Orchard care is a year round undertaking and January is the kickoff to pruning season in our climate. Please check out our POP Monthly Orchard Task List for recommended maintenance activities to complete this month. 

Here are some more details on some of the key tasks for January: 

Orchard Tool Evaluation and Maintenance
With pruning season getting started, this is a good time to evaluate your tools and equipment.  What’s missing?  What new tool might make your life easier?  Order replacement saw blades for any that have dulled.  Sharpen your pruning blades with a hand sharpener like this: 


The basic orchard pruning toolset includes pole saw, pole pruner, loppers, handsaw, hand pruners, bowsaw, blade sharpener, and spray bottle of alcohol for sanitizing blades. Not pictured: tripod orchard ladder! 

Check out our POP Orchard Tools and Equipment video below, where Alkebu-Lan Marcus leads us through the entire toolkit that we use for each pruning session.

Winter pruning
The calendar and the cold tell us that it’s time again for pruning fruit trees, berry bushes, and fruiting vines. It is important to prune most fruiting plants every winter, regardless of their age!  Essentially everything except peaches are best pruned while dormant, between January and early March.  

Annual pruning of almost all orchard plants is best accomplished during dormant season from January to mid March! 

Here is a quick list of the reasons for annual pruning:

1. open all parts of tree to sunlight
2. increase air circulation
3. improve quality, quantity & consistency of harvest
4. prevent infection and spread of disease
5. create good structure to support fruit
6. avoid breakage from poor branch angles
7. control size for easier harvest
8. ensure penetration of sprays
9. stimulate vegetative growth

You can find POP’s full fruit tree pruning guide on our website:

Our guide to pruning berry bushes and fruiting vines:

And the entire POP Fruit Tree Pruning Series:

Winter pruning season is also a good time to remove any remaining mummified fruit on trees, which can be a source of disease spores if left until spring.  (Photo Credit)

Pest and Disease Monitoring & Identification
Many orchard pests and diseases have gone dormant at this point in the season. During winter pruning, we also look out for and remove any mummified fruit still hanging on the trees (pome and stone fruits primarily).  And keep an eye out for overwintering Spotted Lanternfly eggs! 

Spotted Lanternfly egg masses can be found on tree trunks and pretty much any other hard surfaces.  Scrape them off and dispose of them. (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Winter Protection for Figs and Pomegranates
If you didn’t get to this in December, cold-sensitive orchard plants like figs and pomegranates benefit from some winter protection measures.  These plants are able to take freezing temperatures without damage, but temperatures below 20 F can cause injury and can arrive at any point this time of year! 

One of the simplest techniques for winter protection of young figs is to tie all the branches as close together as possible, surround the tree with some fencing, and fill the fencing with fall leaves, straw, or other available materials to provide insulation. If available, a tarp can also be placed on top.  It is okay if some of the branches stick out.  If we have a mild winter, those unprotected branches will be fine; if we get a harsh one, you’ll simply cut them off in the spring after growth begins.  

Fig surrounded by fencing and stuffed with fall leaves and straw as an insulator. 
Fig surrounded by fencing and stuffed with fall leaves and straw as an insulator. 

Another easy method for protection is to tie the branches together and surround the whole thing with an old carpet.  Layers of burlap, row fabric, or even old bedsheets can also be used, although make sure to attach them securely so they don’t blow away.  For older, bigger figs, you may need to wrap individual trunks/branches with this kind of insulation to protect them.  See here for our full article on growing figs in cold climates: https://www.phillyorchards.org/2009/10/17/fresh-figs-for-cold-climates/

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate.