Time to start planning for successful crop

It was my pleasure to recently meet with 30 of Indiana’s top fruit-growers at the Purdue Orchard School.

I have a lot of admiration for those who can consistently overcome the pests and many of the weather challenges to quality fruit culture and do it in a manner that is commercially viable.

This is no small accomplishment and one that comes with experience and knowledge not only of the science of fruit culture but the art as well.

Whether you are a home producer with a few trees or a commercial producer with many acres, there are practices that need to be considered at this time that will build a strong foundation for the 2015 fruit crop (that is, if the fruit buds survived the winter).


Although there is more than one way to prune a fruit tree, home gardeners commonly prune and train using a “central leader” system, where a single central trunk runs the entire height of the tree and supports the fruiting branches.

The ideal central leader fruit tree has a single main trunk and a number of well-spaced branches. The tree’s form is conical or Christmas tree-like. This form allows light and air to penetrate the canopy, aiding in fruit ripening and disease prevention.

Prune to keep enough open space between each level of scaffold branches that you can imagine tossing a football through (at least a foot of vertical space between branches on the same side of the tree).

Once all scaffold branches have been selected, pruning consists mostly of removing the following:

•Any vertical branch competing with the central leader

•Dead, broken or obviously infected branches

•Suckers coming up from the roots or low on the trunk

•Watersprouts, which are vigorous vertical branches

•Downward-growing branches

•Vigorous new growth in the middle or upper levels of the tree. Such growth can ruin the desired cone shape of the tree. The lowest branches should always be the longest.


As you prune your young tree to achieve a good form, you might also need to train it. Training primarily consists of bending young, flexible branches that are growing vertically into more horizontal positions with “spreaders” toward an optimal 60-degree angle from the main stem.

Pest control

Fruit pest control begins very soon at the delayed dormant stage (when leaf tips start to protrude from buds) for the control of scales, aphids and mites with a product called superior oil if these pests were a problem last year.

Fire blight control also begins now with a treatment of copper up until the half-inch green stage.

When applying oil, it is important to not apply copper or captan within two weeks of the oil.

Apple scab prevention with captan or a multipurpose fruit tree spray (with captan) begins at half-inch green (half- inch of green tissue has grown).

Managing Pests in Home Fruit Plantings (ID-146) is a great (free) publication for the home fruit-grower to guide the process of understanding, anticipating and preventing common pests of fruit.

It is important to remember that pests do not observe a calendar, so spraying on specific dates is haphazard at best.

Pests respond to lengthening days, increasing temperatures and moisture levels, and we can often associate their activity with the growth stage of the plants they feed on.

For this reason any good pest management guide will identify the timing of specific pest control tools and techniques to the stage of growth of the tree or plant.

You will see such terms as dormant, silver tip, green tip, half inch green, pink, etc., to describe the stage of growth and determine the proper pest control option at that time.

Sanitation and pest prevention are essential to any success of a fruit producer whether they are producing fruit for sale or for their family. Without these concepts firmly in place, even the best “magic in a bottle” fruit tree spray will likely fail or offer only marginal results.

Chemical pest controls are fine if used according to the label if they are used in conjunction with a fundamental understanding of the pests you are dealing with and proper timing and application technique.

We will try to cover some of these basic concepts in the first two of the four-part Lunch and Learn series to be conducted from noon to 1 p.m. on the first four Wednesdays in April. Participants are encouraged to gather at 11:30 a.m. with their brown bag lunch.

The final two sessions will focus on honing those gardening skills to improve the yield and satisfaction with the home vegetable gardener. All of these programs are free and really geared to the beginning or lightly experienced gardener.

Those who would like to attend one or more sessions of this educational series should preregister at no cost by calling 317-462-1113 or emailing rballard@purdue.edu.

Roy Ballard is an agriculture and natural resources educator with the Hancock County office of Purdue Extension (extension.purdue.edu/hancock). Contact him at 317-462-1113 or rballard@purdue.edu.