Whether your apple trees are just beginning their lives in small pots or a greenhouse, or you have a fully functioning orchard, the recommended tactics for preparing your apple trees for winter are the same. This process is extremely important as you do not want frost, pesky rodents, disease, insects, or an especially harsh winter to ruin the possibility of fresh delicious apples in the years to come!
To best prepare your apple trees for winter, follow these foolproof instructions:
- Clean up around the trees, removing all fallen fruit and dead leaves.
- Refrain from fertilizing in the fall.
- Do not over prune.
- Apply a pest barrier.
- Mulch around the trees.
- Paint the trunks white and create tree guards.
- Keep the trees well-watered.
- Harvest any lingering fruits.
This is a pretty hefty list, but it really won’t take long to complete them all, and it’s absolutely worth it to make sure your trees survive the winter and therefore thrive next fall!
If you’re not quite sure how to do one or more of these tasks, keep reading. We will go through each and every recommendation to make sure you can fully prepare your apple trees.
CLEAN UP AROUND YOUR TREES
It is essential when hardening off, or acclimating, your apple trees for winter that you clean up any mess left from the fall around the base of the trees. This includes removing any fallen fruits and leaves.
Maggots and other pests overwinter in any fruits or leaves left on the ground, as will an infamous fungal disease known as apple crap. These insects and infections cause long-term damage to your trees, so it’s incredibly important to keep up with sanitation.
In fact, this process can be done consistently throughout the fall season. It helps your trees stay healthy, and it also makes for a faster clean-up at the end of each harvest season.
REFRAIN FROM USING FERTILIZERS IN THE FALL
If you live in a cold climate in which winter comes just after the end of the harvest, you should stop fertilizing your trees in July.
The nitrogen and phosphorous in fertilizers lead toward further fruit growth later in the season, and if the trees are producing, they will not have time to harden off before winter.
It’s even important to be wary of fertilizing any plants within a 20-foot radius of your trees, as the minerals could seep into the soil around the roots of the trees.
DO NOT OVER PRUNE YOUR APPLE TREES
If there are dead branches on the trees that need removed, it is recommended that you do so by making a clean cut, but leaving the branch collar to be cut until spring.
APPLY A PEST BARRIER
There are several available pest barriers on the market that work to protect your trees from insects throughout the winter.
Most are weatherproof and they ensure no moths, caterpillars, ants, weevils, or worms find refuge in your trunks or branches during the cold months.
MULCH AROUND THE TREES
You should use a woodchip mulch around your apple trees before the winter season arrives. However, there are a few important rules to follow.
- Wait until after the first frost to mulch so that rodents do not find a safe home in the fluffy mulch.
- Make sure to avoid the area directly around the trunk so insects do not have easy access to the trees.
- Spread the mulch in a layer about 2-3 inches deep.
- Cover the entire area under the tree to the drip-line, or to where the expanding branches cover.
PAINT THE TRUNKS WHITE AND CREATE TREE GUARDS
There are several ways to protect the bark of your tree, and essentially the tree itself, from the troubles of winter.
One expert recommendation is to paint the trunks white with a 50/50 mix of latex paint and water. This process helps the trunk survive with changing temperatures such as cold nights coupled with random sunny days, so the bark does not expand and split. Paint the bottom 2-3 feet of the trunk every two years to help the tree regulate its internal temperature.
To protect your trees from rabbits and field rodents, create a tree guard for your apple trees. There are several different types of guards to use including mesh galvanized metal, plastic mesh, or even flexible drainage pipes or vinyl that wrap directly around the trunk. Ask your local gardening expert which option is best for your area and troublesome animals.
KEEP THE TREES WELL-WATERED
Making sure your trees have enough water through the winter is essential! Continue to water them until f late in the fall with about 1-2 inches of water each time.
If you’re not quite sure how much water the tree is getting with an overhead watering system, put a bucket near the truck and see when it reaches the desired measurement.
HARVEST ANY REMAINING FRUITS
All apples should be removed from the trees so they can fully harden off for winter. The last of the apples should be harvested by grabbing and twisting the apple from the bottom, then upwards towards the stem.
The next step, of course, is to enjoy these last few fresh fruits before their return next fall!
Preparing your apple trees for winter does take a little preparation and care, but your trees will thank you for it with a bountiful harvest next season!
While all of these steps are important, how careful you need to be will depend on a few factors of your specific situation. If your climate is known to have extremely harsh winters, definitely don’t skip the trunk painting. If intruders such as insects and rodents are prominent in your garden, make sure you have good tree guards in place, and be careful placing your mulch too close to your tree.
Hardening off your apple trees for winter is crucial, but luckily, you are now an expert!