new shoots on your young fruit trees. A wooden clothes pin is effective for smaller shoots, the 4” pointed spreader (T610) will work for branches larger than ½-inch. A sandwich bag of sand or rocks tied to the branch just far enough out its length to pull it down also works well. An ideal angle is about 30-50° from the main trunk.

Remove suckers growing from the rootstock on younger trees.

Tie in growing branches on your espalier to keep them in your desired form as you develop the new tree. Remember to allow shoot tips to remain pointed up when you are training horizontal branches in the espalier until the branch has extended to the desired length.

Maintain a more compact size in your upright growing blackberries, such as Apache or Triple Crown. As the new shoots grow to your desired height (4-6’) snip out the growing tip. This will encourage lateral branching that you can cut back to 2’ next winter.

Triple Crown blackberries.
Triple Crown blackberries.

Trailing blackberries will be sending up their new canes as well. Train them on the wires, preferably next to, rather than mixed up with, the current year fruiting canes. I like training them on two wires strung about 2.5-3’ apart on the posts. Coil the canes over the top and under the bottom wire, with one year’s growth going one direction (i.e. left) and the next year’s growth going the opposite direction (i.e. right). Another method is to train them on a 6-7’ high mesh, such as concrete reinforcing wire. Plants can be spaced at about 4’ apart, and each season the canes are trained vertically in a 2’ wide swath up and over, separate from the previous years’ canes. If the cane tips start reaching for the ground either prune them back or bend them back upwards to prevent unwanted rooting.

Cut off old leaves and unwanted runners of summer-fruiting strawberries after the last of the fruit has been harvested, or mow with the lawn mower set in the high position. Burn the leaves and runners with the straw and weeds to control the spread of fungal disease. Train in new canes of blackberries.

When summer-bearing raspberries have finished fruiting remove the spent canes to make room for this season’s new canes.

Control weeds and keep grass short around bushes and trees and among recently planted ground covers. Maintain a minimum 3’ diameter circle for each tree or shrub that is free of competing weeds. If there are a lot of weeds coming up in your new groundcover planting, lay multiple layers of newspaper, or a layer of cardboard, between plants to smother weeds and retain soil moisture. A layer of bark or compost on top will keep the area looking nice. Invasive perennial weeds, such as quack grass, ivy, or morning glory will not be controlled as readily in one year with smothering. Avoid using broadleaf herbicides or weed and feed products near your new plants, they can cause significant damage or even death.

Northern Flicker picking cherries.
Northern Flicker picking cherries.

Protect ripening fruit from birds.  Protect fruit trees (up to 10’ wide) or grape vines with our 17’ wide heavy duty Bird Netting (#T433) or 22′ wide heavy duty Bird Netting (#T431). Construct a cage for berry bushes to support the wide bird netting or drape with the lighter weight black nylon mesh. Close the netting securely under the plant canopy to keep birds from sneaking under. Bird scare tape, a shiny metallic ribbon, will help deter birds from munching on your fruit when the flashy movement in the wind startles the birds.

Support heavily laden branches of your fruit trees to prevent breakage of main limbs. Thin the fruit from the terminal end of the branch to reduce leverage that could cause damage. Over bearing of fruit can result in an excess energy drain on the tree. The tree may then set fewer flower buds for the next year, to allow time to recover from the heavy energy out put. Thinning the fruit, by the early part of the summer, will increase the size of the remaining fruit and prevent excess energy drain on the tree.

Do not tie ropes or chains around tree trunks when you stake them. They can cause serious damage by chafing and constricting the trunk. Monitor newly planted trees and remove staking as soon as the support is no longer needed.

Inspect your fruiting plants; look for dead branches, changes in leaf appearance (raised bumps, color other than green, fuzzy or warty growths), ant trails in your trees or shrubs, etc., to help catch problems while they are still treatable. If you are not sure if what you are seeing is a problem contact your local co-operative extension service for assistance in identification, or publications with identification and control information, for the typical pests and diseases in your area. Oregon State University also offers on-line guides to help with plant insect and disease identification and control. See Useful Links in Gowers Info (top tool bar)  to find your local co-operative extension service or OSU’s web sites.


Summer soil prep for spring and fall planting

Potted plants can be planted out — with care — if the temperatures in your area are not above the mid-80s. Otherwise, maintain your potted plants in a partial to full shade location until cooler temperatures arrive.

If your area has warmed up above 80 degrees, we will be shipping potted plants to you in October — an excellent time for planting if you live in a USDA Zone 6 or warmer area.

Real_Compost-002We are already a month into summer and while it may be too late to add new plants to your garden, it isn’t too late to begin to prepare the soil for planting this fall or in the spring — in fact, this is the perfect time to begin.

It may be too hot out there to work comfortably, but warmth is just what you need to produce a healthy, compost-rich soil that will help get your plants off to a great start when they arrive this fall or spring.

First, you’ll need to start with a plan. Once you decide where you are going to add new trees, vines, or bushes, then it’s time to dig in.

Loosen the ground with a digging fork or shovel. Then add sheet mulching with cardboard or several layers of newspaper and then apply alternating layers of straw or leaves and grass clippings — lasagna style — greens, then browns, then greens again, and then more browns.

Sheet mulch needs at least one full rainy season to do its magic. This is when the worms come out and eat through the cardboard to get to that delicious compost.

You’ll have to keep the area damp (not saturated) throughout the rest of the summer if you are eager too cook up a quick soil lasagna (like fast food, but much better for you!). If you aren’t in a hurry, however, you can just bide your time and wait for the fall rains to start.


July pruning tips: trees, shrubs, grapes, espalier

Members of the Women's Land Army prune fruit trees in an orchard in the United Kingdom during the First World War.
Members of the Women’s Land Army prune fruit trees in an orchard in the United Kingdom during the First World War.

Trees and shrubs: keep pruning light this time of year, removing no more than ¼ of the live branches. Thin out water sprout wood before it gets very big, unless you are planning to do some grafting from the tree. Summer pruning has a dwarfing effect and is useful in controlling the size of trees that tend to get too big.

Prune vigorous grape shoots at 5-6 leaves past the last fruit cluster to keep the vine a manageable size and allow more sun onto the developing fruit. If you are using a cane replacement system cut side branches back to one leaf on your replacement shoots. Tie canes onto the support system as needed to keep them from flopping around. Thin out some of the leaves around the fruit clusters to allow more light in. On a mature vine thin out unproductive shoots.

At Raintree Nursery, mid-June 2013.
At Raintree Nursery, mid-June 2013.

TIPS FOR ESPALIER: Fruits trained as a cordon, espalier or dwarf pyramid (3-dimensional espalier) are best pruned in the summer to keep unwanted vigorous shoots controlled. If you keep up with the summer pruning, you won’t have to do any winter pruning, except winter damage. In all espalier forms remove unwanted vigorous shoots at the point of origin.

For apples, pears and other long-lived spur type fruits, vigorous shoots arising where you would like to have a fruit spur can be convinced to produce fruit buds by slowing down their vigor. Here at Raintree it has worked well for me to cut those vigorous shoots back to six inches when they are about 8-12” long. Over the rest of the summer regularly cut back to a couple leaves the new growth that arises from the top several buds of that shoot to reduce its vigor. Then in early fall you can cut the shoots back to the fruit buds that have formed near the base. You may need to use a different method where you garden; your local climate has an impact on how trees respond to pruning. I recommend

Cut back laterals on fan-trained sweet and Duke cherries that are not needed for the framework to six leaves in late July. Pinch out the tip of vigorous laterals on fan-trained peaches at 18” to encourage small laterals for next years fruit production. Pinch out the tips of new shoots not wanted for the framework of fan-trained plums when they have made 6-7 leaves to develop fruit spurs. Refer to ‘RHS Fruit’ for more specifics on training espalier form fruit trees and bushes.

Recommended Books & a DVD: 

  • Training & Pruning Home OrchardsPacific Northwest Extension, 14 pages. Dr. Robert Stebbins uses clear diagrams to show you how to prune your backyard fruit trees.
  • Pruning and Training Revised, by Brickell and Joyce (#S325), which  uses line drawings to illustrate each seasons tasks and is based on the modified Lorette system of espalier pruning that works well in England.
  • Easy Steps to Fruit Tree Pruning DVD, by Jacky King and Gary Moulton, 50 minute DVD. To learn how to prune, you need to see it done … and then see it again. Gary Moulton from the Washington State University Research and Experiment Unit at Mt.Vernon shows you how. He starts with how to use the right tools properly. He demonstrates how to prune the tree from the day you get it from Raintree. Learn how to prune and shape it for maximum fruit production. Learn how to bring old trees back into production and how to work with espaliers. Gary covers both central leader and open center systems and explains the differences in pruning different types of fruit trees. He explains basic principles and then repeatedly reviews those principles so you can use them, without confusion, on your own trees. Fruit tree pruning will no longer be a mystery.