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.  

Autumn Composting in Orchards

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard Care, Soil CareTags , ,

leaf compost

Compost Benefits

Why put compost in your orchard? The benefits are many. Adding compost will add organic matter to your soil, and thereby feed your trees and bushes with vital nutrients. Additionally, spreading compost around the base of your trees and bushes will help with water retention and may reduce your irrigation needs. Compost also buffers the soil PH, as well as enhancing the soil structure, porosity and density. Lastly, compost will boost the microbiology of your soil, especially beneficial fungi and bacteria. This increased soil life can actually serve to reduce disease pathogens in your orchard!

Orchard Compost Composition

Composting in your orchard is more than just adding nitrogen to your soil. In fact, orchard compost should be aged and should contain a good amount of lignin, an organic substance that binds cells, fibers, and vessels in vascular plants. Adding rock dust and azomite clay into your compost a few weeks before spreading it will help the transfer of microorganisms and increase the mineral nutrients in your soil, and therefore your trees. You also want a healthy amount of beneficial fungi in your soil, which you can gain by adding humates to your compost. Because this compost specifically designed for orchard use is not high in nitrogen, spreading it in the autumn will not promote growth during the winter.

Materials that can be composted


Compost Timing in Orchards

The best time of year to put compost down in your orchard is in the late autumn. When about half of your trees’ leaves have fallen, you can lightly spread your compost– 1 to 2” deep around the base of your trees starting a few inches out from the trunk–and then mow the rest of the leaves to help them decompose faster and mix them with the compost you have spread. You can mow again when the rest of your leaves have fallen. This process of mowing and composting not only creates more fertile soil, but also helps to break down any fallen leaves and fruit that might carry diseases into the next year (NOTE: spraying compost tea after leaf drop is another effective alternative).  If you want even more water retention and added wind protection, you can also add a layer of wood mulch or straw on top of your layer of compost.

Freshly spread compost in an orchard


Tips for Autumn Composting

The autumn is an excellent time to gather materials for making your own compost. A healthy compost pile will have one third “greens” and two thirds “browns.” Greens are materials high in nitrogen, such as your food scraps or your garden weeds. Browns are materials full of carbon, such as brown leaves, wood chips, or straw. These “brown” materials are more plentiful in the autumn, but harder to find naturally in other seasons. Therefore, the autumn is an excellent time to save your brown leaves in burlap sacks to be used throughout the other seasons.

If you have a huge excess of leaves, you can also make a compost pile of only leaves. Put a layer of leaves, followed by a layer of soil, and continue this process until you have a pile at least 3 feet high and 4 feet in diameter.  With only a couple turns of the pile, this leaf compost should be ready to spread in your orchard or garden by the next fall!

Composted leaves (aka leaf mould) are gold!

Here’s a great article to get you started on working with the abundance of leaves in your forest garden or community orchard space: http://www.epicgardening.com/composting-leaves/







This edition of POP Tips compiled by 2015 Education Intern, Rachel Baltuch, and Program Director, Robyn Mello.

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.