Backyard Orchard: Winter Care Tips

Backyard Orchard: Winter Care Tips

The middle of January may feel early to be thinking about tree-ripened apples, pears, and more, but the foundation for a successful harvest is actually laid long before your fruit trees ever leaf out! From pruning to pest prevention, our resident Kitchen Garden expert, Cynthia, explains that now is the time to begin your winter orchard care regimen to ensure that your trees are healthy and productive when warm weather arrives. Here at the Farm, we are in the process of carrying out an organic regimen for our own fruit trees, and we are eager to share our knowledge and a few additional resources to support you on your way to a beautiful, bountiful harvest.

Winter Pruning

Whether you have a full backyard orchard or just a few fruit trees on your property, pruning is a task best undertaken in the winter, when you can clearly see the structure of your trees. While this can certainly be done later in the winter, it is a good idea to start with pruning before applying a regimen of organic chemical treatments. After all, there's no need to treat branches that will only be cut off in the coming weeks!

In general, you will want to prune out any dead, damaged, or crossing branches, and to shape your tree in a way that will help it not only look better, but be healthier. When making cuts, be sure to do so at an angle that will allow water to roll off easily in order to discourage diseases and keep them from gaining a foothold.

For more information on pruning fruit trees, check out our blog post exploring the topic in greater detail.

Pest & Disease Prevention

After pruning, you will want to protect your trees from the many insects and fungal diseases that emerge in the early spring. We recommend a 1-2-3 approach for home gardeners to prevent damage from these ailments using the following organic products, all of which we carry in-store. This regimen should be applied in two week intervals spanning a period of six weeks, which is why it is important to start so early in the year.

  1. Bonide Citrus, Fruit, & Nut Orchard Spray: This sulfur spray is the starting point. It can be applied not long after pruning and is the first step in preventing fungal diseases. 
  2. Bonide All Seasons Horticultural & Dormant Spray Oil: This dormant spray should be applied two weeks after the first step to help prevent insect damage. 
  3. Bonide Liquid Copper Fungicide: This copper spray should be applied two weeks after the dormant spray oil to attack fungal diseases from a different side.

As always when dealing with chemicals, it is incredibly important to read the labels on all of the pesticides and other treatments listed above to ensure that you understand all of the precautions recommended for their safe application.

For more in-depth information, we highly recommend reading an article written by Steve Renquist for the OSU Extension Service entitled "Managing Diseases and Insects in Home Orchards." He provides the process and safety information you need to get the job done, and in general, the OSU Extension is a great resource for PNW gardeners looking for sustainable, organic gardening solutions just like us.

Addressing Coddling Moth

For apple and pear trees in particular, coddling moth can be a huge problem. Because these pests overwinter as fully-formed larvae in the leaf litter, the first step to controlling them is with a thorough cleanup in the fall. If you've yet to rake the fallen fruit and leaves from under your trees and dispose of them, it's not too late to do so, though earlier is better. The spray used in the second step of our organic pest prevention regimen outlined above will kill the majority of larvae before they can pupate and emerge as adult moths in March; however, further measures can be taken. Beneficial nematodes can be applied to the soil, and traps can be set for any adults that manage to evade these treatments or arrive from neighboring trees. With a little effort, you can have a successful harvest later this year.

In addition to the resources offered here and across our blog, Cornell Farm has many fantastic, knowledgeable team members that are here to answer your gardening questions. Simply stop by and ask! Additionally, we would also love to see pictures of your backyard orchards. Feel free to share a photo on our Facebook page or email us a photo at You just might be featured!