POP TIPS: May Orchard Care

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Phil Forsyth

May 2, 2022, 11:22:38 AMMay 2
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Dear Philly Orchardists,
May is another important month for orchard care, as this is the season when many insect pests first emerge and damage from many diseases is also first noted.  

Please check out our new POP Monthly Orchard Task List for recommended maintenance activities to complete this month (the May/June list is also attached below). 

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

Pest and Disease Monitoring & Identification

Join us this Saturday for our hands-on POPCORE workshop on Spring Orchard Care!  This will be held at Share Food Program in North Philly and demonstrate techniques including fig pruning, fruit thinning, fruit bagging, compost tea and neem oil applications, and beneficial insect releases:

Saturday, May 7
9:30am - 12:00pm

POPCORE Eco-Orchard Pest and Disease Management Workshop

Participants will learn about spring orchard care tasks with a focus on holistic and organic approaches to the management of orchard pests & diseases, including hands-on scouting and demonstrations of techniques in the Share Orchard.

Spring is when many pest and disease challenges show their first signs!  Some of the most common insect pests that are likely to emerge in May include: 
OFM flagging.jpg
Oriental Fruit Moths will soon be active and annually have been one of the biggest challenges for growing stone fruits in Philadelphia!  Keep an eye out for 'flagging' of branch tips on peaches and other stone fruits, then prune out and kill the larvae inside. 

Observe your orchard regularly throughout the year for pest and disease problems, identify and respond appropriately.  We've distributed physical copies to most community partners, but you can also check out our POP's Scouting Guides available for download on POP's website: 

These guides are intended to help properly identify the insect pests and diseases that affect the following common fruit trees: 

The guides include lots of photos and a description of how to identify the particular pest or disease and the damage caused by it.  Proper identification is essential to treating these problems, as each has its own unique options for management!  Once you have identified a pest or disease, you can then consult our website for management recommendations by using our search function: 

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).  For many fruit trees, the last of these applications is due in early May. 

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.  This is best applied shortly before or after bloom, so the time is now if you want to do this.  

Check out POP’s guides to orchard applications of:

Compost Tea Sprays for Orchards

Effective Microbes

Neem Oil Sprays

Kaolin Clay Sprays

Sulfur Sprays and Early Spring Management Techniques

Pyrethrin Orchard Sprays

Bt: Bacillus thuringiensis Orchard Sprays

Spinosad Orchard Sprays

image.pngPeach Leaf Curl is another extremely common disease in our humid climate. By the time it appears in May, it is too late to do much about it!  You can remove the affected leaves, but the only proven control measure is a copper/sulfur spray applied in late fall and/or early spring.  

Spring Weeding and Compost/Mulch Application

With the wet weather and warming temperatures, early season weeds are growing rapidly.  Time to get out there and begin editing the plant palette!  POP's weed identification guide is available for sale on our website and we always have free copies to distribute to community orchard partners. 

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

Fireblight Removal and Emergency Pruning

With dormant season well behind us, most pruning should be limited to emergency pruning only.  

Keep an eye out for any diseased, damaged, or dead 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. 

Keep an eye out for fire blight damage on apples and pears in May.  Be sure to prune back to healthy wood at least 8 to 12" below signs of damage to prevent further spread of this disease. 

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 rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol or a bleach solution (1 part bleach: 10 parts water) to wipe down tools.  

First Spring Harvests!

In addition to edible greens from many companion plants, the first orchard harvests are ready to pick in May.  These include rhubarb, asparagus, and sometimes goumis and juneberries at the end of the month! 

Awbury goumis.jpg
Goumi berries are often the first fruit to ripen, sometimes beginning at the end of May. 

Wishing all a bountiful orchard this season!  

Phil Forsyth, Co-Executive Director
Philadelphia Orchard Project
Pronouns: he/him

POP Monthly Orchard Task Sheet- MAY-JUN.pdf
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