February Fruit Tree Care
By Emma Swan – February 2023
February is the unofficial back to business month! Most of us are back in the office, back at home, and looking for our next annual project. But for some newer home gardeners it’s a time for scratching their heads in confusion. Vegetables aren’t surviving pest attacks, ants are everywhere, and to top it all off, their new trees are wilting! If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. Gardening in summer can be challenging, but with knowledge comes success. In this article, we’ll get to the bottom of why your trees are wilting, how to ‘deal with’ your fruit trees when it’s 40⁰C, and what you should be looking at for your 2023 obsession.
Planted Fruit Trees
You might’ve been inspired by the sunshine and the flowers to buy a new fruit tree, shrub, or bush to plant out in your garden. If this sounds familiar, you might also notice your new addition is starting to wilt! Generally, a combination of heat stress, water stress, and general shock, fruiting plants can look pretty ordinary when planted out at this time of year. The best thing you can do for your latest addition is provide it with:
- A good layer of mulch, leaving a ring around the base of the tree.
- Seaweed or other liquid organic matter, diluted with water. This will help your tree to cope with extreme heat and make better use of the water provided to it.
- Smart watering that gradually decreases over the month (unless extremely hot). You need to wean planted trees off daily hand watering, otherwise you will be a slave to your very thirsty and not so efficient fruit tree! Try the 1-2-3-4 method:
- Water once a day, for one week, then:
- Water once every two days, for two weeks, then:
- Water once every three days, for three weeks… etc
Of course, climatic factors will influence this and you will need to adapt this method to your tree variety, location, and situation!
People with a summer fruiting trees of 1+ years will have already battled the birds, QLD Fruit Fly, and an array of fungal diseases by this time of year. Yet the fun, as always, is not over!
Summer fruiting trees must cope with both increased transpiration occurring with rising heat, and the energetically expensive process of developing delicious fruit. Stone fruit can experience melting from the inside out as the stone increases in heat! This generally only occurs on days over 40⁰C, which isn’t unheard of throughout Australia.
So, how do you avoid your fruit spoiling on the tree? For fruits that can ripen on the bench, pick early and store them in the fridge until you’re ready to eat them. You can also increase your watering regime to keep the tree cooler – but keep in mind that with more water you will have less flavoursome fruit, depending on the variety of fruit. If you’re desperate, erecting a temporary shade cloth can help, but may be to detriment to the tree’s health, depending on your situation. Keep an eye on the sunny side of the fruit – this will be most susceptible to becoming jelly like, however is generally a good indicator of ripeness.
Because the air and ground temperatures are so high in most areas of Australia, now is not the best time to be planting new plants out in the garden. The exception (because there is always an exception!), are summer loving varieties that are usually tropical fruit trees. It is now best to wait until autumn at least, but preferably winter for deciduous trees. Fortunately, you won’t be waiting too long for autumn, as now it’s only one month away!
Potted Fruit Trees
If you have your fruit trees, shrubs, and bushes in pots, you may be noticing the soil has been drying out extremely quickly. There are a few things to check when this happens, because it’s better to tackle it before your plants are continuously wilting!
The first step is to check your soil. Extremely dry, dusty soil indicates hydrophobia which can be extremely confusing when you had only watered the plant hours before! In this instance, apply soil wetting agents and organic matter, and apply mulch. Next, check your recent local weather. Has it been hot? Sensitive or newly acquired plants are particularly susceptible to high heat, which will enhance issues you may notice from the previous step and next steps. Will it be hot in the coming days, is there rain forecast? Try to identify weather trends that have your plants looking poorly and act before the plant shows signs of stress.
Next, look for pests. It’s unlikely that they will cause wilting in fruit trees, but they can worsen the effects of and contribute to wilting. If you notice any pests, deal with them accordingly, but keep in mind that your tree could be more sensitive to chemicals and
oils, especially applied during a hot day.
Lastly, does your tree need to be planted or repotted? There are three aspects to think of here; the first is time – how long has your plant been in its pot while in your care? Fruit tree roots grow quickly and will outlast the 5L pots you might’ve bought them in within months over the growing season (ie now!). The second thing to consider is soil quality – soil that is constantly dry, consumed by roots, or retracting from the sides of the pot are all indicators that you need to repot or plant your tree, and water more consistently! The last aspect to consider is plant growth – has it halted, or gone backwards? Plants will generally only keep growing when they have enough or more than enough resources to utilise – no growth or declining health means that it needs a better soil environment!
A plant this rootbound is severely overdue for repotting or planting.
Having talked to some clever gardeners recently, I’ve gathered a few tips recommended to keep pots cool, and moisture in, during summer. Here’s my favourite:
Use shade cloth to keep pots cool. Tape the shade cloth to the lip of your pot, and allow the rest to hang over the length of the pot. The gap between the shade cloth and plant pot casts an insulative shadow on the pot, which has the potential to dramatically reduce the temperature of the pot. Therefore, this is a great way to reduce your watering and keep your potted tree’s roots happy! An alternative is to use a larger slip pot that casts a shadow over your pot; this method is, however, more expensive and can be less effective. This is simple, but clever science!
Finally, keep an eye on tree health. If you applied a controlled release fertiliser in spring, we are getting close to its last legs! Leaf venation, reduced growth, or general deterioration are likely to be indicating nutrient loss. Keep up supplementing your fruit trees and other plants with liquid solutions, liquid fertilisers, trace elements, and organic material. If you used 6 month controlled release fertiliser coming out of winter, you are due to fertilise your garden again in March.
How shade cloth can keep a pot cooler.
Planning Your 2023
- Start preparing compost and garden beds now – the more time you put into it the better the result!
- Start looking into the best varieties for your area and situation now – there are plenty of resources (and more coming!) in our website for you to learn.
What’s trendy this year?
- Berries! Blueberries are growing in popularity yet again, and we are proud to provide two of the best varieties to the Aussie home gardeners – Blueberry Burst® and Blueberry Kisses®.
- Courtyard Feature Trees! Choose flowers or foliage and get creative! For flowers, look no further than our Dwarf Flowering Peaches, which are peach curl resistant so won’t become an ugly orange in spring! In winter, spark interest with fairy lights and seasonal decorations; in summer, use them to house your sensational summer shade plants. For foliage, look towards variegated or interesting coloured evergreen trees, that grow no bigger than 2.5m.
- Climate conscious gardening. More people are accepting their responsibility to contribute to a climate conscious world – and some of these people have limited space! For fruit lovers with limited space, try self-pollinating fruits like peaches and nectarines so that you only need one to have excellent home-grown fruit. Fanatics will enjoy a collection of fruits – for example, our new Summer Crunch® Dwarf Pears, which all pollinate each other! Fruit trees not only provide for us, but they also convert carbon dioxide to oxygen with the best of them!