Dormant Pruning and Pulling Micro Weeds - Linda Gilkeson

by: EJ on 03/19/2015
Posted in: Gardening

Linda Gilkeson, author of Backyard Bounty: The Complete Guide to Year-Round Organic Gardening in the Pacific Northwest, joins us again today.  This post is from her January newsletter but I thought the tips were timed correctly  for both the east coast and the west coast.  We can pull weeds and you can finish the dormant pruning! 


Are you itching to get out there and get something done in the garden? There are two tasks best done at this time of year: pruning dormant fruit and pulling the "micro-weeds" already sprouting up.

Pruning Dormant Fruit

European canker sm fmt

European canker (photo credit: Linda Gilkeson)

It is time to start dormant pruning on fruit trees and bushes, grapes and kiwifruit. If you have big trees and lots to do, you might already have been at it. In any case, aim to have it done by the end of February if possible. It is best to prune on a dry day to avoid spreading branch and trunk diseases, such as bacterial canker on cherry; European canker in apples and pears; black knot on plums, cherries and peaches.For photos of all three, see my website.

Do sanitize your pruning shears and saws between trees to avoid spreading disease, even if the branches don't look diseased. If you know you are pruning out diseased branches, sanitize after every cut. Soak tools in a solution of 4 parts water to 1 part hydrogen peroxide ('eco-bleach') or chlorine bleach. If you keep your tools well-oiled and dry when not in use, the frequent sanitizing won't rust them.

Dormant Sprays--Do You Really Need Them?

pear blister mite sm fmt

Pear blister mite (photo credit: Linda Gilkeson)

This is the question that always arises this time of year. I don't spray dormant oil or lime sulphur routinely because they also kill overwintering beneficial mites and insects that keep pests in check. If a tree had a problem in the previous growing season that is controllable with dormant sprays, then you might want to spray that one tree. That said, it has been years since I have used dormant oil on anything other than citrus (to control soft brown scale). About every 6 years or so, one of my pear trees accumulates enough pear leaf blister mites to justify a lime sulphur spray for that one tree. What you need to know is that dormant sprays don't work on some of the things people hope to control, such as tent caterpillar eggs or apple scab. Before you spray, check my message last year for alist of what dormant oil and lime sulphur work on and when to spray. Gardening 2014 - January 24.pdf

As for timing, even though the recommended practice is to mix lime sulphur and dormant oil in one mid-winter spray, this isn't the best use of lime sulphur. It is most effective as leaves are dropping in the fall and again just before buds break in the spring. So combining the 2 pesticides usually means one isn't doing anything much. Photos of the pests and diseases mentioned are in the image bank on my web site--which I will mention here has had a lot of new photos added this month. If you haven't seen the photo collection recently,see what's there to help you ID problems.

Knock Down the Mummies

If you have plum, cherry or peach trees, check the branches for mummified fruit left from last year's crop. If some of the fruit became black, shrivelled masses and stayed on branches after the leaves fell, it means they were infected with brown rot fungus. The fungus overwinters in those mummified fruit on the tree. Spores will develop on the mummies in the spring and will be carried by rain to infect fruit budsall over the tree. The best way to break that cycle is simply to take a long stick and knock every mummy out of the tree, right now. Pick them all up and burn, bury deeply or put them in the garbage. It is a very effective sanitation step--no spraying needed!

Removing Weeds While They are Still 'Micro'Weeds

Weeds with the ability to germinate and grow in the winter have a head start on everything else in the garden, especially because most of us are not thinking about weeding at this time of year. But it will never be easier than it is right now to control them, when the weeds are tiny and the soil is soggy. A particularly invasive little winter annual is Hairy Bittercress (neither hairy nor bitter, oddly; in fact it is a tasty mustard, good in salads).


Hairy Bitter Cress

This little plant is also called smartweed, snapweed and a host of other(mostly nasty) names. It grows in a small bright green rosette, sending up tiny white flowers followed by seed pods from February onward; the pods open with an exploding action that snaps seeds all over the place. They can grow in even the smallest bit of bare soil or crevices in pathways, rockery, in gravel driveways, etc. Because theseeds fly quite a ways, be sure to look for it, and other weeds too, outside of your garden area. I findthey are a particular nuisance under fences and in rock walls, where I don't have thick leaf mulchescontrolling weeds as I do on the vegetable beds.

Visit my web site  to see hundreds of colour photos of pests and diseases to help you identify problems (many more photos were added this month). All of my previous gardening messages are archived on my Gardening Tips page.

My teaching and talking schedule for 2015 is fully booked, so check my schedule link on my web site for talks, workshops and gardening classes in your area. 


Learn more about garden pests and how to control them in Linda' wonderful book, Backyard Bounty.  On sale now for 35% off!

Just enter the coupon code GARDEN at the check out and click the redeem button.


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