Husker Hort

A Nebraska View of Horticulture

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Getting to the Core of Fruit Trees

Apple blossoms

Apple blossoms

Cherry pie, peach cobbler, and apple crisp are just a few things that come to mind when fruit trees are mentioned.  Makes my mouth water thinking about the baked goods made with fruit from your very own tree.  It may sound simple to grow fruit trees, but there are a few rules to keep in mind when selecting the right fruit trees for your landscape.

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Don’t Forget the Fruit

Apple tree.  Photo courtesy

Apple tree. Photo courtesy

You know the saying; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Even though apple and other fall fruit harvest is nearing its end, that doesn’t mean that the work is over. Fall sanitation is a key part of fruit management. A little extra work now could ensure a successful growing season next year.

Make sure your fruit trees are ready for the winter to come. Start by making sure that your tree goes into winter with an adequate amount of moisture. The recommendation for trees is to have about 1” of supplemental water per week. This is about enough water to get the top 8” of the soil moist. Fruit trees do not require much fertilization, especially in the fall. As long as the fruit tree is planted in a healthy soil, it will not require fertilization. In the fall we want trees to go dormant, not produce more growth, which is why we avoid fertilizing trees in the fall.

Fruit trees can benefit from good fall sanitation. Healthy fallen fruits or leaves can be collected and placed in the compost pile. Removal of rotting dropped fruit as well as diseased fruit and leaves will help decrease the potential for pathogens to infect next year’s crop. Fruit mummies, dried fruits that remained on the branch, and diseased fruits and leaves should be picked up and thrown away, not put into the compost pile or worked into the soil. Branches that were infected with fire blight and other bacterial or fungal cankers should be removed and disposed of as well.

Protect your fruit trees now for pesky critters. Mow the grass under the tree and as close to the trunk as you can get without causing damage. This will remove good overwintering sites for rodents. Also, be on the lookout for rodent paths or holes where they burrow and use the desired form of control. Before the ground freezes, consider protecting the tree as well. A well-constructed rabbit fence will help to protect smaller trees from becoming a bunny’s next meal. Be sure that the fence is not only 15-18” tall, just in case we get snow, but it also should be buried in the ground 6” to keep the rascals from trying to dig under.

Strawberries could also benefit from a little care before winter. Thinning plants, providing adequate moisture throughout the fall, and mulching in late fall are all important fall care practices. Thin strawberry plants in mid-October and aim for a spacing of five to seven plants per square foot to help allow optimum fruit production the following year. Remove small and weak plants as well as any new runners or daughter plants that have not rooted down yet.

Mulching strawberry plants is another good practice to use. Winter mulch will help prevent or reduce winter damage to the crowns and flower buds of the plants. Wait to mulch strawberries until late November or early December, after the soil has frozen at a depth of ½ an inch or the airtime temperatures have dropped into the 20’s. Mulch applied too early in the fall can delay hardening off, which can lead to the plants being more susceptible to winter injury and possibly crown rot. Mulches that work well for strawberries can include wood chips, pine straw, newspapers, coarse sawdust, clean straw or hay, or any loose mulch that will not compact heavily. Leave the mulch on the plants until the new growth begins, usually in mid-April.

There are a few steps you can take to decrease the spread of pathogens. Machinery and tools should be disinfected on a regular basis and when they come into contact with infected plant material. Steam, hot water under pressure, or a 10% bleach solution can be used to disinfect. Before and after pruning out diseased branches, disinfect pruners and loppers to keep from spreading diseases.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website: