While ordinary gardeners may be spending more time looking at seed catalogues than being out in the fresh air, this is one of the busiest times of the year for us orchardists.
The dormant period in trees, especially for apples and pears, gives us an opportunity to do some major jobs that at other times of the year might be too stressful for the trees.
Pruning of apples and pears, the pip or pome fruit. The trees are now dormant, having lost their leaves and there is very little activity occurring, so now is a good time for planting and pruning. Formative pruning is required to encourage a well-shaped framework of branches to allow sun and fresh air to reach the fruit. We also prune to ensure easy harvesting and to control vigour.
Restorative pruning of older trees helps to prevent disease, branches breaking off and maintaining productivity. Pruning encourages the growth of young, fruiting wood, and allows diseased material to be removed. If the wood you’re removing is healthy, cut it up and add it to the mulch to imitate the tree’s natural feeding regime.
Remember not to prune your stone fruit trees such as cherries and plums in the winter as this can lay them open to disease.
Once dormant, young trees can be lifted from the ground and moved, meaning that nurseries are able to send them in the post. This is the best time to plant new trees and the only time you should plant bare root trees.
Wassailing is an ancient European tradition. The event got its name from Wassail, meaning ‘be you healthy’ which was cheered when drinking hot mulled cider to bless the trees for a bountiful harvest that year.
People make lots of noise to encourage the sap to rise and to wake orchards from winter dormancy. Wassailing is usually held on 12th Night or on a January or February full moon, but any time is better than none.