Perennial fruit orchards are long-lived, long-term investments which require regular maintenance and upkeep to ensure that they retain their youthful health, vigour and productivity for an extended period.
“Ensuring that crops survive the harsh prairie climate can be challenging, as the weather is hard on orchards,” says Robert Spencer, commercial horticulture specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre. “If they are handled correctly, our orchard crops should handle most of what Mother Nature throws at them and the investment will be protected from loss.”
A big part of managing an orchard in the off-season starts with lots of in-season and pre-off-season management, involving keeping plants healthy, active at the right time of year, and productive. Generally, over-wintering of all plants revolves around the same basic guidelines.
Provided you have started with hardy plant material that is suited to your area and those plants enter winter healthy, they should be able to handle most of what is thrown at them. “However, the work doesn’t stop there,” explains Spencer. “The dormant season is a time to monitor and assess orchard health at a higher, general level, as opposed to specific, in-season production monitoring and management. It is a time to make adjustments based on the previous growing season and make any corrections.”
Winter is also a time for pruning, with dead, diseased or damaged branches removed, as well as larger sized branches. “Thin and shape the canopy as required, ensuring that the plants have younger wood and aren’t too tall,” says Spencer. “Intensive rejuvenation pruning activities may also be undertaken in older orchards in the dormant season and can be done up until mid-March, as long as the plants are still dormant.”
“Another aspect of off-season management is done largely in your mind and on paper,” adds Spencer. “Assess what worked and what isn’t working in your orchard. Evaluate the productivity and profitability of the orchard and make adjustments as required. Make plans for various situations, and assemble the necessary tools in advance, to make you more nimble in-season.”
For more information about off-season orchard management, contact the Alberta Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276).
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