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Bringing in the harvest ... and working toward next year's.

Summer is harvest time for most deciduous fruit trees. It's also when buds form for next year's crop. Here's what you can do to ensure a good crop now and in the season to come.

Bringing in this year's crop

Protect limbs from breaking. Thin excess fruit. It's too late to be doing this to improve the quality of summer-ripening fruit, but you may save a limb by reducing weight. Heavy thinning also reduces drought stress on the tree.

Prop branches as needed. If an important branch cracks, you may be able to save it: cut it back to reduce excess weight, then bind it with plumber's tape, or carefully bolt it back together. Prop if necessary. Remove damaged fruit. Pick off and destroy fruits with visible worm holes or damaged areas. Rake up and discard windfalls and culls.

Protect ripening fruit. Cover branches with net or row cover fabric. Spun-bonded polyester is among the most durable. Some coastal gardeners have found it far more effective than net, but its effect in hot climates is untested; it may trap too much heat. Completely enclose small trees. On larger ones that often produce plenty to share with the birds, wrap just choice limbs or the lower half of the tree. Hose off leaves. Doing this periodically removes dust and discourages mites and other pests.

Use a ladder or picker For your safety and the tree's, use these to pick fruit on out-of-reach branches.

Promoting next year's harvest Water as needed. This is your most critical concern, especially until fruit reaches mature size. Young trees and dwarf varieties have shallower roots, so they need watering more often than large trees.

Near the coast, established trees may need no irrigation in years of normal rainfall. But in dry years, they usually benefit from some supplemental watering.

In hot, dry inland areas even in normal years ftuit trees benefit from at least three to five thorough soakings between spring and fall (frequency depends on climate, soil, and wind).

The only sure way to tell when to water is to check moisture where tree roots grow (mostly in the top 3 to 4 feet of soil). You can do this with either a sampling tube or an auger (both designed for soil), or by digging a hole nearby. If earth several inches below the surface feels cool and sticks together when you squeeze a handful, you don't need to water yet. If it's powdery dry, it's time to water.

To prevent runoff, use drip emitters or, if practical, create a basin around the tree. Build up a berm of soil about 4 inches high at the drip line (just outside the branch tips). Make a second berm about 6 inches away from the trunk (to keep trunk dry and reduce risk of discase).

Soak until the entire root zone is saturated: 4 to 5 feet for mature trees, 2 1/2 to 3 feet for young and dwarf ones. For mature trees in clay soil, fill the basin about four times; fill ideal garden soil (loam) twice, sandy soil once.

After watering, check the depth of penetration by pushing a stiff wire or rod into the soil as far as possible; it will sink in only as deep as soil is wet. You can also use a soil-sampling tube.

Mulch. This saves water, improves soil texture, and keep roots cool. Spread mulch 3 to 6 inches thick, starting 6 inches away from the trunk to keep bark dry; continue out to slightly beyond the drip line. Use compost, ground bark, gravel, pebbles, or similar materials.

Fertilize lightly. Apply nitrogen this late only if leaves are abnormally pale, small, or slow-growing. For faster results, spray a dilute solution directly onto leaves.

Direct new growth. Clip off any suckers below the graft line. Rub off or pinch back any crossing or awkwardly placed limbs and overly vigorous vertical branches. Keeping the center of the tree open to light and air produces betterquality fruit.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jul 1, 1989
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