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Nine things to do for your Fruit Trees this Fall

With all of the things going on around Autumn - Halloween, Thanksgiving, the beginning of school, burying your cow horns filled with manure (biodynamic joke), it’s tough to get everything done in the garden. Here are nine things to do for those important beauties this fall:

1.) Protect young fruit trees. Protect the youngsters against nibbling by rabbits, field mice and other rodents. There’s lot of options out there regarding tree guards. Use things that are safe, non-toxic and of material that won’t dig into the bark of the trunk.

Large fruit tree branches with a package inside the branches.
Non Toxic Tree Armor

2.) Protect against frost cracking. In cold areas of the country, fruit trees and other thin-barked tree species are prone to frost cracking. It happens when sap warms up where sunlight hits the trunk on a warm winter day, only to freeze suddenly when temperatures drop. This cracking affects the tree’s ability to take up moisture and nutrients. It also leaves an opening for insects. Protect the bark with a tree wrap, again, something non-toxic and safe that won’t dig into the tree through the bark and into the cambium layer.

Man wrapping a trunk of a tree with a flexible tan material.
A.M. Leonard Crinkled Paper Tree Wrap

3.) Mulch. If you’re a “mulcher,” you can add 2" of a clean, real, wood chip mulch around fruit trees. This will help maintain a good moisture level in your orchard and keep the fungal life beneath growing. Spread the mulch from the drip-line outward, and keep it away from inside the dripline. That way you can use the inside well for composting, watering and compost tea drenching. Many add wood chips up to the tree trunks and that can cause issues with insects or fungal disease.

A large pear tree in a garden with mulch at the base.
Mulch Applied from Dripline Outwards

4.) Clean up your fruit. Insects and disease can overwinter in plant debris. Apple scab is a common disease that is caused by spores released from dead apple leaves and fruit left on the ground. Apple maggots overwinter in fruit left on the ground. Removing and destroying all fallen fruit in a timely manner can break the cycle. Harvesting on time is an even better idea!

Fallen red apples on the ground next to a trunk of a tree.

5.) Harvest. Pick pears before they mature (they’ll be firmer than pears ripe for eating) and let them ripen indoors in a cool area of the house. When picking apples, grasp the apple from the bottom and gently twist the fruit upwards to one side. Pack apples and pears in one level and don't throw them into the crate, but place them inside gently. A bruised apple is a spoiled apple later.

6.) Water. Keep fruit trees well watered until late fall. This is especially important if rainfall is in short supply where you live, or you’ve experienced the drought conditions that so many areas have. Water deeply so that the moisture penetrates fully into the root zone.

7.) Fertilization. We don’t fertilize. We use compost teas and compost. In Cold areas as we move closer to colder days and frost, we need to pull back on any fertilizing, so that we don’t develop new growth, which won’t harden off in time for winter. In warmer climates, applying compost tea even into November is fine, so long as the temps are constant, and the nights stay in the mid to upper 50’s. Using Bu's Blend Biodynamic Compost as the main source of humus for your compost teas feeds the biology in your soil and adds more biology to your soil so that your trees can get the nutrients they need to support the fruit. It also improves soil tilth, soil structure, plant growth, water retention, root depth, soil compaction and more. ALL FRUIT TREES should also get a good 1/2”-1” of compost in the fall. We recommend using the best organic compost, Malibu Compost's Bu's Blend Biodynamic Compost, to feed the soil until the night temps slow the microbial growth to a halt. It also breaks up clay soil, repairs damaged and compacted soil, helps roots spread easily, helps water to drain and much more. This will also give you a good jump on getting the garden going next spring.

8.) Pest Control. Fall is a good time to apply an insect barrier, such as Tanglefoot, for such pests such as gypsy moths, cankerworms, weevils, ants, caterpillars, moths and cutworms. We find that the sticky solution is long-lasting and weatherproof and traps bugs as they crawl up the tree to find winter hiding spots. Sorry Pests!

9.) Prune. No. Fall is not your traditional time to prune, but what I always remind gardeners and farmers is that the winter brings heavy rains, snow and wind depending on which neck of the woods you’re in. A little pruning: cutting out a little dead wood to clean up the structure of your trees, removing any of the smaller limbs that might be crossing or creating a spot to hold snow weight, removing branches that might snap in the wind, are good things. You can always prune back up to 25% of any tree and anytime without causing harm.

Arm with long tan gloves holding red pruners and pruning a dead branch on a fruit tree in a garden.

Hope this helps. To me, the fruit orchard is one of the most important parts of our garden and one that we give a lot of love too. Taking a little extra time this fall will pay big dividends for a safe and healthy garden next spring. Happy fall everybody…

© Randy Ritchie

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