February is the heart of orchard pruning season in our climate- time to put on the snow boots and get out there!  Please check out the POP Monthly Orchard Task List for recommended maintenance activities to complete this month.

Here is some more detail on some of the key tasks for February: 

Winter pruning
We recommend attending one of the hands-on workshops, viewing our new POP video series on pruning, or read over POP’s pruning guide. The virtual POPCORE 1 workshop on 3/1 will focus on pruning as well as an overview of ecological orchard care by season.  

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:

And here’s our guide to pruning berry bushes and fruiting vines:

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: Pixabay)

Orchard Tools & Supplies

Winter is a good time to consider what tools and supplies you may need for the upcoming season.  
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! 

This is also a good time to consider what other tools and supplies you may need for the upcoming orchard season.  Gloves, hand tools, harvest equipment, organic sprays, etc?  Wheelbarrow need a tune up?  Shed re-organized?  Get these done before you get too busy! 

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. 

Dormant Oil Sprays for Control of Aphids, Scale, and More! 
Breaks of warmer weather in the winter are good timing to apply dormant oil for control of a variety of overwintering insects.  Consider this low impact ecological spray option if you had challenges last year with aphidsscale insects, red mites, spidermites, pear psylla, white flies and other soft bodied insects.

More info on dormant oil here.

Check out POP’s new blog post on scale insects!  If you had challenges with scale, aphids, or other soft-bodied insects last year, a winter application of dormant oil is the best control. Photo: William Fountain, University of Kentucky, Bugwood.org

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.