Pruning is one of the main jobs for January but, contrary to what many gardeners might think, it is not a suitable time for pruning all fruits. Early and mid season fruiting raspberries and other cane fruits, should be pruned in the autumn after fruiting. Currants and gooseberries are best dealt with as soon as the leaves start to fall in the autumn, or in the early spring, and plums and cherries should be pruned in the spring or during the growing season to reduce the risk of infection by the 'silver leaf' fungus disease.
Strawberries planted in the autumn should be firmed-in if ground frosts have loosened them.
Any fruit that is left on trees and bushes will now be unusable. Either leave it for the birds or put in on the compost heap.
Any apples and pears being stored over winter should be examined frequently. Any that are showing signs of deterioration should be removed. Those that are ripening should also be taken-out as they will only spoil if left.
Autumn-fruiting raspberries can be pruned now by cutting back all the canes to just above ground level.
Although there are various ways of pruning small, and fan trained trees, traditional larger apple and pear trees respond well to the 'regulated' pruning method.
This is based on making a small number of larger cuts with a saw, rather than cutting away any smaller branches and twigs. In this way tree is simply just tidied up rather than pruned back. Branches and larger shoots are removed and most of the young shoots are left alone. Material to removed should include any dead, dying, or badly diseased parts. Also prune any branches that are too low, too high, or have spread too wide. Also prune any that are crossing from one side of the tree to the other, to prevent overcrowding. When you have finished treat all saw cuts with a fungicidal paint. This promotes quick healing and helps prevent the entry of diseases.
Canker in apple and pear trees takes the form of a jagged and cracked wound on a branch or large shoot, where the edges have become rough and swollen. The damage extends down into the wood, which is laid bare in the centre. If the disease has spread right round a branch or shoot, the whole piece must be cut off below the affected area and burnt. If, the disease has not stretched right round the branch, it can be cut out with a knife until you reach healthy bark, and the resulting wound painted with a fungicidal paint.
Another winter job involves checking all tree ties and stakes and, if necessary, replacing any damaged ones. If a tree is quite large and well able to stand without support, a broken stake need not be replaced. However, all tight ties should be loosened or replaced to ensure are not restricting growth. Also, if a stake is rubbing against a tree and damaging it, the stake should be shortened to prevent such injuries.
Twiggy branches on shrubs and trees that need to be pruned can be removed now and stored away under cover to be used as plant supports in the spring.
Grease bands should be checked to ensure that dead leaves and other material have not become stuck to them, forming a bridge for pests.
Collect and burn fallen leaves around fruit trees as they may harbour diseases and reinfect the trees next season.
Rabbits and muntjac deer can easily damage young fruit trees by gnawing the bark. Protected them with proprietary plastic tree guards, plastic netting or wire netting.
A very good and economical method of pest control is to apply a plant oil-based winter wash while the trees are completely dormant in winter. Tar-oil based winter washes are no longer available and have been withdrawn. The only products that can now be used are plant oil-based washes such as Growing Success and Vitax Winter Tree Wash.
The winter wash is designed to kill the over wintering eggs of many fruit pests, including green fly. Take care though as the wash can scorch leaves and other tender green tissue, therefore cover all plants under the trees, including the lawn, on which the spray might land. Always apply the wash after pruning - this avoids getting covered by it as you pull out dead branches.
Large established fruit trees should be fed at this time of year with a good general fertilizer, such as Growmore. Applying it now allows the fertilizer plenty of time to dissolve and be carried down to the roots, before growth starts in March. Follow the rates of application on the packaging and aim to treat all the ground area that is occupied by the root system. Remembering not to apply fertilizer close to the base of the stem or trunk. As a rough guide, the roots spread should very similar to that of the branches.
If any bare-rooted bushes arrive when the ground is unfit for planting, they should be heeled in temporarily (see Trees and Shrubs). If the ground is unfit even for this, leave the plants bundled up in a shed or garage until conditions improve. Plants in containers can be treated in the same way.
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Stored Apples and Pears should be checked and any ripe specimens eaten now.
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