Early Spring Orchard Care Tips

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard Care, Orchard Pests, POP Orchards, Soil Care, Sprays, Tree Care, Tree DiseasesTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Peaches are the only fruit trees commonly pruned in early spring during or immediately following bloom rather than while dormant!

Happy Spring, Fellow Orchardists! With the past few weeks of balmy rain and bud and flower break, we wanted to remind you of some early spring tips for tending to your orchard’s health and managing potential disease and pest woes. For a recap of orchard care through all the seasons, check out our recent POP blog article.

Unwrap Your Figs and Pomegranates

With the danger of hard frosts finally past, it is now safe to unwrap your figs, pomegranates, and other tender plants from their winter protection!

Spring Orchard Sprays 

Apply holistic orchard sprays. Holistic sprays are composed of compost tea, liquid fish/seaweed, neem oil, and/or effective microbes. For best tree health and resistance to disease, apply up to 4 times in the spring (after bud break, at first pink of flowers, after petal fall, and two weeks after petal fall).

Depending on specific pest or disease problems, some orchardists might also consider other organic sprays including the ones listed below.  In particular, plants that have suffered severe crop loss from fungal diseases (like brown rot, mildew, or scab) may be candidates for an early spring sulfur or copper spray.

Check out POP’s guides to orchard applications of:

Compost Tea Sprays for Orchards

Neem Oil Sprays

Kaolin Clay Sprays

Sulfur Sprays and Early Spring Management Techniques

Pyrethrin Orchard Sprays

Bt: Bacillus thuringiensis Orchard Sprays

Phil dilutes compost tea 50-50 before applying one gallon per tree throughout the Awbury orchard.

Soil Cultivation and Compost/Mulch Application

Building healthy soil is key to supporting trees’ health, resilience and yields. Weed around the base of trees, and spread chipped winter prunings, shredded leaves, and or mulch/compost in the early spring. Check out POP’s guide to Ramial Wood Chips and Weeding in Place.  

Early Spring and Emergency Pruning

While optimal dormant pruning season is now behind us, those of you who waited on your peach trees should prune them now (peaches are the only fruit tree typically pruned during or immediately following flowering).  For all other trees, most pruning should be limited to emergency pruning only:

Keep an eye out for any diseased, damaged, or disoriented wood  that should be pruned away no matter the season. Pay special attention to the base of trees – especially of the stone fruit varieties: apricots, peaches, plums, nectarines – and prune away root suckers, the quick upright growth that can be a cover for dreaded borers, which make a home beneath trunk wood.

Remember: use sharp, rust-free hand tools and sanitize between trees at the very least, and between every cut if the tree you’re tending has had previous conditions. For easy disinfecting, we recommend carrying a spray bottle with you of isopropyl alcohol or a bleach solution (1 part bleach: 10 parts water) to wipe down tools.

Remove any mummified fruit, which left hanging on the tree, can become a potential source for disease spores to spread, especially as the humidity rises.

Tent caterpillars are moving in! Remove nests manually to protect trees from defoliation.

Tent Caterpillar Nest Alert!

Spring is the season tent caterpillars hatch! Stopping them in their silky tracks is important to protect trees from becoming a buffet. If you see a silken nest hanging among tree branches, remove and discard as soon as possible. Scrape off and discard overwintering egg masses and tear the protective tents out by hand before the larvae start to feed.  A spiky stick can be used to remove the tents or they can be pruned out depending on their location.  Bacillus thuringiensis or a plant-derived insecticide like neem oil can be used as a spot treatment. Read more about treatment strategies here.  

Please contact us with any questions or concerns!

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.  

POP CORE Recap & Orchard Care Through the Seasons

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard Care, Orchard Pests, POP Orchards, Soil Care, Sprays, Tree Care, Tree DiseasesTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

POP kicked off its newest training program last Wednesday, March 8th at Bartram’s Garden called POPCORE: Community Orchardist Resilience Education. An endeavor to realize the potential and beauty of fully productive, well cared-for eco-orchards in every neighborhood, POPCORE seeks to encourage the self-sufficiency of our partners and connections between partners in close geographical proximity through group trainings and face-to-face sharing between partners. With increased knowledge, attention, and combined resources, the average community orchard has the potential to produce hundreds of pounds of varied produce per season in addition to being a safe, beautiful outdoor space for gathering and education.

POPCORE combines many elements of orchard stewardship, ecosystem design, and food uses that POP has learned over the past ten years,  synthesized in a 4-part series that can be taken as one-off classes or in pre-season series. Hosted back-to-back over four Wednesdays in March at Bartram’s historic garden, the course covers Pruning and Eco-orchard Seasons (March 8), Pest and Disease Management (March 15); Plants, Fungi, and What To Do With Them (March 22); and Permaculture and The Future of Philadelphia’s Food System (March 29).  Registration info here

The first class taught by POP Executive Director Phil Forsyth and Orchard Director Robyn Mello drew 21 participants, who came from a span of neighborhoods throughout the city to learn about orchard care through the seasons and the specifics of pruning fruit trees, berries & brambles, and fruiting vines, with a pre-class hands-on pruning demo hosted in Bartram’s Community Orchard.

For the health of your orchard, seasonally-appropriate care is important and POP wants you to succeed! Check out POP’s Resource Guide for PDF-downloadable handouts on topics covered during POPCORE’s first session, including orchard care by season (summarized below) a guide to pruning, and relevant POP blog posts linked below. 

Students learn techniques for wintertime pruning of fruiting shrubs in Awbury Arboretum’s food forest.


PRUNING. For best production and tree health, all common fruit trees regardless of age should be pruned during their dormant season every winter, ideally between late January and early March. The basic idea is to open the tree to more air and light.

Check out POP’s guide to Pruning Fruit Trees and  Pruning Bushes, Brambles, and Vines.  

REMOVE MUMMIFIED FRUIT. Any fruit left hanging on the tree is a potential source for disease spores. Pluck and remove any mummified fruit from the orchard during pruning.

SPRAY DORMANT OIL. Apply horticultural oil, neem oil, or vegetable oil at 4% dilution to smother overwintering eggs of insects including aphids and scales.

Check out POP’s guide to Dormant/Horticultural Oil Sprays. 

MAINTAIN ORCHARD EQUIPMENT. Clean and sharpen all orchard tools. Order orchard care supplies. For PHS City Harvest participants, check out a related training on Tool Care on Saturday March 25th from 10am-noon or visit POP Partner The West Philly Tool Library for information on tool rental and care. 

Orchard liaison Tony Dorman spreads compost during a spring workday at Philadelphia Montessori Charter School


APPLY MULCH/COMPOST. Spread chipped winter prunings, shredded leaves and/or compost.

Check out POP’s guide to Ramial Wood Chips and Weeding in Place.  

HOLISTIC ORCHARD SPRAYS. Holistic sprays are composed of compost tea, liquid fish/seaweed, neem oil, and/or effective microbes. For best tree health and resistant to disease, apply up to 4 times in the spring (after bud break, at first pink of flowers, after petal fall, and two weeks after petal fall). Depending on specific pest or disease problems, some orchardists might also consider other organic sprays including the ones listed below. 

Check out POP’s guides to orchard applications of:

TRAINING. New growth can be trained to better angles using clothespins, branch spreaders, or tying to weights.

THINNING. In late May or early June, young fruitlets on peaches, apples, pears and Asian pears, and some plums should be thinned by pinching off with fingers or pruner. Peaches should be thinned to 8” apart, apples and pears to 5”, and heavy-bearing plums to 5” on the tree. Also at this time, all fruit should be removed from any newly planted trees.

Check out POP’s guide on Thinning Fruit Trees. 

BAGGING FRUIT. Place ziplock, paper, or nylon bags around young fruit (especially apples) to protect them from some insect and disease challenges.  

Check out POP’s guide to Bagging Fruit.

Community members pick berries during Strawberry Mansion’s Strawberry Festival


HARVEST. Pick fruit as they ripen, spring through fall according to fruit type. Remove or compost any fallen fruit to reduce potential pests and disease. 

Check out POP’s guide to Summer Harvest Timing and Equipment and Late-Season Fruit Ripeners.

MONITOR. Observe orchard regularly throughout the year for pest and disease problems, identify and respond appropriately with trapping, removal, or possible applications of kaolin clay, neem oil, Bt, pyrethrin, etc.

EMERGENCY PRUNING. Remove diseased or damaged wood, root suckers, and watersprouts any time of year. Be sure to sterilize tools with alcohol or bleach solution between each cut. In some cases, additional structural pruning may be done in early summer to minimize regrowth, but avoid anything but emergency pruning after July.

For more information, check out this POP guide to emergency pruning. 

Executive Director Phil Forsyth brews a batch of compost tea to apply to orchard plantings


APPLY COMPOST. After most leaves have fallen, spread a layer of compost or spray compost tea. An annual soil test can reveal any other specific nutrients or amendments that should be added.

Check out POP’s guide to Autumn Composting. 

We hope this seasonal breakdown provides you with a solid overview to ready yourself for maintaining the health and productivity of your orchard. Hope to see you in a POP CORE class soon!
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.  

Compost Tea Sprays for Orchards

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard Care, SpraysTags ,
compost tea
Compost tea sprays are one of the best means to improve the health and productivity of orchard trees.  There are three primary application times:

1. Early spring applications of compost tea as a soil drench are used to boost orchard soil life and fertility, resulting in healthier, more resilient and productive fruit trees.

2. Foliar applications throughout the spring can provide further nutrient boosts and possibly aid in colonizing leaves and branches with beneficial microbes that may out-compete disease-causing fungi and bacteria.  For more info on these “holistic sprays”, see Michael Phillips’ presentation in tomorrow’s 4/28 Community Orchard Network webinar:

3. Late fall applications after most leaves have dropped help to speed decomposition of fallen leaves and fruit, thus reducing the amount of disease pathogens remaining for the next year.


Interview by 2015 POP Intern Steve Palder at POP compost tea workshop at Bartram’s Garden on 4/11/15.

Can you give me a quick primer on what compost tea is and how it works?

Compost tea essentially extracts and promotes growth of beneficial microbes found in compost and vermicompost into a larger volume of water.  Compost is suspended in vigorously aerated water for 12-16 hours and after which the compost is removed.  The aeration is essential as it keeps the water oxygenated which promotes the multiplying of beneficial microorganisms and limits harmful microorganisms. I use an aquarium bubbler with water stones but a specific aeration device used for compost tea brewing can be purchased online.Compost tea will give a production boost to whatever you are trying to grow in your garden. The microbes extracted and multiplied producing compost tea encourage nutrient cycling in the soil. Plant foods are created and released by the burgeoning soil bacteria and fungi.

I see you use biodynamic certified compost for your compost tea, can we use backyard compost to make our compost tea?

It is acceptable to use backyard compost as long as it has been prepared correctly.  For safety, you must start with a thermal compost that has been brought to 160 degrees Fahrenheit and turned a minimum of three times at this temperature.  Worm castings from vermiculture are also a safe and effective compost for tea. Either of these sources will assure that you are not going to spread E. Coli through your tea. If both types of compost are available it is optimal to use 1 cup of each for a 5 gallon bucket of tea. If not, 2 cups of either compost will work just fine for a 5 gallon buckets worth of compost tea.

The primary advantage of the biodynamic compost is that it has been tested for the amount of beneficial bacteria and fungi as well as an harmful micro-organisms.

What else will I need besides an aeration device, the appropriate compost, and a 5 gallon bucket to make compost tea?

You need a mesh bag that will hold the compost in the 5 gallon bucket. I use a winemaking bag but you can also use panty hose. The bag of compost should rest at surface of the water during the aeration period.

I also add the following ingredients to my mixture before aeration starts:
1 tablespoon blackstrap or unsulphured molasses (feeds bacteria/fungi)
1 tablespoon of kelp powder (contains trace elements)
1 tablespoon of humic acid (an ore mined from the earth that feeds bacteria/fungi), 1 tablespoon of cold pressed fish emulsion (feeds bacteria/fungi)
1 tablespoon of mycorrhizal fungi spores for every five gallons of water

All of these additions improve the micro-organism and nutrient content of the tea, although none of them individually is essential to make an effective tea.

If you are using chlorinated tap water, it is imperative to either let the water sit uncovered for 2 days or run your aeration device and let it tumble the water for 6 hours before adding the compost.  Otherwise the chlorine can kill off certain beneficial organisms populations before you even begin!

What safety concerns are there about using compost tea?

The primary concern is the spread of E. Coli and other potentially harmful bacteria, but this is easily preventable if basic precautions are followed.  Start with good compost (thermal or vermicompost as described above) and keep the water highly aerated throughout the brewing process.  After any compost tea preparation, clean the bucket and air stones to prevent growth of microbes on leftover ingredients in residue.


After the brewing process is complete, the tea should be used within 6 hours.  Dilute the finished tea 50-50 with un-chlorinated water. A backpack sprayer is the easiest means of application, although smaller sprayers can be used as well.  Use a mesh bag or other filter as you fill the sprayer to avoid any blockage from larger particles.  Using a larger concrete nozzle for your sprayer can also reduce the likelihood of blockage.  Early spring and late fall soil drenches can also be done with a simple watering can!

For spring foliar sprays, use a backpack sprayer to cover all leaf, branch, and trunk surfaces evenly.  As with all sprays, avoid applying during the heat of day and any time bees are active.  A morning application time is best.  Foliar sprays can be applied every couple weeks during spring.


Ready-made compost tea brewers and supplies: Simplici-tea.com 

Grow Organic Apples’ Guide to Holistic Spray Ingredients

This edition of POP TIPS prepared with assistance from POP intern Steve Palder and POP Orchard Committee member Kevin Stutler.  

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.