Monday, November 24, 2014

Winter Bark Damage

Fruit trees spend a good portion of their existence in dormancy. This is a time for the tree to rest and prepare for the right spring conditions to wake them up so they can preform their annual ritual of blossom, growth and fruit production. There are several outside factors that can disrupt a fruit tree's routine, leaving you with marginal success at harvest time. One problem that will be discussed in this blog post is winter bark damage.

Most fruit trees have dark colored bark. In the winter months they display their contrast well against the white snow. This dark bark can be a real weakness in some climates. When the temperatures are low and the sun is shining bright, fruit trees absorb the warm rays like a lazy cat in the window. When the dark bark of the tree is exposed to direct sun light, the temperature of the tree's outer layer becomes much warmer than the outside air, the same way asphalt will warm and melt snow in the winter even if the temperatures do not go above freezing. This temperature change causes the bark to expand during the day. When the frigid temperatures of night cool the bark again, it constricts back to it's former size. Bark is able to withstand a certain degree of expansion and contraction, but this freezing and thawing on a daily basis will often cause permanent damage to your fruit tree. 

You will know that your tree is suffering from this condition if you see deep cracks in the bark that ooze sap in the spring. Younger trees will heal and recover quickly from this type of damage, but older trees will have their bark completely separate from the wood. This condition is typically present on the southwest sides of a tree's trunk or on the top of older mature branches that are exposed to full sun during the winter months.Whole branches that are dependent on water and nutrient transport on this side of the tree may die off completely and will need to be removed.

Winter Bark Damage on an Old Peach Tree
There are two ways to prevent this condition on your fruit trees. You will need to either paint the trunk of your tree white or wrap the trunk with a light colored tree wrap. The light color of the paint or wrap will minimize the temperature change preventing expansion and contraction and will protect your tree from winter bark damage. I recommend wrapping your trees in the fall and removing the wrap in the spring. That way you are not left with an unsightly white painted trunk in your garden. 

If you have any questions regarding this post,  please email me at or comment below.

For more information regarding the terms used in this post, please visit our website at and under the services tab click on education.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Removing Broken Branches

Broken branches are common in fruit trees. This can be caused by heavy fruit loads in the summer or heavy snow loads in the winter. Wind, animals, and clumsy gardeners can also contribute to broken branches. Proper pruning techniques will help prevent branch failure. Consider the following pruning techniques to minimize broken branches.

Choose branches with a strong crotch. This means that the branch is at a 45-90 degree angle from the trunk. Although it may seem counter intuitive, branches that are less acute to the trunk are stronger and can support heavier loads. Follow this link for more information on strong branch angles.

Weak and Strong Branch Angles
Have you propped up branches to support them under a heavy fruit load? If your tree is pruned correctly, this practice will not be necessary. When pruning, avoid removing the spurs that are located on good strong branches. Old growth spurs should be your primary fruit producing branches. These spurs will only be successful if they are not shaded out by the rest of the canopy, so thinning your canopy and opening the center of your tree by removing the leader will help light to penetrate the canopy to the older, more productive parts of your tree.

Cut back or remove weak, spindly branches that are unable to support heavy loads. Imagine each branch loaded with fruit when you are pruning your trees, and ask yourself, "Will this branch be strong enough to support clusters of mature fruit?" Also, ask yourself, "Which way will this branch bend under a heavy load?" The purpose of asking these questions is to determine how far back you will need to prune each branch so that it will be able support the weight of fully ripened fruit.

Broken Branches on a Peach Tree
Avoid letting the lower branches of your fruit trees extend too far out. If the canopy of your tree is too thick, the lower branches will be forced to grow out farther and farther to capture the light they need to survive, making them weak and unsuitable for supporting heavy loads. When holding heavy objects, you naturally bring them close to your body and your frame will aide in the support of that object. The same goes with fruit trees. Branches closest to the trunk will be able to support heavy loads better that branches the are over extended.

A simple rule to remember when pruning your fruit tree is to train branches that are growing out to grow up and branches that are growing up to grow out. This is done by pruning branches back to a bud that is facing the direction that you would like your tree to grow. It would be wise to keep all of your secondary and scaffold branches between 45 and 90 degrees from vertical. The image below shows what a branch looks like that has been pruned this way for years. Notice the way that the branch has a zigzag pattern because it was pruned to alternate up and out, but the overall direction of the branch is between 45 and 90 degrees from vertical.
Peach Tree Pruning Up and Out
Each spring, when you prune your fruit trees, inevitably you will find some branches with damage from the previous year. It is important to remove these branches to make room for healthier ones. Damaged branches leave your tree exposed to possible pest infestations.

Damaged Branch on an Apricot Tree

I hope that you found the information in this blog to be helpful. If you have any fruit tree pruning questions please email me at or comment below.
For more information regarding the pruning terms used in this post, visit our website at and under the services tab, click on education.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Can Fruit Trees be Pruned in the Fall?

I get this question a lot. Can I prune my fruit trees in the fall? The answer is yes. If you prune your fruit tees in the fall they will not die, but lets discuss when fall pruning would benefit your fruit tree. See our blog post published February 5, 2013 to see when is the best time to prune your fruit trees.

Fruit Tree Pruning in the Fall
In the fall fruit trees are in a state of change. They are preparing for the winter by pulling energy from their leaves and transporting it in their roots to store for the following spring's colorful display. If large branches are removed before this energy transportation is complete, you may be robbing your tree's root system of that energy.

As mentioned earlier, pruning your fruit trees in the fall will not kill your tree, but your tree may not produce as well the following spring, but there are times when depriving your tree of this energy is desirable. Some mature trees have a surplus of energy and they use that energy in the spring towards growth. For example, some large apple trees will send up thousands upon thousands of non-fruit-producing water sprouts in the spring that end up shading out the spurs that are the primary fruit producing branches on your fruit tree. So, if your fruit trees have reached optimal size, then you will not want your trees to grow much in the the spring. Also, for some of you, your trees produce more fruit each fall then you can eat, preserve, and/or give away. If you are in this situation, then a good fall pruning might be beneficial and might simplify your pruning in the spring.

Autumn is also a great time to inspect your tree for weak branch angles, over extended branches, and other problems that could multiply if an early wet snow engulfed your tree and put excessive downward pressure on your branches. If you find that your tree may develop problems such as these during the winter, then it is recommended that you take a proactive approach and remove the branches in danger now instead of waiting for spring.

So we ask again, can you prune your fruit trees in the fall? Yes, but what are your trying to achieve and would it be better to wait till spring? I'll let you decide.

For more information about some of the pruning terms used in this post, visit our website at and under the services tab, click on education.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Peach Teriyaki Sauce

Autumn is coming to an end as winter becomes more and more evident. Fruit tree pruning is not recommended this time of year in most cases (next week we will discuss when and how it may be appropriate). Now that it's time to put up the saw and shears and crank up the furnace or put a log in the fire, you should be able to sit back and enjoy the spoils of your hard work in the garden by turning to the kitchen.

I'm a very frugal guy, especially when it comes to food. I guess since I know where food comes from, how hard it is to produce, and how much time and energy it takes to process that I can't imagine throwing it away.

To avoid being wasteful my wife and I like to create a menu for a week or two in advance. It helps us to make sure we buy what we need at the store in one trip and use up any perishables from the week before. On the menu last week was teriyaki chicken and steamed vegetables. Earlier that week I made crepes drizzled with peach syrup (crepes and peach syrup recipes might be good posts for a future date). There was about a cup of liquid remaining in the bottled peaches that I would normally have drank up myself or dumped down the drain, but something about seeing teriyaki chicken on the menu when I was checking to see what was for breakfast that morning triggered the brilliant and delicious idea of using the liquid from the bottled peaches in the future teriyaki sauce, so without further adieu... here is the recipe for your enjoyment!

Mix the following ingredients together until boiling stirring occasionally.

1/4 Cup soy sauce
1 Cup peach juice from bottled or canned peaches
1/4 Cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon garlic

Mix the following ingredients together separately and add to boiling sauce.

1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon corn starch

Let combined mixtures continue boiling for one minute or until translucent and thick. Turn off heat and serve with chicken or pork, rice, and your choice of vegetables. Great with noodles or as a dipping sauce for your favorite dim sum.

Peach Teriyaki Sauce and Chicken
Now that gardening tasks are coming to an end the next best use of your time is in the kitchen so whip up some peach teriyaki sauce and enjoy it by the fire with any other spoils from your garden. If you do try this recipe, I would love to hear back from you to see if you liked it as much as my family and I. Please comment below or send me a personal email at to let me know how you liked it and how it was served. Until next time...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Apple Taste Test 2014

The results are in! We put eight apples head to head to see which ones excel in both taste and texture.

Eight Apples Head to Head
There is one discrepancy though, the apples used in the study were purchased from the local supermarket, so their degree of freshness varied. I love the mild flavor, thin skin, and crisp, juicy flesh of a gala apple, but the ones used in this taste test were a bit on the mushy side. The following is an introduction and brief description of the apples used in the taste test.

Whole Apples Before the Taste
  • McIntosh- Glossy red skin flushed with small patches of green and yellow. Snow white, soft flesh with a tangy, full apple flavor.
  • Jonagold- Modeled red and yellow skin with distinct freckles. Crisp flesh with mild flavor that is balanced sweet and sour.
  • Red Delicious- Tough, dark red skin with cream colored flesh. Bland, sweet and starchy flavor.
  • Sweetie- Yellow-orange skin flushed with small patches of red. Very sweet, crisp, juicy flesh with little flavor other than sweet.
  • Gala- Equal red and yellow striations, so skin appears orange. Mild flavor with crisp, juicy flesh.
  • Sweet Tango - Green and red skin. Mildly sweet taste with a nutty flavor.
  • Golden Delicious- Bright yellow skin with an occasional flush of red. Well balanced, mild sweet and sour flesh.
  • Braeburn- Red-orange skin. Crisp, juicy, tart flesh bursting with flavor. Excellent balance between sweet and tart.
Before the Apple Taste Test
And the winning apple is, [Drum roll please] Braeburn! Second place goes to Jonagold. Third is a tie between Sweetie and McIntosh, but that is like comparing apples and oranges, even though we really are comparing apples to apples. These two apples were opposite. Where one excelled the other faltered. The Sweetie had a great texture and a sweet flavor that gave its name justice. The McIntosh apple out did the Sweetie in flavor, but flavor can be personal and preferences differ from one person to another. When it comes to apples, I like mine on the tart side, but I want the sweetness to balance and compliment the tart. So the McIntosh apple wins over the Sweetie in flavor, but lacked in texture, so I give them a tie for third place.

The clear looser of the apples tasted in the test was the Red Delicious, but who is surprised by that? Poor texture bland flavor and thick bitter skin, the red delicious, I'll give it that.

The next apple on the lower end of the scale was the Sweet Tango Apple. Plain and mild, moderately sweet with nothing tart to offset the sweet. It did have an unusual nutty flavor, unique but not excellent.

The apples that neither failed or excelled were the Golden Delicious and the Gala, both good apples, they just play it safe. Not pushing the envelope in any direction.

Like I mentioned earlier, flavor and texture can be personal. Tastes can trigger memories of places and loved ones, so it's hard to say that any apple is not worth eating. When I was in school I would often take a short cut through the apple orchards on campus, (actually they were on the far end of campus so there was nothing short about my way through the orchard) I would pull an apple from one tree in one hand and another in the other hand, take a bite of each and toss the one that lost. I would continue this process until I reached the end if the row. Nearly every time I would finish the winning McIntosh on my way to class. Every time I eat a McIntosh it takes me back to my walks in the orchard. When I did last week's tasting I tried to keep it professional and made my choices based  on flavor and texture alone.

The other factor mentioned earlier is that apples straight from the tree at their peak of ripeness are always amazing. Store bought apples just can't compare. The apples I purchased from the store all had a long journey, some longer than others. Taste and texture are all influenced by freshness. Some apples purchased in the store were harvested in 2013. They could be a year old! So it's not fair to compare a year old apple with one that was harvested just a month or two prior to being displayed in the supermarket.

I don't want to discount store bought. Not everyone can grow their own apples and supply and demand varies during the year. It's amazing to think that we can enjoy several apple varieties 365 days a year thanks to modern agriculture and distribution practices that just continue getting better each and every year.

I do encourage growing your own fruit whenever possible. Not only do you get fresher, tastier fruit; you get the pride and satisfaction of producing it on your own in your very own back yard, which in my opinion contributes to the taste.

I hope that you enjoyed this post and I encourage you to stage your very own apple taste test. Maybe I insulted your favorite apple and you would like a retest or you feel like the Fuji and Granny Smith should have been included? Let me know your thoughts and the results of your test. I look forward to connecting with you and I hope that you will eat more fruit and grow more of your own food. I can be reached via email at or comment below.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Salt Build Up in Soils

The following is a text message between a friend of mine in California and myself regarding his fruit trees and why the leaves are browning at the tips. If you have similar questions and would like to be featured on this blog, please call, text, email or message me pictures of your trees.

JB: Do you Know what I can treat my avocado tree with to help with the browning leaves? it has made a lot of the leaves already fall off. It is also happening to my peach and plum trees.

Russ: Lack of water.. I know you are probably thinking. "I water my trees regularly!" So, it's not that you are not watering it enough, it usually means the tree is unable to draw the water up from the roots, and there are at least three things that could cause this.

First, Over watering could cause the roots to rot. Scratch the soil around the base and see if it smells rotten.

Second, nematodes or other soil bound organism attacking the root system. this is nearly impossible for the average back yard gardener to diagnose.

Third, and most likely...because all of the trees are suffering and because of the time of the year, you probably have salt build up in the soil.

Most water has lots of dissolved minerals that build up over the summer, especially in dry climates or drought conditions. This salt build up will prevent the tree from accessing the water that is present in the ground. Best thing to do is to prevent the build up of salts by minimizing the watering. Sounds like the opposite of what you should do, but it's important to keep the water that you put in the ground, in the ground. Put mulch around the base of the tree, do less often, deeper waterings, amend the soil around the base of the tree with organic matter and use rain water as much as possible. (Collect the water that falls off the roof in large barrels and us that instead of the hose.)

Hope that helps!

For now you can try to push the salts down in the soil by leaving the hose on really low over night. Just make sure it has a chance to dry out before you water it again.

JB: Amend the soil with organic matter? I water it every few days with the hose about 1-2 gallons.

Russ: Get some well aged compost, and spread a 1 inch layer out to the drip line (the farthest edge of the tree's canopy) and use a hand rake to work it into the soil two to three inches deep. It would be better to water the trees ten to twelve gallons once weekly. Depends on the size of the tree though. How big are the peach and plum?

JB: Can I buy the compost at a store? Similar to manure?

Russ: In the picture you sent me of the avocado, make the dish of soil that holds the water twice as wide and fill the entire dish with medium shred bark mulch. For amendment don't use manure! Look for something that says forest compost.You should be able to buy it at the store in bags. Or make your own with leaves and kitchen scraps.

JB: Plum tree hasn't produced anything this year.

Russ: That one looks stressed, like lack of water. The leaves are small and sickly. To conserve water, lots of fruit trees won't fruit. Pull up the grass around the base and build a large shallow dish out to the drip line and fill the dish with mulch.

JB: Peach tree, only produced about 5 small ones and they dropped before they could grow. Both trees are about 7-8 feet tall.

Russ: The Peach looks good with water, I would move those blocks, mulch and thin the branches. Looks like you lost some big branches in the past. The plum and peach need a good pruning. Should be done in the winter.

JB: It was before I moved to this address. The blocks are holding the tortoises shelter up. Ok, so I need to prune this winter.

Russ: Correct

JB: Ok thanks I'll probably get a hold of you later for help with that. Thanks Russ!

Russ: Any time!

For more information regarding the pruning terms used in this post, visit our website at and under the services tab, click on education.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Increase Light

Solar energy is becoming more and more popular as engineers improve efficiency and lower cost, yet plants have been harvesting energy from the sun before the existence of mankind. Before any other life was introduced to the earth plants were thriving on solar energy. As a matter of fact, plants are so efficient at harvesting the sun's energy that all other life forms on this earth rely directly or indirectly on the energy they store.

Energy Storage - Electricity vs Sugar
Solar panels and plants differ in that solar panels create electricity which is difficult to store and transport. Plants store energy in a very stable, efficient substance with the chemical make up C6 H12O6 (sugar). For every carbon atom there are two hydrogen and one oxygen atom, so another way to write the equation is 6 C (carbon) and 6 H2O (water). Plants take in CO2 (carbon dioxide gas) and water and with the energy from the sun they create sugar and emit oxygen as a byproduct.

To maximize your sugar generator's ability to create fruit, make sure you treat them like a solar panel. Plant them in full sun, open up the center of the tree so that light can penetrate the tree and touch each and every branch.

Solar Energy Converts Carbon and Water to Sugar
Sunlight is extremely important, but remember, for our formula to work you must also provide plenty of water and carbon dioxide. So water your tree regularly and your trees will have no shortage of carbon dioxide. I guess if you were worried about a CO2 shortage you could keep your car idling in the driveway, ... but I don't recommend it.

For more information regarding the pruning terms used in this post, visit our website at and under the services tab, click on education.