Thoughts on spring approaching in Vermont orchards

By Terence Bradshaw

In contrast to the rest of the population, those of us in the fruit growing community hate warm March weather, and this year looks like another which will potentially give us early bud break, at least in the warmer parts of the state in Bennington county and the Connecticut Valley. Reports out of the Hudson Valley and Massachusetts suggest that they may are seeing silver tip on apples, and pear psylla have already started moving. I wouldn’t translate that to suggest that we will see green tip in the immediate future, but it’s coming. This gives growers time to get caught up and ready for spray season, so don’t be complacent.

Given the generally heavy crop in Vermont orchards in 2019, fruit bud density is expected to be relatively low this year. That means that pruning can be a little lighter to compensate for fewer fruit buds. That doesn’t give license to ignore your end of season pruning, but suggests that trees may be breezed through a little quicker if you have wrap up pruning to do. The winter has been generally good for outdoor work, so most orchards should be easily caught-up. My take home: get finished up in the next two weeks, then get ready for spraying season. After the soil dries a bit (and hoping that this early mud season is truly early and not just extended), push your pruning brush or flail mow in-place for high density plantings with smaller pruning wood. Calibrate your sprayer. As soon as you can get into the orchard, an application of urea to the leaf litter (44 lbs feed-grade urea in 100 gallons water per acre directed at the ground, especially under trees) may be warranted to reduce overwintering apple scab inoculum, too. That is not an organic-acceptable practice, so if you are certified, consider applying granular lime or compost tea instead if you wish to improve leaf litter decomposition.

Get your early season spray materials ordered and on-hand for when the season starts. No really, calibrate your sprayer. Be ready to properly oil the orchard if you have had any issues with mite flareups or San Jose scale, the latter of which I have seen not only in orchards but also on fruit in grocery stores. Remember that oil should go on at full dilute or no more than 2x concentration to be most effective; I’ll discuss that further in a future message. So when you calibrate your sprayer, be sure to reserve a setting for high-volume applications, either by switching to higher-output nozzles, reducing travel speed, or both.

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