Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hard Luck Fruit Trees

Winter brings hard times to fruit trees here in Maine, but not necessarily because of cold weather. Apple trees, plum trees and some pear and cherry trees are very cold hardy. Winter presents other problems for fruit trees.

For me, having a ready source of fresh fruit was always a dream. I began planting 30 years ago and my efforts included different types of apples, pears, plums, cherries and peaches. You would think that I would have a flourishing orchard by now. But that hasn’t happened.

First, during one winter of deep snow, meadow voles found my trees and girdled most of them. When spring came, only a few had enough tissue in the cambium layer to sustain life. The rest died.

I did manage to save a flowering crab, by making several bridge grafts. These tied in life-giving sap from the very base of the tree to good bark above the vole damage. But while flowering crabs are nice to view in spring, they don’t produce edible fruit.

I finally purchased Vinal spirals to wrap around the trunk of my remaining trees. These solved the vole problem.

Then, deer found my pear orchard. I had a half-acre of pears and plums and put lots of time, effort and money into it. The trees responded nicely. Then one spring morning I woke up to find that deer had chewed them all down to nubbins. They have not bounced back. Scratch the pear orchard.

As of last week, I had one apple tree which I purposely situated only feet from my kitchen door. I figure it’s too close to the house for deer to dare approach. So far so good.

Also, two trees in back had somehow managed to survive vole predation. These trees were about 20 years old and deer had eaten them back twice and twice they pushed out new growth. I finally got one apple from one of them last year and had high hopes for continued success.

But after this last blizzard, I looked out the window and saw where a deer had wallowed through the snow and made a virtual road around both trees. There, it browsed to its heart’s content. Both trees have lost all the new growth from last year. Even if one or both manage to survive despite the deer damage, it will be many more years before they produce fruit. And I am not growing any younger, you know.

This leaves the apple tree in front, the crabapple tree with its pretty but inedible fruit and two plum trees on the edge of my lawn.

The snowplow man came by the other day to plow the two-inch snowfall (against my will…I didn’t feel like paying to have such a small amount of snow removed) and decided to “push back.” That is, he wanted to make more room for future snow. My drive is beginning to look like a bobsled run.

In pushing back, my friend drove over my lawn and garden beds…I’ll see how they made out come spring. Hopefully they are okay. But in his zeal to hurl accumulated snow as far from the drive as possible, he plowed down my two little plum trees. These had only just begun to produce and the plums were quite sweet and juicy. I doubt that they will ever bear again, if in fact they are not broken quite in half.

This leaves the crab and the edible apple tree in front. Knock on wood, both look hale and hearty. But only time will tell.

Sometimes I think that it just isn’t in the cards for me to have fruit trees.

1 comment:

  1. O that is so true! I keep buying fruit trees and then I wonder why...I call them my "expensive deer browse." The only proven remedy I know of is dogs.

    Dr K in Gardiner