University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

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SPRING TIPS FOR THE FRUIT GARDEN

Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant
GardeningwithCharlie.com

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 tree. 
   
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 this.
   
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.

(Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach; gardeningwithcharlie.com ).  

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