Our Non-Organic Orchard, For Now…

Driveway before the fruit trees were added in the lawn around the perimeter.

For my birthday in 2013, my husband bought me an orchard. Two peach trees, two pear trees, and three cherry trees to be exact. We planted them in our front yard surrounding our circle driveway. Because we planted them in hot, hot July (having bought all the trees on summer discount at a local nursery), they went through some transplant shock and one of the peach trees lost most of its leaves by mid-August. We thought it was toast for sure, but left it in the ground anyway on the off-chance that it survived the winter.

Last spring, all the trees came back rejuvenated—even the sickly peach. We even added another peach—a white fleshed full-size variety to compliment our two donut peach trees. The peach and cherry trees flowered, but the peach were the only ones to set fruit. But while spring seemed to revive the orchard, disease soon struck all but one pear tree.

The peach trees developed peach leaf curl, followed by peach scab on the fruits.

Peach leaf curl blisters. Leaves will later yellow, shrivel, and fall off the tree.

Peach leaf curl is a fungal disease that causes the leaves to blister, curl, yellow, and fall off the tree. The spores then live in the soil around the tree and the disease continues its vicious cycle, especially if any contaminated leaf litter is left on the ground.

The scab creates black spots all over the fruit skins. We at the peaches, but I removed the skins first, a big hassle. And luckily, the leaves usually grow back, as ours did, and the trees put on a good bit of growth over the 2014 season.

Our cherry trees got cherry leaf spot, another common fungal infection, causing the leafs to develop brownish black spots, yellow, and fall off. Our sour cherry took the brunt of the attack, but it and our two sweet cherries were almost defoliated by September, first from the spot and second from the Japanese beetles.

And finally, one of the pears got an oozing canker on its trunk. I could not diagnose it exactly, but it didn’t seem to enlarge and the tree looked healthy otherwise. Hopefully the bark will regenerate this coming spring.

Sour cherry infected with cherry leaf spot.

Because of all these infections, we decided to spray—our local arborist suggested fungicide and dormant oil sprays. Since there were no fruits at the time, we thought it best to protect the trees rather than maintain our usual organic standards. I plan to continue spraying this year to reduce the amount of fungal spores around the trees, and hopefully work back toward organic methods in 2016.

Unfortunately, fruit trees are high maintenance, and I didn’t do my homework before purchasing the orchard. Just picking off the nursery shelves gave us recognizable varieties like Bing cherries and Bartlett pears but this common stock is also highly susceptible to disease. When placing my order to expand our orchard this year—adding grapes, apples, mulberry, and pawpaw—I found disease and pest-resistant varieties, which will hopefully thrive without the need for any sprays. Stay tuned for my list of hardy and resilient fruit varieties in a later post.

Cherry tree at petal fall.

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