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While most people associate gardening with warm weather, from the heat up in spring to the cool down in autumn, the fact is that there are a few things we can do for our fruit trees in the winter to help them thrive when production time rolls around again.

Think of it like this: The best athletes don’t just stop training during the off-season. The same goes for the most productive fruit trees. They may not be as active or working as intensely during the winter, but there is still much to be done to stay in good condition for when we are back in season.

For those of us hoping to provide our fruit, nut, and berry trees with the best care, we can follow a few fruitful tips for how to make it through the chilly climate. Come harvest time, we’ll be reaping the rewards.

1. Choosing

Source: Plant Abundance/Youtube

The first guideline for good winter care is choosing our trees wisely. There are many different varieties of fruit trees out there, hundreds of types of apples or dozens of kinds of peaches. Each one has its own proclivities. Some apples thrive in warm weather with very few frost hours necessary for peak production. Others require thousands of chill hours to fruit well. Before planting fruit trees, do some research and choose varieties suited to your climate.

2. Waiting

A lot of gardening is being patient, waiting for conditions to be right before getting into a task. For example, most gardeners know it’s bad to plant when the soil is very wet because seeds will just rot. Well, in terms of winter care for fruit trees, it’s imperative to wait until the trees have gone dormant. The fall is a very active time for trees as they prepare for the winter. It’s best to stay out of their way during this time.

3. Dressing

As temperature swings become huge between daytime highs and nighttime lows, it’s worth thinking about a little protection, such as tree guards, for the trunks of trees. This is especially true for young ones. The temperature swing—freeze-thaw cycle—can sometimes happen so fast that the trunks will crack or split. That’s not good. The tree guard also protects the trunk bark from rodents and hungry animals.

4. Mulching

During the winter, nearly all of a tree’s energy is in its root system, and that’s a good thing. That means in the springtime it’ll have reserves on the ready to start making the magic happen. We can help by adding a thick layer, say six inches, of mulch around the base of trees, out to as wide as its canopy. This provides the root system with some insulation as the ground freezes. That said, be sure to keep the mulch off the actual tree trunk as it might promote rot.

5. Chilling

The modern fruit tree farmer may be a suburban couple growing a few potted trees around the house. Citrus is especially agreeable to this. If that’s the case, it’s important not to forget that these trees are accustomed to a period of dormancy as well. They should be exposed to cold weather—not just comfortable indoor environs—so that they know it’s time to relax for a while.

6. Pruning

Source: The Gardening Channel With James Prigioni/Youtube

In most circumstances, pruning is a wintertime activity. We like that the trees are dormant during this time, so the shock of what’s happening isn’t as drastic. Furthermore, dry times—and, long-lasting ice and snow are dry as the water is unavailable to the trees—are less prone to promoting fungal and bacterial problems, so pruning during these times is safer in terms of diseases and pests.

7. Transplanting

Lastly, as we look to plant or transplant trees and bushes, the best practice is to do so while they are dormant. Some trees can be planted towards the end of autumn, but many trees like an early spring transplant, just before they break dormancy. Then, all the work that they put into developing roots and growing strong is not for naught. Transplanting trees can be hard on their psyche, so if we do it while they are sleeping, they feel more at home when they wake up.

In short, as we encourage our fruit trees to be productive, our work is not done after the harvest. It’s a year-round gig. Winter might be a little more lax, but if we look out for our trees a little then, the payoff will be bigger next season. Seems like a good tradeoff.

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