Orchard year planner

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Just as the wildlife in your orchard changes from season to season, so do the management requirements. Seasonality is important to so many aspects of orchard management, and sometimes knowing when to do which tasks can be confusing. With the best will in the world we always forget some things. This guide aims to roughly plan your orcharding year, including everything when to graft, when to cut the sword and when to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife.

Orchard year planner

 

Click here to download an A4 Orchard Year Planner

The drop-down tabs below break tasks down a month by month guide, and you can also see this information on visual charts of orchard task planning and seasonal orchard wildlife.

January orchard tasks

Here is a list of all the orchard tasks you can do in January.

+ January

Tasks:

  • Plant bare-rooted trees. Fruit trees should be planted when they are dormant (when they have no leaves and they are not actively growing). The young, growing roots of active trees would be damaged if you planted them out at this stage. Ideally plant trees out on a frost free day when the soil is not waterlogged. Click here for a guide to planting fruit trees.
  • Check any remaining stored fruit and continue to use any remaining. Find out more about storing your orchard fruit.
  • Winter prune your apple and pear trees. Winter pruning is a term used to cover a number of different types of pruning. As a rule of thumb, if the material you wish to prune is older than 1 year, it should be done in the winter. This includes formative pruning, restorative pruning and any structural pruning. Ideally prune when the weather is frost free and dry. Click here for guides on fruit tree pruning.
  • Cut scion-wood for any trees you wish to graft. These scions need to be cut whilst dormant. Click here for a guide to collecting scions . These need to be kept dormant so if you are not using them straight away, wrap them in a plastic bag with damp tissue paper and keep them in the fridge.
  • Young trees should be formatively pruned to create a good tree shape. It is much better to shape the tree well whilst it is young than try to reshape it when it’s more mature. Formative pruning allows you to decide on the shape, size and positioning of the main limbs and branches. find out more about formative pruning, or specific guides to creating open centred or central leader shaped fruit trees.

Celebrate:

  • Wassail on old 12th night (17th Jan). Wassail celebrations are traditional gatherings where the good health of orchard trees is toasted. Traditions vary around the country but it generally involves celebrating with songs and cider. Offerings of cider soaked toast are often left in trees, pans are banged, drums are beaten and sometimes shotguns are fired to scare away evil spirits.

Wildlife:

February orchard tasks

Here is a list of all the orchard tasks you can do in February.

+ February

Tasks:

Wildlife:

  • Hazel catkins start opening out and you should start seeing other early signs of spring like snowdrops.
  • Mistle and song thrushes sing to declare their territories.

March orchard tasks

Here is a list of all the orchard tasks you can do in March.

+ March

Tasks:

  • Graft up new trees. As the sap rises in your trees, now is a good time to be grafting. Grafting new trees by bench grafting methods such as the whip and tongue graft can be done at any time over the dormant season. However as long as you have dormant scion-wood it is great to graft in the early spring. This way there is less opportunity for the graft to get damaged by frost or dehydration before the sap rises and heals the graft.
  • Formative prune plums, cherries, apricots, peaches and nectarines.
  • If mulching young trees, or those that have had a hard winter prune, apply compost or manure to the soil at the base of your tree.
  • Finish pruning your apple and pear trees.
  • Finish planting bare-rooted trees.

Wildlife:

  • Daffodils and crocuses start coming into full bloom.
  • March is one of the best times to see ‘mad March hares’ leaping in the air, chasing and ‘boxing’ each other.
  • Blackthorn will be in flower in the hedgerows across the countryside.
  • Bumblebees and ladybirds start to emerge on warmer days.

April orchard tasks

Here is a list of all the orchard tasks you can do in April.

+ April

Tasks:

  • Remove blossom from any new young trees (3 years or less). Although it maybe tempting to get the first fruit from your trees, the energy that it takes the tree to grow these fruit would be better placed going towards tree growth. Any very young branches that produce fruit are also likely to droop and break, so it’s worth preventing them from fruiting until they are a little older.
  • Prune established apricots, peaches and nectarines.

Celebrate:

  • Early fruit tree blossom will start to open

Wildlife:

  • Swallows return from winter migration
  • First broods of birds such as blue tits and blackbirds will be hatching.
  • Insects such as bees, tortoise shell, peacock, orange tip and speckled wood butterflies can be seen flying between flowers or basking in the sun.
  • Slow worms come out of hibernation. At this time they need to bask for extended periods to get their body temperature up to the level where they can function fully.

May orchard tasks

Here is a list of all the orchard tasks you can do in May.

+ May

Tasks:

  • Continue pruning any established apricots, peaches and nectarines.
  • Check stakes and loosen ties where needed. Stakes need to be firm enough in the ground that they offer protection to the young tree in high winds. Tree ties should be checked to make sure they are not cutting into the bark. Loosen any that look too tight or that are rubbing, and remove any that are no longer needed by the tree.
  • Nick or notch apples and pears where needed to control the size or vigour of your tree.
  • Control grass and plant growth under small and young trees. Young trees are faster to establish if they don’t have the competition of grass and other weeds. When these trees have established this is no longer needed.
  • Framework grafting. If you want to change the variety of an established tree, or just add another variety onto a tree you can do this by framework grafting. You will need dormant scion material to do this.

Celebrate:

  • Mayday welcomes in summer.
  • Fruit tree blossom is in full bloom

Wildlife:

  • Dawn chorus is in full swing.
  • Cow parsley red campion and greater stitchwort are now profuse in hedgerows.

June orchard tasks

Here is a list of all the orchard tasks you can do in June.

+ June

Tasks:

  • Prune established  cherries, apricots peaches or nectarines.
  • If the summer is particularly dry, water any young trees or struggling older ones.
  • After the June drop, thin remaining fruits where required. Thinning fruits mean you get fewer but larger and better quality fruit. For a guide to fruit thinning click here.
  • Prop any branches that will have a heavy crop. Even if you thin the fruit, your tree can still have a heavy crop, so it is worth  propping up any branches that could be vulnerable to damage under a heavy crop.
  • Trunk banding with corrugated cardboard to provide a suitable pupating site for coddling moth larvae. This can be removed before coddling moth adults emerge.

Wildlife:

  • Wildflowers in the orchard grassland will be at peak bloom from June. If your orchard is grazed, you might find that the flowers are nibbled off before they have a chance to set seed. If possible, it is good rope off an area until the flowers have set seed. Click here to learn more about orchard floor management.
  • Elderflowers will be blooming in the hedgerows.

July orchard tasks

Here is a list of all the orchard tasks you can do in July.

+ July

Tasks:

  •  Prune established plum trees. Plum trees differ from other fruit trees, and should only be pruned when in leaf, which reduces the chances of infection by silver leaf disease.
  • If it has been dry you might need to water your trees, especially the youngest ones.
  • If your orchard is not grazed, cut the grass from late July and leaving cuttings to dry before raking. This means that any flowers that have gone over will have a better chance of dispersing their seeds. For more information on orchard floor management click here.
  • Summer prune apple and pear trees. Only young year growth is cut in summer, so it isn’t always needed for larger older trees unless they have been recently winter pruned ans so have lots of vigorous water-shoot growth. Summer pruning should be done at the end of July/beginning of August, which gives the tree enough time to heal the wounds before winter but not re-grow any shoots from the cuts. Click here to find out more about summer pruning.

Wildlife:

  • Keep an eye out for the rare noble chafer beetle in your orchard. It is only in the adult form for 4-6 weeks and can be seen foraging for nectar a range of umbellifers (plants with clusters of tiny flowers) on sunny days. For more information about the noble chafer click here.

August orchard tasks

Here is a list of all the orchard tasks you can do in August.

+ August

Tasks:

  • If your orchard is not grazed, cut the grass from late July and leaving cuttings to dry before raking. This means that any flowers that have gone over will have a better chance of dispersing their seeds. For more information on orchard floor management click here.
  • Harvest ripe plums.
  • Bud graft new trees. You can bud graft to the root-stocks of any failed bench grafts from earlier in the year, or to new rootstock. Unlike whip and tongue grafting you don’t need dormant scion wood to bud graft, but instead you use the buds from the leaf axils of year-wood, which means you can collect it the same day you bud graft. For a full guide to bud grafting click here.

Wildlife:

  • Hedgerow fruits such as elderberry, blackberry, hawthorn, rosehips, and sloes start to ripen.
  • Keep an eye out for the rare noble chafer beetle in your orchard. It is only in the adult form for 4-6 weeks and can be seen foraging for nectar a range of umbellifers (plants with clusters of tiny flowers) on sunny days. For more information about the noble chafer click here.

September orchard tasks

Here is a list of all the orchard tasks you can do in September.

+ September

Tasks:

  •  Late cut the areas of grass you have left in previous cuts. Leave it to dry before raking it off. This means that any flowers that have gone over will have a better chance of dispersing their seeds. For more information on orchard floor management click here.
  • Prune plum trees if necessary
  • Pick early apples. Early eating apples don’t tend to be very good storers so make the most of them while they are fresh. Find out more about storing your orchard fruit.
  • Harvest pears in late September.

Wildlife:

  • Butterflies and other insects feed on windfall fruit, which in turn feed insectivorous birds and bats which will be fattening up before winter.
  • Migrating swallows head south for the winter.

October orchard tasks

Here is a list of all the orchard tasks you can do in October.

+ October

Tasks:

  • Leave windfalls that you won’t eat in the orchard for wildlife to eat over the winter months.
  • Start pressing fruit for juice or cider. You can either press fruit as soon as you have harvested it or once they have been stored for a bit and the flavours have changed.
  • Put fruit in storage. As a general rule of thumb, late ripening apples tend to be better at storing. By storing fruit you can keep a fresh supply for months to come. The flavours of some varieties often change over time, with some apparently tasting their best only after a month or two of storage. Find out more about storing your orchard fruit.

Celebrate:

  • Celebrate apple day on October 21st or the nearest weekend. There are plenty of apple day festival events around the country where you will be able to get your fruit trees identified, taste the fruit from different local varieties, listen to talks and buy orchard produce. To find an apple day near you, check the Orchard Network events listings.

Wildlife:

  • Frogs and toads hibernate for the winter in hedgerows, piles of leaves and compost heaps.
  • Mistletoe fruits ripen, providing winter food for birds such as mistlethrush.

November orchard tasks

Here is a list of all the orchard tasks you can do in November.

+ November

Tasks:

  • Make juice and/or cider with remaining harvested apples.
  • Plant new  fruit trees between now and February. Bare rooted trees need to be planted when they are dormant, as the growing root hairs are to fine and delicate to disturb when the tree is active. Find out more about planting fruit trees.
  • Between November and Feruary/March when the sap is dormant is the time to do your winter tree pruning. Some people find that later pruning is better as if the wounds are made shortly before the sap rises you get a rapid restorative growth. But if you have a large number of trees it is absolutely fine to start as soon as your trees are dormant. Winter pruning of apple and pear trees is done with established trees, maintaining the shape and growth of the tree, cutting out overcrowded or diseased growth and will increase the growth vigour of the tree in the following year. Find out more about winter pruning and restorative pruning.

Wildlife:

  • The arrival of redwings and fieldfares, gorging on windfall fruit.
  • Large flocks of starlings can be seen in ‘murmurations’ in the sky.

December orchard tasks

Here is a list of all the orchard tasks you can do in December.

+ December

Tasks:

Wildlife:

It might seem like December is a quiet month for wildlife in your orchard, but creatures will continue to feast on the windfall fruits and many will be hiding away from the elements in all the natural nesting and overwintering sites that traditional orchards have in rich supply. A good cold winter can actually be very good for orchards as it can reduce the revelance of some orchard pests and diseases. Find out more about fruit tree health, pests and diseases.

Seasonal orchard wildlife

This is just a tiny subset of all the wildlife to look out for in your orchard. Traditional orchards are such a rich habitat that in one study, 1,868 species were recorded living in just 3 orchards in Worcestershire (Smart & Winnall, 2006). The individual species you will find as well as the relative timings may vary from this guide from year to year and depending on the location of your orchard.

Wildlife calendar

Click here to Orchard Wildlife Planner.

 

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