After a busy harvesting season, we hardly have time to catch our breath before we detect the chill in the air: winter is well on its way. The last leaves are jumping off the orchard branches, leaving our fruit trees bare. After months of being crowned in lush green canopy, the trees are left exposed to the winter cold. One might wonder, what happens to these trees during the cold, dark winter months?
In the warmer months, trees make food using sunlight, water and air through the magic of photosynthesis. During autumn, our deciduous fruit trees shed their leaves as they don’t have enough energy to support them. This is the first step the trees take to prepare for the winter. Just as we sleep every night and wake for the day, trees sleep in late autumn and wake for the spring. The metabolism and growth of the tree slows, in a process called dormancy. This is similar to animal hibernation. A period of prolonged cold temperature is needed before growth resumes in early spring.
All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.
William Carlos Williams
While the wise trees sleep, the wise orchardist pulls out their shears: winter is the best time to prune orchard trees. The trees are dormant in the winter, and a well-informed cut (for apples, quinces, medlars and pears) will not damage them but will encourage growth the following year.
December for us can be a time for stillness, for taking stock of the abundance of autumn and for dreaming and planning into the new year of the orchard. A time for rest before the bustle of deep winter tree care begins. So batten down the hatches and see you at a planting or pruning workshop in the new year!