Category Archives: Fruits

Late February: Tree Pruning Time!

By MJ (Mary-Jane) Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Last year at around this time on a beautiful, sunny and mild Saturday, I found myself in an apple orchard south of Norwood learning the intricacies of pruning apple trees. Fruit trees need to be pruned in order to open up the tree canopy to sunlight and air circulation which promotes fruit production and a healthy plant.

Most trees benefit from some pruning, but an important aspect of the task is knowing when to prune. Proper timing helps to insure attractive, healthy, productive trees and shrubs.

February through March is generally regarded as the best time to prune most deciduous trees. The absence of foliage at this time of year gives the individual a clear view of the tree and allows the selection and removal of appropriate branches.

The best time to prune flowering trees or shrubs is right after they’ve finished blooming. Unlike other trees in this article, pruning of these is unlikely to have anything to do with February or March!

Prune evergreen shrubs, such as juniper and yew, in late March or early April before new growth begins. Light pruning may also be done in mid-summer. Avoid pruning evergreen shrubs in the fall as fall pruned evergreens are more susceptible to winter injury. Late winter is the best time to remove unwanted lower branches on evergreen trees.

Back to the apple orchard. Late February to early April is the best time to prune fruit trees in our area. Pruning should be completed before the fruit trees begin to break bud (leaf out) in early spring.

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I learned that the first rule of pruning is to remove any dead, injured or diseased branches. Cut just past the “branch collar”–the wrinkled part where the branch connects to the trunk or another branch.

Then, moving up and around the tree, look for branches that cross each other and eliminate the ones that are not evenly spaced or are not at the best angle. Competing branches will cause problems for the tree. Fruit trees should only have one central leading branch. If two or more exist, choose the healthier one and remove the others.

It was definitely an interesting afternoon. Much thanks to my friend Carl for the lesson!

Three Items of Likely Interest

While we’re on the subject of trees, I thought the following timely items would be of interest to our readers.

Ecology Park Spring Sale, Victoria Day Weekend. Mark your calendar now and plan to support Ecology Park programs with purchases of over 150 species of edible and native plants, shrubs, and trees that thrive in our region of Ontario and provide important habitat for wildlife and pollinators.

ORCA Seedling Program — Otonabee Conservation can assist you in reforesting or planting additional trees on your property through the Tree Seedling Program. Orders for trees can be placed in early March for delivery in late April. Tree whips (3-4yrs old) come bare root. Trees range in price from $1 per tree to $4 per tree, but there is a minimum order of 25 trees of a single variety so you may want to split an order with a friend or two (or three). See the link below for more information. Order deadline this year is March 10, 2020.

Coincidentally, the Peterborough Horticultural Society speaker this coming Wednesday February 26 (2020) is Vern Bastable from Peterborough Green Up. Vern will be speaking about “Choosing the Right Tree”. Guests are always welcome for a nominal $2 charge. The meeting is held at the Peterborough Lions Centre in Ashburnham from 7pm-8:30pm sharp and refreshments are served before the meeting.

Lastly, here are some resources that you may find helpful.

Back to the Garden…

By Vince Picchiello, Master Gardener in Training

It wasn’t long ago that Joni Mitchell sang about making it to Woodstock. In these last few years though, there is a more serious and vibrant movement when the subject turns to the foods we eat and their genetic composition. Additionally, there are real concerns about the lack of nutrition and vitamins that exist in many of the fruits and vegetables that we purchase at our local supermarkets what with the deteriorating state of soils that are infested with herbicides and pesticides. Hence, the return to our own gardens for fresh organic fruits and vegetables.

First and foremost of concern is the introduction of foods that are Genetically Modified Organisms or GMO’s. Genetically modified foods are organisms that have had their characteristics changed through the modification of their own DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). GMO’s have had their genomes (organisms that contain the complete set of genetic instructions) changed in a way that doesn’t happen naturally.banner4-min

In the United States, in large scale agricultural crops, at least 90% of soy, cotton, canola, corn and sugar beets have been genetically engineered. In Canada, canola, soy beans, corn and sugar beet are crops that are genetically modified. However, most of these foods are exported. The lingering issue is whether these foods have any health issues now or in the future. The Center for Food Safety is of the opinion that not enough information has been gathered to deem these foods safe for consumption in the long term. Regardless of the debates, there is an awakening among consumers of the foods we eat.

Obviously, not everyone has access to a garden and some only have room for container plants but the awareness arises from the quality and certainty of the foods we eat. It becomes about choices. We can choose to shop at our local farmers markets whereby we can engage directly with the lovely people who sell their foods. We can ask about farming techniques; whether they use pesticides or herbicides, whether their soil is certified organic or if they use GMOs. Alternatively, for those of us blessed with space on our properties we can slowly begin to amend our soils and start our own self-sustaining journey.

Not to be forgotten through this movement to the garden is our choice of using heirloom seeds in order to preserve some of our declining specimens of fruits and vegetables that have been marginalized by corporate “farmers” in their quest for profitable crops.

Finally, not only is gardening a rewarding endeavour that enhances our health, it attracts nature with the butterflies and bees and the multitude of insects that cultivate our soils, ultimately we get to enjoy the fruits of our labour with pure authentic produce. Back to the garden is a reality that is picking up steam. Why not join us!

The Soil in Your Garden

by Christine Freeburn – Master Gardener

For the plants in your garden to be the best they can be, you need to start with the best soil you can make. Enhancing your soil with compost and manure is the best way to do this.

Soil provides physical anchorage for plants

You need your soil to have enough texture to hold your plants without being so heavy that it strangles them.

You should know what your SOIL TEXTURE is.  To do this, you can try this simple test:

  • fill a quart jar one third full with a sample of your soil
  • dig down into the soil to get a sample
  • fill the jar with water, put the lid on tightly and shake well.

As the soil settles, you will be able to see different layers.  The bottom level is the sand portion.  Next will be silt. Silt has larger particles than sand, but smaller than clay.  Last will be clay.

The amount of each that you have in your soil will determine what type of soil you have….clay, sandy, silty or any combination of these. The best soil is sandy loam, which is about 60% sand and 40% clay.

This will also tell you how your soil deals with water….does it drain well or hold and stay wet longer.

You can amend your soil to improve the texture, but it is a constant challenge. Sometimes it is better to accept what type of soil you have and grow plants that prefer a sandy soil or a clay soil.

Soil supplies water and nutrients to plants

When you water, water the soil and roots of your plants, not the leaf portions. Water is absorbed through the roots and channels up into the leaves.

pH

Another thing you should know about your soil is it’s pH…is it acidic or alkaline. pH has a scale of 1 to 10, with acidic soil have a low number. Most plants like 6.0 to 7.5. This is where they can best absorb the nutrients in your soil. You might have heard that plants like rhodendrons prefer acidic soil, which would have a lower pH.

Knowing the nutrients in your soil is important also. You can send away to Guelph University to get your soil tested, however that can be expensive. You can use an inexpensive soil testing kit also. It will also test for pH.

There are 3 big nutrients and these are Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. You will be familiar with them as the three numbers on fertilizers. Many fertilizers are synthetic, however you can get organic types.

Nitrogen is for leaves and greening of your plants.NPK-01.png

  • fish emulsion
  • blood meal

Phosphorus is for bloom

  • bone meal

Potassium is for roots and overall health of plant

  • wood ash
  • composted seaweed

Other natural fertilizers

  • animal manures – make sure they are well composted or they will burn your plants or be full of weeds
  • manure tea – dilute manure in water, let sit for a week, then water plants
  • comfrey tea – another good nutritional source
  • epson salts – put a tsp in hole when planting

Know your soil, it’s texture, pH and nutritional content

Grow the plants that will thrive in those conditions or be prepared to make amendments

Soil is a living thing which needs to be enriched on a regular basis

Compost and Topdress

Growing Strawberries in Containers

by Pat Freistatter

Why grow strawberries in containers? 

  • It does not require a lot of space.
  • Containers can be close to your kitchen
  • Bacterial and fungal diseases and damage from slugs are reduced.
  • Containers can be moved around to take advantage of warmth and light from the sun.

Note: Strawberries on plants still need to be protected from Insects and birds

What type of strawberry plant grows best in containers?

  • Any type of strawberry plant can be used.
  • June bearing strawberry plants provide one large crop.
  • Day neutral strawberry plants produce fruit throughout summer, except during hot weather.
  • Ever-bearing strawberry plants produce 2-3 harvests each summer from early spring to fall.

What type of container can be used?

  • Many types of containers can be used: eg. hanging basket, pot, wooden box (must have several drainage holes in the bottom)
  • Strawberry plants have a small and shallow root ball so they can be grown in small containers; as small as 25 cm in diameter and 20 cm deep (Note: small containers must be watered more often)
  • Light coloured pots keep the plant roots cooler in the heat of the summer.

What type of soil should be used?

  • Use loose, loamy potting soil that will hold water, but allow excess water to drain away.

How do you plant the strawberry plant?

  • Fill the container with potting soil to within 2.5 cm of the rim
  • Put plant in pot and cover the roots, up to the crown (where the leaves emerge), with the soil and water well. Add more potting mix if needed after the soil settles.
  • Strawberry plants can spread out about 60 cm – put only 1– 2 plants in a small container.

When should the plant be watered?

  • Water strawberries whenever the soil feels dry to about 2.5 cm below the surface.
  • Avoid both soggy and dried out soil.
  • Daily watering may be needed in periods of hot, dry weather.
  • Keep moisture off the leaves to prevent fungal diseases that will damage the fruit.

How should the plant be fertilized and when?

  • Strawberries should be fertilized every 3-4 weeks, as soon as the first flowers appear, with a fertilizer high in phosphorus.

How much sun should the plant receive?

  • At least 6-8 hours of sun – rotate container every 3-4 days if possible

Fun things to do with strawberries in containers: Create a Strawberry Waterfall

  • Stack a few lightweight pots filled with potting mix, starting from largest to smallest.
  • Plant strawberries around the edge.
  • Take care of your strawberry fountain following the previous directions for containers.