Getting your new fruit trees to survive the winter means protecting them from the elements, letting them harden off properly before the cold weather starts and keeping them watered during dry spells. Any tree that has been planted within the last year is considered new. To ensure better survival rates, plant new fruit trees in the late winter or early spring so they have a chance to get established before the onset of the following year’s winter, and only plant trees that are hardy enough for your climate.
Stop fertilizing fruit trees by August, or when their fruit production has ended. Fertilizing prevents trees from hardening off in the winter because it encourages active growth. Do not fertilize the trees again until the ground begins to thaw in late winter or early spring.
Give all new fruit trees a deep watering once every two weeks during the summer, especially if summer precipitation is light. Towards the end of fall, be prepared for sudden nighttime frosts. If possible, deeply water the fruit saplings 12 to 24 hours before a predicted frost. Water will help protect the tree’s cells, but the roots need time to absorb the water before it freezes.
Trim any dead or dying material from fruit trees in late summer or early fall after the fruits have been harvested. Save major pruning, training and re-shaping projects for late winter or early spring. Pruning encourages new growth and prevents the tree from going dormant in the winter.
Mulch saplings with a 3- or 4-inch thick layer of mulch after watering them. Mulch helps them retain water and keeps roots warm.
Water fruit trees in the winter only after long dry spells of two weeks. Push the mulch aside and water the tree deeply, taking care not to get the trunk wet. It’s best to water in the morning so that the roots can take water before the ground freezes again at night. Replace the mulch after watering.
Protect your young fruit trees with plastic trunk guards. Trunk guards go around the bottom of the tree trunk. They protect against sudden temperature changes by keeping the trunk from heating up during the day and freezing at night. Trunk guards should be lightly colored, and should cover at least 18 inches of the trunks. Use trunk guards on any tree younger than 2 years.
Clear all tall grass and vegetation from around the bases of the trees. Grass encourages mice and voles by giving them a place to hide, and these rodents cause a lot of damage to trees by gnawing their bark off. The trunk guards should be able to keep wildlife from eating the tree. You can also surround the trunk with a ring of fine mesh chicken wire tied together with twine or twist-ties to keep deer and larger animals away.
Stake trees that are in an unsheltered location to protect them from strong winter winds. Place the stakes 3 feet from the tree trunk and wrap a strong rope around the tree and the stakes. Be sure to remove the stakes in late winter when the trunk begins to grow again.