In areas with harsh winters, even mature fruit trees of recognized varieties may not be able to withstand low snowfall and constant temperature fluctuations. How so, young fruit tree seedlings belong to the group at increased risk of winter decline.
The ability of young fruit tree seedlings to survive the winter depends largely on their owners. Special care in the fall is not the only issue to consider. When the orchard has started to breathe its first breath of winter, fruit tree seedlings need additional protection against frost, winter sun, and rodent damage.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO PROTECT YOUNG FRUIT TREE SEEDLINGS?
Plants need a stable and smooth transition from warm to cold weather in order to overwinter properly. In a constantly changing climate, one is happy only with the memory of the previous constancy and the reliable protection of several months of snowdrifts despite the extremely harsh winter.
All fruit trees suffer sudden jumps in temperature during the winter – alternating between melting and hard frost – to which the wood inevitably reacts.
Young plants with still thin bark are extremely vulnerable to such fluctuations, dry winter winds, and icing after thawing. With all the risks of a snow-free, unpredictable, and sometimes highly unstable winter, gardeners must compensate and prevent with mulching and additional protection of seedlings from frost, winter sun, and rodents.
That is why the process of preparing fruit tree seedlings for winter is one of the most responsible duties in the list of late autumn projects.
The risk of losing fruit tree seedlings also depends on the variety. Even if zoned varieties are purchased, fruit trees do not have the same tolerance to harsh winters. Among them, there are varieties that are frost-tolerant but not thaw-tolerant and, on the contrary, plants that tolerate temperature changes but are not frost-tolerant enough.
The risk group includes, first of all, all bell trees, pears, and apples. And what about more exotic plants, which are currently considered almost exotic!
Find out more about the frost resistance and characteristics of the species when you buy, and ask specifically how the plant overwinters and what protection it needs in winter. By following the instructions you receive from your garden center, nursery, or online store, you can best protect your plants. But, of course, there are general rules for preparing young fruit trees and fruit tree seedlings for winter.
When to mulch young fruit trees for the winter?
In order not to lose young fruit tree seedlings during the winter, you need a special kind of protection – mulching. It is not advisable to start it too early, because in warm mulching there is a high risk of drying out buds or overbidding.
However, the preparation of fruit tree seedlings for wintering should be started earlier in autumn. For fruit plants, fall preparations include the following measures.
- Reduced watering in autumn and moisturizing watering in winter.
- Stop fertilizing since mid-summer or at least since the end of summer to make the last special fall (potassium and phosphorus) fertilizer.
- Re-cultivate and loosen the planting circle and row spacing.
- Perform sanitary pruning and timely removal of leaves and sugar blossoms.
- Clean and treat the bark without giving up the autumn whitewash.
Fruit tree seedlings need protection not only in the first winter after planting (both spring and fall). For most fruit tree species, young trees need to be mulched for the first 5 winters. For columnar and heat-loving varieties, this protection is required every year.
PROTECTING THE ROOTS AND INSULATING THE ROOTSTOCK
By winter protection we most often mean wrapping the trunk and crown, but additional frost protection for young fruit plants requires not only the trunk but also the root system, especially for first and second-year seedlings. The entire surface of the rhizosphere needs to be “warmed”.
To protect the root system, a simple mulching method is used to capture an area of about 1 meter in circumference from the trunk – the entire surface of the rhizosphere. For insulation, create a protective layer of mulch 4-8inch (10-20 cm) high so that it does not threaten the root neck.
Or do not bring mulch to the base of the trunk and use a “safe” breathable material around the root neck. Sawdust, compost, peat, and pine are all suitable for mulch, and in a pinch, you can use soil as a dip, or throw traction or weapons.
When really cold weather arrives, the protective layer can be poured immediately, but it is best to create it gradually – start mulching in October and raise the level of mulch in stages, finishing when a steady frost arrives. For heat-loving species and colony-type seedlings, it is best to combine mulching with a mulch of non-woven material and arms.
Throughout the winter, snow should be thrown on trees, if possible, to increase the protection of young fruit trees. The higher the snowdrift, the better. Be sure to shovel snow to prevent rodents from making passage.
A ONE-STOP-SHOP FOR ALL THREATS
For young fruit trees, shade shelters often provide reliable “all-occasion” protection from both February and spring sun frost damage (young trees are less exposed than mature trees) and from freezing winter winds that dry them out, as well as from frost and rodents.
Even clear or netting protection against frostbite is quite adequate for young plants.
But sometimes you do need to take extra measures to protect trees from unwanted visitors eating their delicate bark because not all materials provide sufficient protection.
Before you start wrapping the trunk and crown, make sure the seedling is stable. Very young trees and columnar plants can be exposed to strong winds, so temporary support is better.
You can arrange a circle of stakes, slats, battens, or boards for shrink wrapping around the trunk to protect it from the wind and keep it stable. To avoid breaking under the snow, branches of seedlings with well-developed crowns can be tied with soft twine and further tightened before starting to mulch.
To protect the above-ground parts, the simplest method of additional insulation is used – wrapping with any available mulching material. Traditional burlap wrapping around the trunk is not the only option.
Fruit tree seedlings can also be wrapped using.
- special ready-made mulch for covering plants
- several layers of luthier, spunbond, farm cloth.
- old strips of cloth and unwanted clothing (from scarves to pantyhose).
- gauze or bandages (garden strips are almost useless for covering, mainly for grafting).
- construction insulators – foam rubber, insulation, and various underlayment materials (for laminates, pipes, etc.)
- roofing felt (but it has the risk of drying out).
- reeds, rushes, bamboo mats or reed stalks or corn stalks (but this type of shed attracts rats and requires care)
- paper or cardboard.
Preference should always be given to materials that are breathable, safe, do not pose a risk of frosting, and are rodent-proof. The most dangerous alternative to burlap and non-woven materials is the use of polyethylene film and plastic bottles and jars. Such dense and impermeable mulching is highly likely to cause young fruit trees to rot and die.
Creating a mulch is very simple: plants literally need to be wrapped, creating a non-dense but reliable protection around them.
It can be easily cut from spun-bond or fabric into long, wide strips. For heat-loving or particularly sensitive species and colony-type seedlings, the trunk can be wrapped in advance with a standing dead net.
Thick material such as polyethylene foam is wrapped in layers, and if possible the ends are buried in the soil to form a kind of barrier at the root neck against rodent damage. And the thin ones – spunbond and gauze – should be wrapped in at least three layers.
The younger and more heat-loving the seedling, the more it needs a solid, including the entire crown shelter. Columnar plants must be covered to the top. Strong seedlings can be limited to the height of the trunk and scaffold branches, but weak and very young plants protected from drying under the wind will not be harmed at least in the first winter.
Secure sacks, spunbond, netting, and other materials with tape, wire, twine. The main thing is not to damage shoots and trunks by strong pressure or pulling, but to leave the seedlings a chance to breathe under the “wrap” and make a few ventilation holes yourself if necessary.
In winter, when animals have few chances to find food, the bark of young fruit trees may be eaten not only by rats or rabbits but also by elk and sometimes by goats (if site boundary protection is not well thought out).
Mulch from fabric, paper, and foam rubber is poorly protected against rodents, unlike luthier or spunbond. When the insulation properties of the mulch are greater than the protection of the bark, adding to the basic “wrapping” “blocking” of the trunk and lower branches from entering.
- special netting wrapped around the seedling.
- branches in driftwood or thorn bushes.
- Treatment with special insect repellents.
Rats can easily get under the snow to the lower part of the trunk and can severely damage the root neck. Trampling the snow is only one of the measures to control these small rodents. Usually, additional lap saplings are placed around the planting circle, insect repellents are used, and traps or bait are set.