Care and Maintenance of Fruit Trees

The previous article on   ‘Fruit Trees in Containers’  focussed on which fruit trees can be grown in pots and their general requirements. This article will provide more in depth information on the care of fruit trees, especially in winters.

Just as fit and healthy people never stop exercising or eating healthy food throughout the year, fruit trees also need nourishment and care year round, even in the winters.

1. Choose the right variety

When  buying a fruit tree, check that the plant is disease free. Treat with  a fungicide or pesticide  such as cinnamon powder or neem solution at the time of plantation. Always  change the lower soil and loosen it around the roots so that the plant grows better and faster.

      • Ideally the grafting knot should be at least 10 inches from the base of the plant, if it is less than this, then there are more chances of the  plant getting damaged.
      • Any growth occurring below the knot  should always be removed as this is the tree used for grafting and it will overpower the grafted variety.
      • Plastic on the  grafted knot should be removed as it does not let the plant grow well.
      • The best plant will have a single shoot above the grafted knot and branching 2-3 inches above it.

2. Be patient with the tree

There are four stages in a fruit tree; dormancy, shooting, flowering and fruiting.  After  fruiting  the cycle starts again with dormancy.

    • A fruit tree will usually produce three times more flowers than fruit. Of these flowers, 50% will drop before pollination occurs, 20% of the  remaining pollinated flowers will drop before  fruits get set, leaving only  30% that will actually bear fruit. Therefore the patient gardener may be rewarded with 30 fruits if the tree bears 100 flowers!
    • During the flowering stage keep feeding the plant and also tilling  the soil around it.   Dig the dropped flowers  into the soil as these will help nourish it.
    • Good  gardeners  always remove a few flowers  from the bunch as they feel they get better flowering and fruits by doing so.
    • Grow mustard in adjoining areas or in the same pot as the fruit tree to attract honey bees which in turn will help pollinate flowers; thereby increasing fruit production.
    • Do not spray insecticide during flowering as this will deter honey bees and therefore reduce pollination.
    • Spraying the plant with raw milk mixed with water  or buttermilk water will help attract  honey bees which are attracted to the lactic acid in these products. These sprays have the added bonus of providing calcium to the plant. However, take care not to spray the flowers as they can get damaged.
    • When fruits are developing in bunches, removal of a few of them will allow more space to the rest with the result that the remaining fruit will be bigger and better. Examples of  fruits that benefit from this are lemon, guava and pomegranate.

3. Transplantation

Fruit trees can be grown either in pots ( at least 24 inches) or  in the ground. July is the best month to plant fruit trees. When transplanting, remove as much of  the clay or red soil as possible and replace with a fertile loamy soil.

Repot the tree every 2 years. The best time for this is the end of January or the first week of February.

Change the top one third layer of soil and  add good compost between repottings.

4. Manure/ feeding

Feed the tree throughout the year,  except when the tree has finished fruiting and  is in the dormant stage,  as it needs  to rest at this time. Always mulch after feeding.

A feed of fermented  butter milk mixed with water improves the taste of the fruit and makes it more juicy. This also works as a nitrogen fixer,  reduces dropping of fruit, and induces  healthy leaves.

Compost of fallen fruits or fallen leaves of the same tree should be  given in the next season to have  better fruit . Maintain feeding during flowering .

Continue feeding even after fruits have set as the tree requires more nitrogen at this time since  it is increasing its foliage. Boron, magnesium and potassium are required for good flowering and fruiting, so a feed containing these will benefit the plant. Neem khal and Sarson khal are good sources of  micronutrients.

Leaves of the mulberry and rosewood tree are rich in magnesium, so  make a compost of these  leaves. This can then be made into a liquid manure and fed to fruiting trees in  the flowering stage.

5. Mulching

Always mulch fruit trees after feeding them. Make sure the mulch does not touch the bark of the tree as this can cause it to rot. Use porous material like dry leaves or small pieces of bricks for mulching. Make sure not to use  plastic sheets. Do not stop watering during the mulching period as the  tree still needs water to survive. Check that proper drainage is occurring if growing in a  pot. For trees growing in the ground, create a circular shape around the tree which is  as wide  as the canopy of the tree, and mulch in this area, making sure to maintain a small distance from the trunk.

6. Pruning

Prune the plant in the pre flowering stage, however, thin pruning can be done at any time. Harsh or  skeletal pruning  can be done when the tree is in the dormant stage  after the leaves have fallen, as this causes less stress to the plant.  This is usually  from December to February for most  fruit  trees. At this time they are also less prone to attack from diseases and pests.

7. Checking for Disease

    • Keep feeding to avoid disease in trees.
    • Do anti termite treatment frequently if growing in the ground.
    • Fruit splitting can be caused by  calcium deficiency.
    • Gum coming out of the trunk of old trees can be due to  root disease. The use of a  copper based insecticide or  digging a  copper wire or oxidised iron near  the tree’s roots will help treat this disease.
    • To keep the tree free of bugs, apply grease on its trunk.
    • If the fruit tree has leaves that start to curl, it may be due to curly leaf fungus. Apply a fungicide like onion or garlic oil diluted in water and  water the roots with this.

General care of fruit trees

    • The diameter of the circle [thaala] on the ground and the canopy should be the same.
    • Never let the thaala get water logged.
    • Do trenching around the trunk .
    • Support the branches to keep the growth balanced. Do balanced pruning so that the tree does not lean during fruiting.
    • Apply slake lime under the grafting knot to provide calcium as well as differentiation.
    • Plant fruit trees in colonies of the same This aids cross pollination and results in an improved variety of fruit.
    • If growing in a pot keep rotating the pot from time to time to get maximum and equal sunlight to all sides for uniform fruit setting.
    • If the size of the fruit remains small add calcium and zinc to the soil.