POP CORE Recap & Orchard Care Through the Seasons

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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.  

Winter Pruning: Workshop Review & Pruning Guide

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Phil discusses branch bark collars and where to make proper ‘thinning’ pruning cuts to open fruit trees to more air and light.

POP kicked off its 2017 season on Jan. 28th with a sold-out class on winter pruning held at Awbury Arboretum’s Agricultural Village. Executive Director Phil Forsyth led off with a presentation on pruning and the techniques and tools most appropriate by species — whether stone fruits like peaches, plums, cherries, and apricots, pome fruits like apples and pears, fruiting bushes, vines, or rambling brambles — blackberries and raspberries.

The second portion of the workshop brought participants, armed with hand pruners, loppers, pole pruners and saws, out to test what they learned. We pruned a row of pie cherry trees on the border of the Teens Leadership Program farm and then moved through POP’s demonstration food forest orchard, tending to the assortment of plantings. Now cleared of diseased and damaged wood, and competing, crossing, or vigorously grown branches from the previous year’s growth, the pruned plants will be more productive and structurally sound for the season to come.

Workshop attendees saw back a limb to create a modified central leader for this cherry tree, improving air and light flow toward the tree’s center

Pruning helps maintain the health and vigor of plantings through the removal of branches and manipulation of buds. Good pruning helps fruiting trees, shrubs and vines remain more resistant to pests and disease, as well as bear a larger, more consistent, and better quality harvest. While damaged, diseased wood, suckers at the base of the tree, and watersprouts can be pruned in any season, most orchard pruning is best completed during the dormant season, before the buds begin to swell, and preferably on a day when the temperature is above freezing (late January through early March) – with the exception of peaches (which should be pruned after they bloom).

For specific information on pruning and shaping methods and the basic structure of trees, consult POP’s Pruning Guide for Young Fruit Trees here along with other printable resources for tending to your orchard plantings from our POP Handouts and Resource guide.

Eager to learn more? Look out for next month’s workshop on Fruit Tree Grafting at Bartram’s Garden on March 11th from 10am-1pm, and this year’s new Community Orchardist Training Program kicking off Wednesday evenings in March at Bartram’s Garden!

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.  

Thinning Fruit Trees

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

This is a reminder that now is the time to thin out fruit on your trees, new and old!

FOR NEW FRUIT TREES, planted last fall or this spring, you should remove all the young fruitlets (yes, those little baby fruit have to go). You can use hand pruners or your fingers to pinch them off. Young trees need to spend their limited energy on establishing their roots and growing their structure rather than growing and ripening fruit. Not removing fruit from a  young tree can stunt and even sometimes kill a tree. Trees in their second year after planting can be left to fruit, unless they didn’t put out much growth the previous year. However, removing all or most of the fruit in the second year can actually help you get more fruit sooner by allowing the tree to continue to concentrate its energy on growing structure and root systems.

APPLES, PEARS, PEACHES, and sometimes PLUMS: these fruit trees need to be trained throughout their lifespan. Apples, pears, should be hand-thinned to 5″ apart on the tree, peaches to 8″. Some plum trees (especially Japanese plums) with heavy fruit set should also be thinned somewhat to avoid branch breakage. Apples and pears flower and fruit in cluster, unless that fruitlet is obviously damaged or diseased. If clusters are closer than the recommended distance, you will need to remove some of the clusters entirely. This fruit thinning is important to produce the best quality size of fruit, and helps reduce problems with insects pests like codling moth. It also helps reduce alternate bearing, which is the tendency of some trees to produce large harvests one year and little to no harvest the next. If you’ve been having problems with squirrel predation, perhaps consider leaving your fruit at lesser intervals (4″ for peaches?).

MORE INFO: http://extension.psu.edu/plants/gardening/fphg/stone/fruit-thinning

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.