Harvest and Care Tips for the Fruit Tree Orchard

Enjoy an ample harvest from your own mini orchard.

With proper planting and a little care, you can enjoy an ample harvest from your own mini fruit orchard

In the second year at The Garden Path I planted my first fruit-tree orchard. I was thrilled at the idea of establishing a small orchard on the south-facing lawn. I chose trees on dwarf 2.5- to 3-m (8- to 10-ft.) or semi-dwarf 3- to 3.5-m (10- to 12-ft.) rootstock to make care and harvesting easy.

Fruit trees do best planted in full sun in well-drained, fertile soil. They prefer a neutral soil pH, so are best planted away from stands of evergreens where soil is more acidic. November is a perfect time to plant dormant fruit trees; they will establish more successfully with winter rain than summer heat. New trees need irrigation in their first year until better established. Adding compost to the planting hole, and regularly as mulch, improves soil with organic matter, which means trees get more nutrients and produce more fruit.

Fruit trees also appreciate seaweed from the beach in winter and wood ash (uncontaminated) from the woodstove as sources of potash. You can apply granular seaweed as kelp meal if you do not live near the ocean.


Solutions to problems in the orchard


Dormant oil/lime sulphur spray

Sunshine with no wind and no sign of rain ahead is the perfect weather condition to dormant spray your fruit trees. The oil dries faster when the sun is shining. Whatever the weather, you must do this before buds open, as dormant oil/lime sulphur spray burns tender young foliage. Spray trees on a dry day with no wind for drift. Cover trunk and limbs on all sides. The oil seeps into crevices in the bark and coats the overwintering egg masses, destroying them. 

This combination is effective against a host of problems: rust mites, scale insects, pear scale, red mite eggs, aphid eggs, twig borer, plum black knot and peach leaf curl:


In a 3-qt. (3-L) pressure pump sprayer mix:

• 60 mL (4 Tbsp.) horticultural oil

• 120 mL (8 Tbsp.) lime/sulphur

• Add 3 L (3 qt.) water

TIP: The sulphur stains yellow, so cover foliage plants below your trees with a plastic sheet.

Spraying for fungal diseases

To protect fruit trees against fungal diseases, dormant spray all surfaces of the tree with 30 mL (2 Tbsp.) wettable copper to 4 L (1 gal.) of water. First application at leaf fall; repeat again in December/January.


Grease bands

After spraying, band fruit trees using burlap sacks or strips of old towels, and then smear TanglefootTM sticky paste over the bands. This traps crawling insects that lay eggs that hatch into fruit-eating maggots, such as the wingless female winter moth that climbs up fruit trees to lay eggs on the branches. The resulting green caterpillars feed on foliage and blossoms the following spring. Tying grease bands around fruit tree trunks keeps the moths out of the tree.



Establishing my small orchard was more challenging than expected. I quickly learned that wet coastal conditions (where I live) leave fruit trees prone to canker, symptoms of which show up as damaged, oozing darkened areas of bark. Canker gradually spreads and girdles the entire branch, so once detected it’s best to remove infected branches by cutting back to healthy wood. If a branch has to be retained, cut out the cankered part with a sharp knife to remove any diseased bark. 

In order to prevent canker, treat with a fixed copper spray when the leaves fall, and repeat once more later in the winter. 

TIP: Make sure you disinfect tools with a 10-per cent rubbing-alcohol spray, so that canker does not spread to other trees.


Cardboard traps

In spring, wrap strips of corrugated cardboard 15 cm (6 in.) wide, with the corrugated side facing inward, around the trunk and main limbs of apple and pear trees. Check every week for any pupating larvae, which will be wrapped in white silk. Replace the cardboard and bury any infested strips. Keeping up with this through to September will reduce populations considerably.


Pheromone traps

The insides of hanging triangular traps are coated with a sticky substance and sprayed with female pheromone, the aim being to attract and trap males. 

Traps are also frequently used to monitor moth activity around trees.


Regular monitoring

You can also monitor signs of activity by searching for frass (excrement or debris) left on the skin of fruit by burrowing larvae. If you find any, remove the infected fruit and bury it. This helps to lower populations of codling-moth larvae.


Orchard cleanup

In fall, rake away fallen leaves that may be hosting spores of fungal diseases, and remove any debris that could provide a home for overwintering larvae. Keeping things tidy in the orchard goes a long way toward preventing problems with insects and disease.


Fruit thinning

Most apples are spur-bearing varieties, which fruit on spurs that develop on one-year-old wood. Early July is the time to thin apple and pear trees, which will drop fruit automatically but not enough to ensure adequate energy for good-sized fruit. Pull off small apples or pears, leaving only one (sometimes two) growing every 15 cm (6 in.) on the branch.


Apple and crabapple tips

When harvesting, lift the apple in your palm and give it a slight twist. If ripe, it should come away easily from the spur. If the stalk and spur break, it is not ready. Look for signs of ripening such as a change of colour and the first windfalls. For all but a few early varieties, the pips will turn from a pale colour to brown. Apples on the sunniest side of the tree usually ripen first. Early apples can be eaten straight from the tree, whereas late-harvested apples improve from storage.

Crabapples (Malus) are grown either for showy springtime blossoms with typically inedible fruits, or for edible fruits produced in fall. Choose a variety such as ‘Tradescant’, ‘Centennial’ or ‘Dolgo’ (hardy to zone 3) if you want crops of tart little apples for crabapple jelly. Crabapples make beautiful specimen trees, and any fruit that doesn’t get picked usually ends up as winter food for birds.


When to pick your pears

Pears are best picked before they are fully ripe. Early or mid-season varieties left to mature on the tree have a tendency to go brown in the centre and get nibbled by birds and insects, but they may also shrivel if picked too early. The key is to watch for a colour change – pick a green pear when it turns lighter green and a yellow pear as it starts to turn yellow (if deep golden it’s too ripe!).

Lift the pear in the palm of your hand. It is probably ready if it parts easily from the spur, but test by biting into the fruit. If it’s hard and sweet, the crop is ready to harvest. Pears tend to ripen at the same time, so I bring in pears as soon as possible to spread out the process.

If you have room, plant a variety of pears for longer harvest, or purchase a pear tree with multiple grafts:


Early: Bon Chretien’, ‘Beth’, ‘Bartlett’ and ‘Onward’

Mid-season: ‘Conference’, ‘Beurre Hardy’ and ‘Louise Bonne of Jersey’

Late: ‘Doyenne du Comice’ and ‘Concorde’ 

When to prune stone fruits

Contrary to the late-winter and early-spring pruning for fruit trees, cherry trees and stone fruits such as peaches and apricots should be pruned in late summer to early fall, after fruit harvest. This is due to prevalence of bacterial canker. When the wood is drier, pruning cuts heal more quickly, making it less likely for bacterial canker to enter these openings. Annual pruning is not required other than to help keep a balanced canopy or restricted form.

While cherry trees reach maximum production at 12 years, they begin to produce well after four. A sweet cherry tree can live for 50 years, compared to 35 for a sour cherry tree.

Fruit storage tips

Select unblemished fruit with stalks attached for storage. Ensure fruits are not touching and inspect regularly, removing any that may have degraded. Unlike apples, pears can be stored down to 0°C (32°F). Refrigerators may be suitable, if well ventilated.


Carolyn Herriot is author of the bestselling The Zero-Mile Diet: A Year-Round Guide to Growing Great Organic Food (Harbour Publishing), at bookstores now. Look also for her original classic on organic gardening, A Year On The Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide

Check out Carolyn’s blog >