There are a number of jobs that you should do over winter when it comes to fruit trees. The dormant winter phase is the time to plant new fruit trees. It is also the time to prune a number of different species. Apples, for example, should be pruned over the winter months. Winter washing your fruit trees is another job you might want to consider. But is it really the best solution? Read on to find out more.
What is Winter Washing?
Winter washing your fruit trees is a method sometimes employed for pest control. The method involves buying and using a concentrated solution of plant oils, diluted with water. This solution is sprayed onto buds, branches and crevices in the bark of fruit trees. It is sometimes also brushed onto the wood in order to penetrate effectively into fissures where overwintering eggs of certain pest species and fungal spores are found.
To winter wash fruit trees gardeners:
Dilute the winter washing solution with water to the right level of dilution (as dictated on packaging).
Don protective gloves and goggles and avoid breathing in the solution. Protect surrounding vegetation and soil from spray drift and run-off.
Spray the wash carefully onto the tree, trying to get into every fissure and crevice.
Why is This Technique Used?
Winter washing is employed in order to tackle infestations of aphids or woolly aphids. It is also used to tackle fungal infections such as leaf curl, and other fungal infections. This is an extreme solution, which is used to greatly reduce the incidence of severe imbalances in the system.
Is Winter Washing a Good Idea?
Winter washing can be an effective way to rid yourself of overwintering pests and fungal spores on fruit trees. It is possible to find ‘organic’ solutions for this purpose. But in an organic garden, winter washing is not necessarily a good idea.
First of all, it is important to understand that while spraying in this way can help to control pests and disease, it will also affect other wildlife. Winter washing will not only target the pest species, but can also remove beneficial wildlife. You may remove queen wasps and other hibernating wildlife in the process, which can do more harm than good in your garden.
Another thing to bear in mind is that even a thorough washing will not necessarily be 100% effective. Such a solution is not a viable alternative to good long term garden maintenance.
Alternatives to Winter Washing Your Fruit Trees
In general, good long-term management of your fruit tree or trees is better than extreme solutions. The key to success in an organic garden lies in creating a balanced and healthy ecosystem. When a tree is healthy and the ecosystem of the garden is in balance, pests and disease may still occur, but are far less likely to get out of control.
Natural Pest & Disease Control
To tackle pests such as aphids, for example, the best way to deal with the problem is to encourage natural aphid predation. Plant fruit tree guilds of beneficial companion plants in order to attract ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies. These will help to keep aphid numbers down. Attracting other wildlife such as birds and amphibians will also help to keep the garden ecosystem in balance.
To reduce the incidence and severity of fungal disease on your fruit tree:
Carry out effective pruning each year to maintain good air flow and circulation. Good pruning technique can also allow you to get rid of dead, damaged or diseased material quickly and effectively. Prune at the right time of year for the tree types you are growing.
Practice good garden hygiene and dispose of diseased material. Don’t add foliage or branches with fungal diseases to your compost heap.
Keep trees well watered but do not overwater. Mulch well around fruit trees with organic matter to protect soil and retain moisture and nutrients. But keep mulch away from the trunk to prevent rotting.
Remember – prevention is always better than cure. Maintain your garden well using good organic gardening techniques and extreme pest management solutions should not be necessary.
Are you winter washing your fruit trees? Do you recommend this practice, or do you have other suggestions for good fruit tree and pest and disease management? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.