Preventing Fruit Diseases
Late Winter Management is Key
Early spring is when primary disease infections occur in many fruit crops. Late winter, therefore, is the ideal time for home fruit growers to get a jump on disease management.
You should trim fruit trees to thin the tree canopy. This allows for good air movement and sunlight penetration. Rake up and destroy fallen leaves and remove and destroy fruit mummies left on trees or on the ground from last season. Remove galls on nearby cedar trees which are a source of apple rust diseases. Prune out fire blight cankers in existing apple trees and black knot swellings from plum trees while it is still cold.
Prune grapevines to allow good sunlight penetration and air movement for maximum fruit production. Remove any diseased, dead, or cankered vines. Also remove and destroy last year’s fruit mummies hanging on the vines and lying on the ground.
Berry growers should prune out dead and/or winter-injured blackberry and raspberry canes as well as diseased blueberry twigs and branches. Now is a good time to mulch strawberry beds between rows and under the canopy to keep fruits off the ground. Strawberry plants need adequate spacing to help reduce gray mold fruit rot. Hand removal of dead leaves and stems also reduces the presence of gray mold fungus.
If you use pesticides and fungicides, be sure to read and understand product labels for proper application procedures. Appropriate timing is important for bud and blossom development and in some cases, to protect pollinators. When ordering nursery stock for new fruit plantings, choose to plant disease resistant varieties.
For more information about insect and disease control for home fruit planting, including organic alternatives, contact the Oldham County Cooperative Extension Service at (502) 222-9453. Backyard fruit growing information is also available online from the UK Horticulture Department.
Sources: John Hartman, Extension Plant Pathologist; Michael Boice, Oldham County Extension Horticulture Assistant