Put your fruit trees to bed before winter

This week, we’re noticing that the leaves are just starting to change colour on some of the fruit trees at our place, so we’re focusing on things you can do in the garden to help your fruit trees get ready for winter.

The farm's starting to get that 'autumn' feel (thanks to Penny Kothe for this beautiful shot)
The farm’s starting to get that ‘autumn’ feel (thanks to Penny Kothe for this beautiful shot)

One of the most important things to think about is nutrition.┬áIt might seem a bit counter-intuitive to be feeding the trees just as they’re about to go to sleep for the year, but it’s really just a case of ‘topping up’.

It's never the wrong time to apply compost under your fruit trees
It’s never the wrong time to apply compost under your fruit trees

In fact, your trees have already started the process of storing nutrients in their buds, bark, and roots (that’s why the leaves have started to change colour), and this nutrition is what they will draw on next spring when they wake up and start flowering.

The beautiful yellows, oranges and browns of autumn starting to appear in pear leaves
The beautiful yellows, oranges and browns of autumn starting to appear in pear leaves

Flowering is the first thing most fruit trees do in spring (except apples and pears, which produce leaves first), and this happens before their roots have really started to function very much, so the stored nutrition is absolutely crucial to good flowering, and good flowering is crucial to good fruit set.

Good flowering in spring relies on the tree receiving enough nutrition the previous autumn
Good flowering in spring relies on the tree receiving enough nutrition the previous autumn

In the natural farming system that we follow and teach, we don’t use artificial fertilisers (which can easily cause more harm than good) but instead rely on the natural fertility system of having a diversity of organic matter and nutrients in the soil, and then making sure we have lots of healthy soil microbes present to convert the nutrients into a plant-available form.

When we talk about nutrition, we’re really talking about feeding the microbes, so they can feed our trees.

So, what to give them? Compost is always great, as is well-rotted manure. If you have a worm farm, worm castings or worm juice provide an excellent, and fast, nutrient boost for the microbes.

Hugh with his pet worms - some of the most useful workers on the farm (thanks to Biomi Photo for this beautiful shot)
Hugh with his pet worms – some of the most useful workers on the farm (thanks to Biomi Photo for this shot)

Liquid seaweed and liquid fish are also great (available from garden centres under various brand names), or if you want to save money, make a batch of compost tea (brewed compost) or compost extract (which is just compost soaked in water to make it go further).

And if you want to drill down a bit more into the Natural Fertility System and how to set it up in your garden, spend a little time learning more about the amazing world of microbes in the online short course Soil Biology and the Soil Food Web

8 thoughts on “Put your fruit trees to bed before winter”

  1. Thanks for the great tips this week. After some decent rain today the trees look much happier. I plan to give them a compost feed tomorrow in preparation for a Melbourne winter.

  2. I gave my apple (4yr old) and fig (10yr old) a prune this week as I want to slow the growth on both to keep the size manageable for netting and harvesting. Do I need to seal the cuts in preparation for winter? If so what should I use? Also, was that a really bad idea?

  3. Hi Ame, no, not a really bad idea at all – you can prune any time, you’ll just get slightly different results depending on what time of year you do it. And no, we don’t recommend sealing the pruning cuts, it’s too easy to seal pathogens into the cut, better to leave it to heal by itself (which it will usually do very quickly).

  4. Hi,
    I have a large peach tree. The leaves are dying back a bit now and i wondered when i should prune it back and how ‘hard back’ should I prune it?
    Its not been pruned back before.
    It produces a lot of fruit but always small fruit. (Maybe i should thin out the fruit in summer?)
    Any information greatfully received!
    Michael
    Dunoon NSW
    (Far north coast )

    1. Hi Mick, we normally prune peaches and nectarines in winter, so need to rush on this yet. And when you do prune, just be careful not to prune off all of next year’s fruit buds (a common mistake with peaches because they only fruit on one year old wood.) We offer a short course that should help you with this, here’s the link: https://growgreatfruit.com/product/prune-for-success-and-self-reliance/.

      And yes definitely re the pruning, it will make a big difference to the size of your fruit. Again, it’s a pretty simple skill that people either don’t do or don’t do enough, so we offer a short course on that as well – here’s the link: https://growgreatfruit.com/product/fruit-tree-thinning/.

      Good luck with your peach tree.

  5. I have a grafted peach nectarine plum tree in a 40cm pot and also anothergrafted orange lemon mandarin in another pot
    I wish to put these in their permanent position in the ground ground would it be ok to do it now

    1. Hi Gloria, best to wait until winter when the peach/nect/plum tree is dormant. Not so important with citrus because they’re evergreen, but best to wait until the ground is cooler and (hopefully) we’ve had some rain!

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