after 6 yrs, disappointed with trees. need advice

johndoug(z6 Philly)July 1, 2013

hi. i've got trees in both my yard, and my dad's yard (who lives 2 hours away from me). i have 30 or so, he has 15, all planted 6 years ago - from grafted mail order. apples, asian pears, sweet/sour cherry, peach, nectarine, asian plum, euro plum.

my dad is about out of patience, and i'm close behind. the only crops not seeming to have massive disease are asian pears. all of the stone fruits get brown rot and have varying levels of canker.

my first few years i didn't spray, hoping i'd be lucky. then i started with one light dormant./copper spray and one or two applications of fungicide/insecticide during growth.

this last year, right before buds came out, i gave a heavy dousing of dormant oil/copper, and followed up 2-3 weeks later with a good spraying of the fungicide.

my dad is ready to take all his trees out. i'm thinking about taking my sweet cherries out, and maybe my peaches and plums, and maybe just have an asian pear orchard. but i'd love to have the variety of trees.

Hoping to hear from someone with a lot more experience than me. Maybe you started this way, and eventually learned the needed methods of keeping healthy trees. Maybe you just knew from the start what to do and have had success. I'm hoping i can get things under control. If you could advise on a regiment that might allow this.

The only other maintenance i do is thinning fruits when relatively small to 1 every 4-6 inches, and pruning (i once read that a bird should be able to fly between all your branches - so i try to keep trees open).

Thanks very much for your time and advice.

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Sounds like you need a consistant spray schedule. Luck unforunately is not much of a factor with fruit trees. They need pruning, mulching, and proper sprays. If its not a fungus, its an insect! No spray, no fruit or little fruit.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 1:00PM
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Sounds like you need a consistant spray schedule. Luck unforunately is not much of a factor with fruit trees. They need pruning, mulching, and proper sprays. If its not a fungus, its an insect! No spray, no fruit or little fruit.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 1:05PM
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sry pushed the button twice :(

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 1:06PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Fruit trees should be grown after one tries other fruits, and wants to expand to the harder stuff. Constant spraying every 2 weeks is needed in most places. It's tough to grow stone fruit. Maybe for some harvest try tomatoes or raspberries. Blackberries too. Something easier to grow yet decent yields.
I have been growing for 38 years and now feel I have enough experience to grow stone fruits. I added them 3 years ago, with 35 years of horticulture experience.
Glad I waited, it's still not easy. I lost one tree already.
Once you conquer the bugs, bacteria, and fungi, you have cold springs, squirrels and birds to take the fruit.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 2:49PM
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these guys have put you on the right track, including the idea to put in raspberries, they are very reliable and give satisfaction the first year.

You need to learn a whole lot more. If you can visit some small orchards and walk through with the owner you can learn a lot faster. What you read on the web is commonly just regurgitated highlights of conventional wisdom. Which in reality is harmful in the big picture because you think you got the answer but you only got headline of the answer.

You need to read this forum every couple days and by next year you'll be ready to get a decent crop.

the way I visit an orchard is go to a small operation on like a Tuesday and ask for the owner. ask him a few questions then make a nice purchase, then ask if he can give you a tour (either now or later). Buy every time you go there, otherwise you might get on his nerves.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 3:10PM
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Welcome to the farmer's almanac...haha. I feel your pain. I have gone through similar problems over 40 years of growing fruit. Here is what I recommend: Find out what grows best in your area. Some trees like sweet cherry can be tough without perfect conditions. Peaches can often have fungal issues. Stick to a few good species/varieties that are well suited. Axe the duds. Sometimes less is more. With fewer different trees you can stay focused on specific needs, etc. Do not give up....just adjust. goodluck

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 3:32PM
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alan haigh

I disagree with the idea that you will need to spray throughout the growing season in a Z6 to get a wide range of fruit. but every site has its own issues. Still, my hunch is all the usual species are doable with a max of 5 sprays per and perhaps much less where you are.

Here in SE NY one can often get perfectly sound apples with a couple of sprays. Same with the right varieties of peaches, if you don't have a site real conducive to brown rot. Most J. plums as well. If BR protection is needed, usually a single spray with the right compound a month before ripeness will assure a crop.

I've been managing scores of orchards for decades now with this kind of reduced spraying and the only pests that have ever kept me from harvest are squirrels. I mention that there are a large quantity of sites to let you know my statements aren't based on a single lucky spot. I make my entire living managing other people's home and estate orchards besides what comes from by fruit tree nursery.

I've got a file on the spray sched. I've adapted for people not certified to spray so you can get all the products without a license. Send me an e-mail and I'll send you a copy if you'd like to see it.

This stuff really isn't all that hard if you have a map to follow- except, of course, the gddm squirrels.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 6:58PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Yeah I should have made clearer, I spray to feed trace minerals at times, and grow many things, not just fruit trees. So I need to spray at least every two weeks for something. More like every few days really. I grow in 2 locations. Aphids on peppers was my last spray. I usually do not spray for aphids, but this infection was killing the plant. All the buds dropped off, luckily the peppers formed stayed on. Hopefully more buds will form. Usually natural predators will take care of the problem. I used oil which will not hurt lady bugs. Next year I'm planting more plants that attract predators like borage and goldenrod.

Yeah lately I've been paranoid with new pests making there way to my area, like stink bugs. Still not here, but no doubt coming.
At my cottage on an island I need to spray constantly for fungus problems. If you have an unopened box of cereal, in 2 weeks, if you open it, the cereal will be mush, I wish I was kidding! Once opened it's good for about 2 days. The humidity is unreal.

I admire Harvestman low spraying schedule. My problem is I'm trying to grow difficult cultivars for my area, or possible difficult types, and Harvestman has been warning me all year I may have trouble, so my spraying is more to try and get my trees through, as not all are ideal for my area. Or may not be ideal. It really has yet to be determined. I'm spraying for everything no matter what.

I'm like the baseball pitcher who wears the same socks every time he pitches. Everything looks great, I'm not changing a thing! I would like to see the spray schedule to make sure I'm covering all bases. To possibly add sprays as I'm not stopping any I'm doing now. Well some are done for the season or not needed for non-bearing trees, I will do the same next year. I'm extremely happy with the results. I don't want to even lose one fruit to anything. I got the squirrels covered, not a problem, I discovered they are not fond of constantly patrolling dogs.

This post was edited by Drew51 on Tue, Jul 2, 13 at 2:59

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 1:35AM
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alan haigh

A good dog is a fruit growers best friend. I shoot the squirrels on my property and it is way too time consuming. Kindof a hobby within a hobby.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 5:51AM
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I planted a test garden with fruit trees from lowes + paw paw 4 yrs ago.I found that persimmons, paw paw, asian pear, black berries, wineberries, mulberries and some grapes required almost no spray to get fruit. Peach, plum, cherries and apples just don't seems to like my area. I haven't found the courage to tackle sweet cherries and apples (sick looking tree and no good fruit as of yet). I am tackling peaches and plum, atleast I can still eat a few w/o spray. The squirel, chipmunk and deer are my worse enemies. Follow closely by plum curculio. Also, Lowes trees are mislabled a lot. I wouldn't advice getting tree there. Hope it help.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 7:54AM
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austransplant(MD 7)

I agree with Harvestman that the idea that you must continually spray to get fruit is just not true. I have trees here in suburban MD just outside DC and the climate is not too much different to yours. I rarely do any fungal sprays, and do a few insecticide sprays and get decent crops. My biggest pests are squirrels and stinkbugs. What I think is crucial is selection of cultivars that work in your area. If you grow an apple variety that is highly susceptible to diseases like fire blight or cedar apple rust, you are going to have to spray. The same applies to other fruits. I would say that sweet cherries are a waste of time in our humid climate, but sour cherries usually do fine without any spraying. It is also important that you have a good site with good air circulation. I wonder whether this is so at your site. I have found that figs, blackberries, persimmons, Asian pears, and sour cherries do well with minimal attention besides pruning. Apples from disease resistant cultivars usually only require a couple of insecticide sprays; stone fruit require more frequent insecticide sprays, but not an enormous number. Occasionally I'll have serious brown rot on my stone fruit, but about half the time I don't -- this depends very much on the weather.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 9:26AM
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alan haigh

Good elaboration points ATP. The question should go well beyond spray schedule to include planting the right cultivars and pruning the trees open enough to help with fungus.

There are a lot of things you can learn as you go, also. On my property a lot of broad leaf weeds mean I have more problems with plant and stink bugs than I would probably have with a cleaner sod.

A lot of this you have to learn as you go as sites will have there own set of challenges, but if you don't get the spray part down nothing else will much matter.

As far as growing disease resistant cultivars, this can be very important but sometimes may not help much. With apples you may not need fungicide to grow Liberty or Williams Pride but still need the same number of sprays- in fact Liberty seems particularly susceptible to insect damage. For my money I'd rather grow the apple varieties that appeal most to my taste and throw some fungicide in the mix.

However, some varieties of peaches and some species are going to require a greater number of sprays- for this you have to evaluate what you are willing to do to get more of what you want. I've started growing a lot of nectarines even though they are tougher than peaches because I like the flavor so much- love the added acid.

For people who don't want to spray at all the suggestion of trying sprayless fruit might be good.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 10:08AM
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franktank232(z5 WI)

Berries are easy/spray free here... Pears are no spray... Apples can be no spray, but the fruit will be ugly and u still have to watch for the squirrels. Peaches can go no spray and still have a good crop here (PC don't seem to hit them as hard as the other fruit). Sweet cherries can go no spray, but the PC will get a small percentage of them and if its wet (like this year) they will be worthless and you'll have to strip the trees (like i had to). Apricots are no spray, but they will get hit by PC (not as hard as say apples). Plums are impossible without sprays... I only apply dormant sprays of copper and lime sulfur. Each year is different, last few years i saw no cedar apple rust and this year i have seen a lot.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 11:20AM
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johndoug(z6 Philly)

thanks to all for the posts. i guess i shouldn't give up yet. like others, i've also experienced success with my paw paw, asian pear, and persimmon, but i was suprised to see brown rot on my sour cherry this year. just wanted to add that the products i have been using are: dormant oil and kocide 3000 for dormant spraying, and bonide infuse when trees are active. my father uses the same dormant oil combo, but bonide fruit tree spray. if either of us are missing major products needed, would appreciate your input.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 11:56AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I keep hearing no spray and then you describe losing half your fruit. I don't want to lose any if possible. Once certain fungi take hold, it's a downhill struggle.
Johndoug has 30 trees with only pears producing (for now!) He needs for sure to spray. I myself would not want to scrap 6 year trees to start over with some of the suggestions here. These suggestions are not helping his current problem. I would at least attempt to save these trees before pulling out. Following Harvestman's spray schedule would be a start (and yes, I would like to see it too).

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 12:05PM
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Its so easy to neglect the fundamentals; getting the soil right at planting is absolutely key. I know of so many folks that complain about their fruit trees not bearing. My first question is what is the pH of your soil? If you don't get your soil right, your trees will leaf out, but they won't put out new growth, let alone bear fruit. A soil test is highly recommended. Some county ag extension offices offer free soil sample analysis as a tax benefit to residents. I took advantage of this until I got my pH up to 6.8 which is where it needs to be for apples.

Another fundamental often overlooked is eliminating competition from weeds. I'm not just talking about mulching, but eliminating all vegetative growth within a 6' diameter around the tree.
Get these two fundamentals right first, and then get your spray regimen, fertilization, pruning routine going. Or you are simply wasting your precious time.

As far as spraying goes, timing is more important than quantity of applications. I think everyone would agree on that.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 3:38PM
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I second everything thomis said.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 5:44PM
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alan haigh

I think apples and most fruit trees are tolerant of a wide range of pH. Getting it close to 7 for apples is more about trying to get calcium in the fruit to prevent storage disorders then to encourage cropping. I don't even believe it really is very helpful in this regard- commercial growers wind up spraying the fruit with calcium to get levels up in the fruit anyway.

If you google around you'll find university recommendations for pH are rather variable for apples which I find interesting. Research has not been definitive and has been limited on ideal pH.

I manage an orchard that is very productive with a pH in the low 5's (sometimes owners won't allow me to spread lime) but others that seem badly affected by this low of a pH and seem to improve with aggressive liming. However, a pH between 5.8 and somewhere in the low 7's shouldn't get in the way of productivity. Shooting for 6.8 is fine- As I recall, Cornell recommends 7 for apples.

I completely agree that eliminating weeds during establishment is very important- sometimes not enough though. In home orchard sites there are often established large trees with massive root systems that compete the hell out of new trees- especially peaches.

In my experience, the most important single issue is having a soil with excellent drainage. That is something that must be dealt with before the trees go into the ground.

Like everything else, you do your research and the best you can and then solve the unexpected problems one at a time.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 6:48PM
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johndoug(z6 Philly)

since folks mentioned quantity of fruit, and things like good soil and mulching, i wanted to add that i have no problem with the quantity of fruit, from both my dad's and my yards - and feel the soil and conditions, pruning, etc are not the cause and should be adequate. the thing i think i'm missing is the proper spray process to handle: my brown rot on all the stone fruit, and apples looking pretty bad with all sorts of marks, blemishes, deformations, which facilitate them rotting and entry for insects. i also know i'm supposed to pick up / take off the "mummies" to prevent spreading the rot, and i try to do this too. i believe i'm also supposed to cut out kanker, and i have not done a good job yet of this.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 7:42PM
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