Just Peachy – fruit tree basics workshop held in York

By Chrystal Houston, Upper Big Blue NRD
YORK — Peaches, pears, cherries and apples were the mouthwatering topic of conversation on this past week as about 50 people attended a fruit tree basics workshop at the York County Fairgrounds. The free event was hosted by the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District and Nebraska Extension.
Back by popular demand, horticulture expert Sarah Browning was the main speaker for the workshop. Last year, she presented a vegetable gardening workshop in York that was equally well received. Attendees for that event suggested the topic for the 2024 workshop.
As an educator with Nebraska Extension since 1998, Browning’s programming has focused on environmental horticulture, fruit and vegetable production, and food safety. Working with the public and commercial green industry professionals, her major program goals include conserving water, protecting water quality, promoting local food production and protecting human health.
Browning’s presentation on fruit trees began with what grows well in Nebraska. She recommended varieties of common fruits that are cold hardy and resistant to pests, including currant and serviceberry, both of which are available through the NRD’s Conservation Tree Program. She also gave advice to those daring gardeners who want to grow fruit less well-adapted to Nebraska, such as blueberries, sweet cherries and peaches. Blueberries do best in acidic soil, so Browning recommends cultivating them in containers so that the soil acidity can more easily be managed. For tender stone fruits, like sweet cherries and peaches, Browning suggested selecting later blooming varieties and planting on a north-facing slope to deter early blooms.
Due to climate change, new hardiness zones were recently published, however, don’t go crazy, Browning said. Nebraska is still not the best place to grow warmer climate fruits. As for variety selection, Browning suggested that dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties tend to be easier to care for, as the shorter plants make for less laborious pruning and harvesting.
Browning discussed strategies and timing for pruning. She suggested that now is a great time to prune fruit trees, prior to the start of the growing season, but that you should never remove more than 30% of the canopy in a season. As to which limbs to prune, she recommends removing any that are dead, or that are growing too vertically or horizontally. The best limbs for fruit production without possible tree damage tend to grow close to a 45-degree angle. She also discussed the best style of pruning for production based on the fruit type (leave the central leader intact for apple and pear trees, or remove the central leader for an open center for apricot, cherry, peach and plum).
When it comes to common insects and diseases of home-produced fruit, Browning provided resources for a great many possible pests but went into detail on just a few, including codling moth, plum curculio, cherry maggot and spotted wing drosophila. Browning recommended an integrated pest management approach including biological, mechanical, and chemical pest deterrents, from insecticides to sticky traps. She warned against the use of broad-spectrum insecticides, as they will destroy the populations of beneficial bugs as well as the undesirable ones.
Conventional insecticides take time to break down in the environment. Due to their residual presence, fewer applications are needed to protect the fruit. However, you should plan for application well ahead of harvest to be sure that you don’t accidentally ingest the chemicals. A more natural option like neem oil has no residual presence, so it will need to be applied more frequently. But no matter which products you use, always follow label directions for application timing and waiting periods before harvest.
Browning also discussed some tips and tricks, like soapy water for removal of Japanese beetles, or a milk jug trap – containing a banana peel, ½ cup vinegar, ½ cup sugar, then filled half full of water – placed in the main crotch of an apple tree to attract and capture codling moths.
General guidelines for insect control that Browning recommended were to avoid wounding fruit trees; maintain plant vigor with proper watering and pruning; preserve beneficial insect populations; address infestations early and often; and make sure to keep the site free of fallen leaves and fruit, as they attract insects.
For fungal infections such as apple scab, cedar-apple rust, and cherry leaf spot, Browning stressed that fungicide must be applied several times early in the season. If the fungus gets a foothold on the tree during leaf production, there’s no going back. Leaves are the factory for the fruit. If the leaves are compromised by a fungal infection, you won’t get as much fruit production.
Materials from Browning’s workshop are available on the Upper Big Blue NRD website at www.upperbigblue.org/projectgrow. There are also a limited number of informational packets at the NRD office at 319 East 25th St, York, which may be picked up.
Thinking about planting trees this spring? Now is the time to place your order for low-cost, bulk seedlings through the NRD’s Conservation Tree program. There’s no easier way to add beauty to your property. Trees can be ordered until April 15, either online or at the office. Orders will arrive in time for spring planting success. Species available include popular conifers like Colorado Blue Spruce; deciduous trees like native cottonwood and thornless honeylocust; fruit and nut trees including hazelnut and crabapple; and shrubs including elderberry and lilac. Full details at https://www.upperbigblue.org/tree-program.
Interested in gardening, but don’t have the space at home? No problem! Check out the Project GROW community garden in York. Registration for plots is now available for the 2024 growing season. You can reserve your space online now at www.upperbigblue.org/projectgrow or stop by the office to sign up in person.


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