Ideal time to be planting fruit trees

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The end of winter is in sight and the days are now noticeably longer.
So far, winter has been a bit of a non event and lots of plants that are rated only semi hardy, are managing to shrug off any frosts with minimal damage.
My variegated border geraniums are usually burnt off by now, but are still looking very presentable. It’s still too early to get exited about anything but preparation work for the coming season.
Ground temperatures are still too cold and there is still the prospect of a southerly blast bringing an extended spell of bleak weather.
It is the ideal time to be planting fruit trees and deciduous ornamentals such as flowering cherry or colourful maples. With fruit trees, if space is at a premium, espaliering the branches along a sunny fence is a good option.
In my own orchard, having the trees espaliered, allows me more varieties in a limited space and a succession of fruit from Christmas, right through to the end of June.
Planting these trees now gives the roots time to establish before the stress of supplying water to foliage commences as the season moves on.
Now is the time to establish an asparagus bed, or rejuvenate an existing one. Asparagus is a member of the lily family and requires good drainage to perform well.
Keeping soil loose with the addition of grit and compost and/or using a raised bed, is beneficial to successful cropping. Existing asparagus beds should have the spent top growth cut back to ground level and weeds removed, before applying a layer of compost.
A handful or two of fertiliser will boost productivity also. Keep the spears regularly picked, but once production slows down in later spring (or you’ve had your fill of them) let the spears grow and mature into their ferny foliage.
This will feed the roots and help the plants persist. Fresh, home grown asparagus, is orders of magnitude tastier than that available commercially.
Green manure crops are probably a good height for digging in now. It’s a good idea to incorporate some lime while digging the manure in, achieving two jobs at once.
Avoid lime where the potato crop is to be established, as this encourages potato scab.
Digging green manure now will give the crop a chance to break down before the garden is needed for spring planting.
Garlic and broad bean seeds, or plants, can still be planted.
Don’t forget to get on with pruning.
With the days getting longer, plants will respond with sap flow, causing any wounds from pruning to stress the plant. The winter spray programme should also be under way now.
Lime sulphur will clean up any mosses and lichens, along with pests such as pear blister mite.
Follow up two weeks later with a copper spray for disease control and finally a spray with winter strength oil.
It’s especially important to protect the emerging buds on peach and nectarine trees, otherwise ugly leaf curl fungus will infect the buds, resulting in disfigured leaves through the growing season.
– Keith Omelvena is an avid gardener and the owner of Greenleaf Plant Centre in Timaru.