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Saturday, December 26, 2015

What To Do To Fruit Trees in January

Class in 29 Palms in 2014
What should you be doing with your fruit trees now?

  • Finish your fruit tree pruning before February 1
  • Fertilizing fruit trees
  • Controlling pests
Thanks to Viragrow for letting me use pictures of their products.

Fruit tree pruning. I gave several classes on fruit tree pruning in December. I will be giving is in Twentynine Palms, California, on Saturday, January 9 beginning at 9 AM at the Twentynine Palms Inn. You can read about it on their blog soon or on my blog.

The major topics I covered included size control and improving fruit production. I divide fruit tree pruning into two operations for those just learning how to prune fruit trees; first of all control the size of the tree and establish its general architecture or structure and secondly prune to improve fruit production.

Here is a link or you can download a copy of my general recommendations for pruning fruit trees.
Fruit tree fertilizer example
available from Viragrow
Fertilizing fruit trees. Fertilize fruit trees in our climate any time in January before the first week in February or before the signs of new growth if you are not in our climate. If you are late by a couple of weeks you can still do it. Use conventional fertilizers or compost. 

Use any fertilizer that is designated as a fruit tree fertilizer. In a pinch, you can substitute a rose fertilizer. Follow the label directions. 

If you were in my class, I would show you how to "read" a tree to determine how much fertilizer to apply. If you don't know, follow established guidelines that you trust. You can apply it on top of mulch or pull the mulch back and put it on top of the soil, then replacing the mulch. 

Make sure that you water it in enough to get the fertilizer in contact with wet soil. That last statement, in wet soil, is very important. Fertilizer cannot move to the roots if it is not in contact with water. 
Example of a dormant oil
available from Viragrow
Be careful how much phosphorus, the middle number, you apply. Phosphorus can hang around in soils a long time and it can build up concentrations if you aren't careful. Apply it only once during a growing season.

Controlling pests. Applying a dormant oil at least once, if not twice, during the winter is a very important preventive pest control application. It is aimed at aphids, scale insects, spider mites and a few other general pests that might appear this coming growing season. 

It is primarily aimed at "suffocating" these insects so it is important to apply it on a warm day with no wind. It is best applied by high pressure pesticide application equipment. However if you are using a backpack sprayer or other pressurized sprayer keep the pressure as high as you can during the application. This will help the oil cover as much surface as possible without leaving any gaps. 
Solo backpack sprayer
Low-pressure equipment or hose and sprayers "spit" out the oil which makes for a very uneven application and wastes a lot of the dormant oil. Dormant oils for homeowners are nearly always lightweight summer oils that are much less dangerous to plants than some of the winter oils applied in decades past.

Don't spray unless you have a problem or you had a problem last year and you're trying to get a jump ahead. 

Mature leaf footed plant bug
A prominent pest on fruit and vegetables last year was the leaf footed plant bug.Your landscape right now. Look for the adults that will be ready to lay eggs on your plants as soon as it is warm and they have some surface area. 

They will most likely hangout right now on broadleaf evergreen trees such as bottlebrush. They can see you coming and will move away from you as you approach the tree or plant. 

The adults have wings so they will be flying in from neighbors when temperatures start to warm up. Sprays that contain pyrethrin or the synthetic pyrethrins are a good choice on these critters. 

As a last resort, Sevin insecticide will control them but use that conventional insecticide when you have exhausted other possibilities such as oils, soap sprays and pyrethrin products.

I have a lot more information but you have to start asking questions if you want it.


  1. My apple tree is still full of leaves - hasn't lost one yet (we're in the Southern Highlands area). Its a pink lady apple tree... should we wait to prune once it starts losing leaves or is it okay to prune in the next couple of weeks? The leaves have turned to a purple-y brown-ish color, but are still green and very much alive. Thanks!

    1. Go ahead and prune. We just have not had a freeze hard enough to knock off the leaves. The tree is fully asleep for the winter. You can also wait if you want to until near February and that will be fine. You can turn off the water until the leaves drop and then resume your irrigations as needed. That will encourage leaf drop. The leaves can be removed by hand as well by running your hands down the branches if it is small enough. You can also try shaking the limbs. Or wait for a strong wind. As for me, I would just wait for normal leaf drop if it is difficult to see where to prune.