ladybugs on artichokesW

Ladybugs take a rest on the leaves of an artichoke plant in the Davis Community Garden during the last week of January. Stuart Pettygrove/Courtesy photo


Garden Doctor: Now’s the time to prune fruit trees

By From page A7 | February 09, 2014

Upcoming events:
* At the Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St. in Davis, gather on the third Sunday of every month from 2 to 4 p.m. for a Master Gardener program as part of the “Urban Homesteading” series. Learn about low water, lawn removal, vegetable, fruit and edible landscaping with several tables that will present visual and hands-on information on the monthly topic.
* At Grace Garden behind the Davis United Methodist Church, 1620 Anderson Road: “Selection and Care of Garden Tools” from 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, and the annual plant sale March 29.

* At Woodland Community College: “Backyard and Worm Composting” from 10 to 11 a.m. March 15, and a plant sale from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 5.

At Davis Central Park Garden: “Lawn Removal” from 9:30 to 10 a.m. March 22 and “Waterwise Irrigation for the Garden” from 11 a.m. to noon March 22.

Question: What recommendations can you give me for pruning fruit trees, especially with the unpredictable weather we are experiencing this winter?

Answer: First the exceptions: apricots and cherries, which are very prone to bacterial infections, are pruned in the summer or fall when the weather is dry. Citrus doesn’t need to be pruned except for attractiveness and to keep the size of the trees — to have fruit is in reach for harvest but not for enjoyment by rats. Sprouts from the graft union (suckers) should always be pruned; cut them under the soil if possible. They will suck energy from tree and produce undesirable fruit, if any.

Pruning increases the quality of the yield; it invigorates the plant; it removes undesirable branches that may be blocking air flow; and it removes dead and dying branches. The equipment needed are a good set of hand pruners (65 to 70 percent of pruning is done with these) and perhaps a pair of loppers as well as a pruning hand saw for those large, cumbersome branches.

Winter is such a good time to prune because it is easier to see the silhouette of the tree/shrub and where branches are crisscrossing and rubbing. Prune out dead branches, cutting back to a healthy spot on the branch. Look for the “collar” at the base of the branch. Avoid cutting into this to prevent wounding the branch you are keeping. The branches should come off the main trunk close to or at a 45 degree angle. This holds true for most trees and shrubs as well.

After you have worked on the structure of the fruit tree, head back by an overall amount of approximately 30 percent (no more) of the new growth that remains. Look for new growth — red or greenish bark — that would whip around on a windy day.

One last item to consider is frost. We can have a heavy frost or even hard freeze into late March. Resist removing frost damaged dead leaves and branches from that cold spell in until the weather is reliably warmer. Any frost or freeze that occurs between now and then will rest on those dead branches, protecting the new, tender growth that is starting to emerge.

Question: What do I need to do to make sure the mulch on my landscape and vegetable garden is doing its part to save water?

Answer: Beyond personal preference, a minimum layer of at least 2 inches deep should maintain soil moisture and discourage weeds. Mulch is available in various forms, ranging from coarse bark chunks to walk-on mulch, and even pebbles in some cases. In vegetable gardens, a thick layer of untreated grass clippings can be used to hold soil moisture around plants. Mulch decomposes over time and needs to be restored periodically to remain effective. If you notice weeds poking through the mulch, you probably need to add more.

Keep in mind that the soil under the mulch is an ecosystem, inhabited by earthworms and other smaller organisms that gradually work in mulch. You may also have larger organisms such as birds, squirrels, and chickens that will have their own uses for your mulch.

— Send questions, addressed to the “Garden Doctor,” by email to [email protected], voice mail to 530-666-8737 or regular mail to UCCE Master Gardeners, 70 Cottonwood St., Woodland, CA 95695. Be sure to include your contact information because any questions not answered in the Garden Doctor column will be answered with a phone call or email to you. You can request the Yolo Gardener newsletter delivered by email and learn more about the Master Gardener program in Yolo County at http://ucanr.edu/sites/YCMG.

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