If you have fruit trees growing in your garden, you’re probably wondering how to protect them with winter just around the corner.
Fruit trees are extremely susceptible to the cold and, without protection in place, can be severely damaged during winter.
But there are ways to winterize fruit trees and ensure they remain in good condition, ready for spring. Fruit trees are very delicate and need protection around their trunk and roots. Some trees require pruning in winter, with others to be avoided.
Here we will go through what you should and shouldn’t do so you know how to winterize fruit trees, ensuring yours survive the winter months.
Why Fruit Trees Need Winterizing?
Most, not all, fruit trees are deciduous such as apricot, cherry, apple, and pear trees. Deciduous trees become dormant in the run-up to winter to protect themselves.
They first lose their leaves to prevent the transfer of food and energy through photosynthesis. Then they enter a state of dormancy whereby they stop growing, similar to a long sleep until the weather warms up in Spring.
But it isn’t just the leaves that would be too delicate for trees to protect and maintain during winter months. Tree roots are possibly the most important part of a tree, and yet only have the top layer of soil as a natural protective barrier from cold temperatures and frost.
Tree roots play a vital role in the growth and health of fruit trees. They help access water and nutrients from the soil in the summer months whilst storing nutrients from the leaves for the tree to use during dormancy until Spring.
If tree roots become damaged and die, your tree will no longer have access to those stores and will eventually die too.
So it is vitally important to offer additional support and winterize fruit trees before the cold weather causes them harm.
How To Winterize Fruit Trees
Now you know the importance of winterizing your fruit trees, here are ways you can prepare and protect your fruit trees:
An important note, first and foremost, is that not all fruit trees need pruning. You should avoid pruning trees in winter that produce stoned fruits, such as cherry and apricot trees.
This is because they are vulnerable to silver leaf fungal disease, which thrives in damp conditions. If you prune these trees during cold winter months, you are leaving the open, cut areas susceptible to dampness leading to the potential risk of this disease spreading across your tree.
Non-stone fruit trees, such as your apple and pear trees, would benefit from pruning early in winter. Ensure the trees have entered a state of dormancy before pruning. Otherwise, this can encourage your tree to begin using its energy stores to produce new shoots. These, of course, would then be damaged by the upcoming frost, and your tree won’t have enough stores to last till Spring.
December to February is the ideal time to prune your trees in winter. By pruning your trees now, you can check the health of your trees and improve air circulation. Focus on removing any diseased or dead branches to prevent this from affecting healthy branches.
Once spring arrives, the pruning will also encourage your tree to focus on developing new shoots early on in the growing season.
Although your fruit trees’ roots are under the soil, the top soil covering your roots is not thick enough to protect them fully from frost.
During winter, the frost makes the soil more compact during colder temperatures. But when it heats up during the day, the soil expands. This change in pressure can cause your roots to snap and break.
Adding a thick layer of mulch helps your roots and the soil around them retain a consistent temperature. Consider a mulch such as straw, which won’t feed extra nutrients to your plant, causing it to delay dormancy. But it will create insulation later over your roots and protect them from frost.
When adding mulch, leave a ring around the base of your tree rather than placing the mulch directly around the trunk. This is to allow airflow and prevent a build-up of moisture, which can lead to the roots rotting.
Before adding mulch, make sure you remove any debris around the base of your tree, e.g. decaying fruit and fallen leaves. These can be carrying diseases or pests, which, if not removed, will cause potential harm to your tree. Any affected debris should be disposed of instead of added to your compost pile, as diseases will spread to your other plants.
Potted Fruit Trees
If you grow your fruit trees in pots, these may need even more protection than other fruit trees. The tree roots especially are more prone to damage when planted in pots as the soil is looser and with only a thin level of topsoil covering them.
To winterize your potted fruit trees, make sure to surround your pots with chicken wire. Between the chicken wire and your pot, you can add straw which will offer a layer of insulation to your roots.
Once spring has arrived, your straw can be removed and placed over other plants to offer additional nutrients as it decomposes.
By following these tips, your fruit trees will survive the winter and offer another year of fruits to harvest. Ensuring to protect your fruit trees each winter, and pruning each type of fruit tree at the right time, will help your trees to thrive for years to come.
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