Time to Bud…

It comes around so quick. Amidst the busy-ness of summer harvest time we somehow find time to kneel among our beautiful seedling root stock nursery and imagine the varieties they will one day be. It’s a little bit Frankenstein, a little bit God, to change the destiny of these wee trees and transform them into the varieties of juicy, tasty fruit we want them to be. But that’s how it works. If we let the trees that we’ve grown from seed or cutting grow to maturity, sure they will fruit, but the fruit will likely be small, not very tasty or both! In the case of citrus and plum seedlings, they will most likely be extremely spiky too! 

That’s where summer budding comes in. By budding we can add one or more know varieties of fruit cultivar to the seedling rootstock. That’s where the Frankenstein thing comes in. You have to have a surgeon’s precision (and ideally over 50 year’s experience like Merv) to cut the fine incisions in the bark of the rootstock trunk (which by now is about the thickness of your index finger), just big enough for the bud to slide in and get taped on. Once the sap starts to flow and join the new bud onto the original rootstock tree then we have success, but if our cuts are a bit outta whack, the bud a bit big or dry, or the season too late then we have to wait again until spring to graft and try again.

February is the ideal time for budding. The rootstock trees are as big as they’re going to get (more or less) and the sap is still flowing, so happy unions between bud and tree can happen. Once the trees start to slow down for autumn and their winter hibernation, then the bark wont ‘lift’ anymore to receive a bud. This week, we (Merv, Katie and Sas) started our summer budding on the peaches. With freshly sharpened knives in hand we budded about 150 trees of all sorts of varieties of peach and nectarine. The rootstock trees we’ve grown from seed we saved out of last year’s bottling adventures. If the buds are successful, the trees should be ready to plant out in winter 2020.

It’s not the most glamorous or elegant activity, spending hours on your elbows and knees carefully slicing open small trees. But it is so incredibly interesting to see how the trees grow and learn about all the different varieties and experiment with different techniques, such as multi-buds on single trees. If we’re creating monsters, at least they’re edible monsters!!!

Grow well

Sas

Mending broken branches in fruit trees

Granny smith apple tree with broken branches

We occasionally make mistakes on our fruit trees (just so we can illustrate the theory of course!), like the apples above, or this broken branch of peaches…

Peach tree with broken branch

Branches also break for other reasons like equipment, animals, storms, disease…you name it, in fact!

Once the damage is done, the next question is “can it be repaired?”

If the break has gone all or most of the way through the wood (like the peach branch above), or has been caused by disease and the branch no longer has any healthy wood inside, then the best thing to do is make a neat pruning cut to remove the broken branch (because remember the first rule of pruning is “remove all dead and diseased wood”).

A broken limb on a fruit tree caused by a kangaroo

However if there’s still enough healthy and green wood on both sides of the split that can be brought back together, it’s worth trying a repair.

Remove the fruit (f there is any), bring the two pieces back together and make sure you can get a really good union between the two sides. Then use whatever is at hand to hold the pieces very firmly together.

Split branch on fruit tree bound with grafting tape

In this case the split was on a fairly small branch, and I had some budding tape in my pocket, so that’s what I used!

For a bigger split, for example in the trunk of a tree, you’ll need a more heavy duty solution like these cable ties.

Broken tree trunk repaired with cable ties

You may also need to support the break with some rope or hayband (baling twine) while it repairs itself.

A broken limb supported with baling twine while it heals

Leave it in place for at least a few months, and check back next spring to see whether the repair worked. If not, remove the branch, but if it did, make sure you thin that limb extra hard next year, and supply extra support as well next season to make sure it doesn’t break again.

Taking enough fruit off the branches to prevent these breaks can be very difficult, as it feels awfully destructive to throw all that fruit on the ground.

But as you can see, it’s important to protect the structure of the tree, not just this season’s fruit. If you’re still not persuaded (or not sure how to do it), invest in our short course Fruit Tree Thinning— your fruit trees will thank you!

Diagnosing leaf curl in summer

The dreaded Leaf curl disease on a peach tree

We want to talk about Leaf curl. It’s a common fungal disease of peach and nectarine trees (if you have leaves curling in other types of trees it’s caused by something else).

It may seem strange to be talking about it so late in summer, as it’s a disease that shows up in spring, but bear with us!

If you noticed the disease in your trees last spring, the trees should have completely recovered by now, and grown lots of healthy new leaves (that should look something like the photo below).

Hugh with a healthy young peach tree

However if you’re not sure whether your trees had the disease, it may still be possible to find out, as you may still have remnant diseased leaves in your trees.

They’ll look something like this:

Remnant dead leaves from Leaf curl infection in peach tree

In fact, this can be one of the dignostic tools you can use to help identify whether you had this disease in your trees, in the ongoing detective work we need to be doing to become awesome fruit growers!

These dead and shrivelled leaves are a powerhouse of fungal spores sitting in the tree, just waiting until conditions are perfect next spring to release the spores, and start the disease cycle all over again.

A fresh Leaf curl infection on a peach tree in spring

It’s been often and hotly debated whether it’s worth removing infected leaves from the tree as they emerge in spring, and the answer seems to be no, it doesn’t help reduce the spread of infection once it’s started.

However, the jury is still out on whether removing the remnant leaves in summer will help prevent re-infection the following spring. As always, we err on the side of caution when it comes to practical, hands-on jobs you can do to help your trees stay healthy.

So…get rid of them! Many of these leaves will probably have fallen off of their own accord and rotted away under the tree, but if there are any still in your trees, remove and dispose of them.  

Hot compost is the perfect disposal method, as the high temps reached will kill off the fungal spores, but the organic matter in the leaves won’t go to waste.

Remember, prevention is much better than cure, and hygiene is one of the best defenses we have against all pests and diseases.

Another strong defence is using allowable organic sprays in spring, but it only works if you get the timing right. We’ve included a complete spray program to help you decide what and when to spray in the short course Better Fruit with Wise Organic Spraying.