Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Orchardkeeper Has Moved to a New Address!

After 10 years as the Orchardkeeper, I have now integrated my Integrated Pest Management Blog into our Royal oak Farm Orchard Nursery web page and created a new blog, "Home Orchard Management @ Royal Oak Farm Orchard!
Join me now at our new blog, "Home Orchard Management @ Royal Oak Farm Orchard"!

Home Orchard Management Blog
Join me at our new blog, "Home Orchard Management"!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Planting and Caring for New Apple Trees

image Seasonal Information. Apple trees are quite tolerant, withstanding most conditions, including wind and cold. It is recommended that bare root apple trees be  planted in spring. Container trees can be planted in the spring through fall.

Location. Full sunlight and good air circulation are the most important concerns to think about when selecting your planting location. While apple trees can tolerate a wide range of soil types, they will not thrive in areas with poor drainage or high acid levels. Be sure to space your trees according to the size rootstock your tree has.

Pollination. Apple trees benefit greatly from cross-pollination, as they are not self-fertile trees. If you do not have a flowering crab apple tree within 50 feet of your apple tree location, you will need to plant at least one other variety that blooms at the same time as your apple tree nearby.

Planting Instructions. Begin by digging your planting hole the same size as the container of your tree. Set bare root trees on top of a small mound of soil in the middle of the hole. Spread the roots out evenly. If the roots have filled the container or are winding around, use your fingers to gently pull the roots apart a bit, or poke into the root ball with a pointed instrument and wiggle about a bit to loosen  the roots and compacted soil.image

The roots should be directed out and downward when you plant. The very top of the roots (crown of the plant) should be at or just below the soil surface when you are done planting. Keep the graft union 2" above the soil line. Fill the hole in with soil and pack firmly. Be sure to water the tree, as this will permit the roots to make good contact with the soil right away. Add a tree stake to maintain the proper growing angle the tree. For more detailed instructions, visit

Watering. Your apple tree will need to be watered regularly to make certain that the root system becomes well established. The soil surrounding your tree should be moist, but never saturated. Light green leaves can be a sign of over watering, while drooping leaves can be a sign of both over or under watering.

Fertilization. Add one cup of a good 10-10-10 or 13-13-13 fertilizer mixed thoroughly with the soil while planting your tree. Your apple tree will benefit from being fertilized annually with a 10-10-10 formula.

image Weed Control. Any weeds that are present around the area of your tree should be removed immediately. Insulate the tree with 3-4 inches of mulch, and be sure to replenish as needed.

Pests & Disease. The best defense is a healthy tree. Good soil, proper feeding and adequate water are vital to its prosperity. Consult The Orchard Keeper at Royal Oak Farm for proper pest and disease control for your tree

Pruning. Your apple tree will need very little pruning during its first year. In year two you can consult The Orchard Keeper at Royal Oak Farm for proper pruning techniques. Mature apple trees will require annual pruning.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Spring Dormant Spray Time!

It's just about time to begin thinking about a dormant oil and copper spray for your fruit trees! Ever wonder how the fruit trees know when it's time to come out of dormancy? Well, the trees won't come out of dormancy until they have endured a certain amount of time with temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the number of chill hours they need is achieved and temperatures warm in the spring, the trees come out of dormancy and resume their normal growth. The number of hours required at cooler temperatures is known as the chill requirement or chill hours. As of this afternoon we had accumulated approx. 751 chill hours from October 1 of last fall. Most apple varieties require 400-1000 chill hours, so most of the trees in our area have met their requirement and will come out of dormancy just as soon as temperatures warm. Growth resumption can be predicted by tracking what we call growth units. Growth units are the number of degree hours above 41 F. For example, if the temperature averages 51 F for and hour, then 10 degree units are accumulated. Bud break initiates after approx 3710 F growth units accumulate, and progresses depending on the temperature. We do our dormant oil and copper spray generally around April 10. The best time to spray is at silver tip....when the buds have that silvery/gray tinted fuzz on them. You can use the chart below to determine the growth stage your trees may be at.


The products that I recommend for your dormant oil and copper spray are the Bonide and Bonide  .  They are available at your local hardware store or Lowes, Home Depot, local garden center or on Amazon.  

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Saturday, December 07, 2013

Pruning Fruit Trees


Even though it’s not December 21 yet……winter is upon us!  In our area, northern Illinois, our apple trees are in full dormancy and it’s time to begin planning our pruning for the coming pruning season.   You may not have 16,000+ trees like we do here at , but you still need to plan your pruning.

When to Prune

For the home grower that has 2 or more fruit trees, the better time to prune in our region is probably mid to late March when the daytime temperatures are  a bit more bearable.  The earlier in winter you begin to prune, the more likely you may open the tree up for freezing in severe temperatures if those temperatures arrive too early in the winter as they have this year.  So the best time to prune is late winter of early spring, before the buds open up for the new growing season.

If you have just planted your tree(s) this past growing season, you may not even need to prune your trees at all through this first year.  You can then begin training your tree(s) this next May and June and do any minimal pruning at that time.

How to Prune  

It is very important to know the difference between training your new apple trees and pruning them.  Training begins when the tree is planted and continues throughout the life of the tree. 

Training is primarily used for proper positioning of the main scaffolds of the tree.  A properly trained tree can save many hours of  very difficult corrective pruning later!

Pruning, on the other hand, is used to thin the branches of your tree to allow more light into the tree canopy (the area covered by vegetative growth).  When all the leaves of a tree are exposed to more light, the tree produces higher quality fruit.

For more on training and pruning your young fruit trees, download T. R. Roper’s article  .

Rather than post the various yearly stages of pruning trees, let me refer you to an excellent article on that will cover the first four years of pruning a young tree, whether it be apple trees or stone fruit such as peaches. 

I hope you find these articles useful!  As always, if you have any questions contact me anytime via comments or through our !

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fruit Tree Management: Planting Fruit Trees


Too often we encounter troubles because we act first and think later. That’s why when planting an orchard (or even a few trees in the backyard), it’s a good idea to take a step back and visualize how our efforts will look 10 years from now. Remember, the time difference between a vegetable garden and producing can be years! Let’s avoid future problems by following a few key planning steps to successful planting:

1. The Planting Site

Questions to AskHave you chosen a place free of interference? Is it far enough from power lines, sewer lines, sidewalks, etc.? Visualize your tree 10 years from now in the location you’ve chosen, and ask yourself those questions.

If your tree could talk, it would ask for a well-drained, fertile location with plenty of sunlight. While a full day’s sun is great, trees can still thrive and produce on a half-day’s light; and most trees are forgiving of imperfect soil conditions. If your ground is a little heavy, consider using a good potting mix . Just drop the “brick” into 1 1/3 gallons of warm/hot water, 30 minutes before planting. When refilling the hole, work the mix into the soil and finish planting. This will give the root system air and allow for water absorption as the roots develop.

2.  Digging the Hole

When digging the hole, a good rule of thumb is to remove a space nearly twice the width and depth of the roots. You don’t want the roots cramped or circled. The area you loosen is the area the roots will quickly grow into to anchor and sustain the tree’s top. This simple task helps determine both how good the foundation will be years later and how well the plant utilizes two much-needed ingredients: air and water.

3.  Planting the Tree

The Soil

You know the soil you dug up first, right underneath the grass? When refilling your planting hole, it’s always best to place that soil in first. It’s usually more fertile, as well as more porous, and when placed down near the roots, it will help the tree grow better. The remaining soil (from the bottom of the dug hole) is heavier and works well when mixed with the good potting mix .  From top to bottom, work the soil with your hands to avoid large clods that create air pockets.

Graft Placement

When you refill your planting hole, hold the tree up a bit to allow loose soil to fall beneath, as well as around the sides of, the roots.  Center its position so there is adequate space on all four sides for the root system to grow out.  If you are planting a dwarf or semi-dwarf apple tree, hold the bud (graft) union up above the refill line at least 3 inches.  If given the opportunity, grafted apple trees will self-root from above the graft union; if the variety self-roots, you’ll lose the size-restrictive nature of the rootstock. (Did you know the rootstock is responsible for the mature size of your tree, i.e. dwarf, semi-dwarf, standard? We don’t want to lose that sizing—it would definitely throw a rock in your long-term plan!)

Finishing Touches

Through the process, keep the tree straight (perpendicular) and upon finishing, tamp the tree in with your foot to remove air spaces and seal it in. If the tree is planted on a slope, create a slight berm on the lower side to utilize water throughout the summer.  If it’s not pre-pruned before you plant it, be sure to prune your tree, and water it well.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Plum Curculio Season

With the blooms off the apple trees now, and the temperatures predicted to be in the 80's this week, it is prime time for our ugly little friend, PC! Adult plum curculio beetles, pictured below, emerge in the spring, around petal fall, to feed on apple buds, flowers, leaves and young fruit. Female beetles cut holes in the young fruit and deposit one egg in each cavity. These sites are easily identified by their crescent shaped cuts.pc_002 Unlike codling moth, the larvae of plum curculio rarely cause damage to the fruit. The fruit is primarily damaged superficially by the egg-laying and feeding by the adults. These "stings" will cork over and cause an indentation in the fruit as it matures making it look deformed and unsightly.


The question is , how do we control them??  Pesticide application at this time is very important for plum curculio control. To prevent fruit drop, and due to toxicity to bees if there are still blooms on the trees, do not use carbaryl (Sevin®). For home growers, an acetamiprid spray such as Ortho® Flower, Fruit & Vegetable Insect Killer Ready-Spray and picking up and disposing of fallen fruit will reduce problems with plum curculio, other insects, and many plant diseases. For conventional growers, Calypso or Assail are two choices you might use, based on your codling moth protocol and your apple maggot protocol.  For a pure organic spray, the two most frequently used insecticides are Surround® and Pyganic®, both certified organic. The organic products may need to be sprayed multiple times for complete control. As always follow all label directions on any spray product.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Repost of Critical Temperatures for Frost Damage to Fruit Trees

With the prediction of temperatures in the low 30’s for tonight in northern Illinois, I thought I would repost the “Critical Temperatures” again for those who grow their own fruit at home.  Our trees here at Royal Oak Farm Orchard should be far enough along that the low 30’s should not have much effect on the current clusters and blooms.  But here is an explanation of how the fruitlets, clusters or blooms can be effected if the temperatures get low enough.

As the trees develop in the spring and buds start to swell, they lose the ability to withstand the cold winter temperatures that they could withstand in dormancy during the cold winter months. The young, actively growing tissue can then be damaged or even killed. Swollen fruit buds can better withstand temperatures in the teens without any damage. As the buds open, temperatures in the low 20s can cause harm, but sometimes leave other buds undamaged.  As growth moves from green tip to 1/4” green to 1/2” green to tight cluster to pink in apple trees, temperatures in the upper 20s can cause considerable harm to an early blooming tree. Near bloom, the range between slight and severe damage can be very small. So the stage of bud development determines how susceptible any given fruit crop is when freezes occur.  For more information on what those critical temperatures are that can cause freeze damage to trees during development, I have uploaded two charts from Utah State University below that you can download by clicking on either chart below.

Critical_Temperatures_Frost_Damage_Fruit_Trees_Utah_Page_1 Critical_Temperatures_Frost_Damage_Fruit_Trees_Utah_Page_2