Gardeners are familiar with preparing their gardens in the fall and early spring for next year's plantings. Don't forget that trees and shrubs need care before their growing season as well.
Early season tree, shrub and orchard care can be an easier job if you maintain an active presence in your garden 'year round. Keep an eye out for diseased, broken or misshaped branches and prune those away as you see them. Regular winter pruning is essential to maintain the health and vigor of your deciduous trees and shrubs. Proper pruning will insure you a wonderfully shaped tree or bush and optimal fruit production.
It's important to know just where the tree bears fruit, when you prune. For instance, apple trees flower on wood several years old, so you would prune the tree only to strengthen the fruit-bearing branches. Japanese plums require heavy pruning, up to one-third of the new wood each year, in order to bear larger fruit. In-depth information on pruning techniques can be found in your library or from a nursery or garden supply center. Many offer free pruning classes. Remember to use the right tools and techniques for your particular trees.
Shrubs need pruning, but only as much as necessary to maintain the health of the plant and to restore dying, flowerless branches.
Good orchard management also consists of protecting your trees from over-wintering pests and diseases. A regular program of dormant spraying and treating your trees with a sensible environmentally resposible pesticide control can prevent large insect infestations or serious diseases from damaging or even killing your trees. New innovations in Integrated Pest Management have made it easy for the home gardener to protect their trees and shrubs and harvest the best fruit that they can grow.
Dormant spraying is effective only if the directions with the product are followed. Skipping a second spraying, if required, using unrelated treatments together, or applying the incorrect mixtures can be detrimental to your trees. Read carefully about the conditions you can spray in, and protect yourself properly, too.
Equally important in the care of your home orchard is the proper fertilization. Keeping a diary of your fertilization schedule is helpful in determining the proper timing for the best results. Depending upon the age, soil conditions, water availability and the over all health of your tree will help you to determine how best to fertilize. Since soil conditions vary across the nation, it is usually more efficient to purchase a ready to apply fertilizer mix than second guess what separate nutrients your soil needs. Tree roots can grow much farther than a few feet around the trunk of the tree. Start fertilizing at the drip line; where the outer most branches would drip if it were raining on them. Feeding roots can be shallow, so be gentle when disturbing the soil in these areas.
Also, note what grows around your trees and bushes. Planting a permanent nitrogen fixing cover crop like hairy vetch or clover can add nirogen to the soil and attract beneficial insects when in bloom. It can also supress the weeds that may grow in your orchard and can add valuable nutrients while protecting the bare soil around your trees.