Nectarines, red cherries, peaches, and apricots have started to appear in markets across California, which can only mean one thing: it’s officially stone fruit season!

California produces more than 80% of the nation’s stone fruit. 70% of America’s peaches are grown here, along with 95% of apricots, 95% of fresh plums, and a whopping 99% of nectarines. The state only produces 20% of the country’s sweet cherries, but that number still puts California in second place behind Washington State. With some counties in the Central Valley devoting as many as 38,000 acres to stone fruit production, it’s no wonder California is known as the stone fruit state.

As perishable as they are delicious, the varieties of stone fruit are subject to a number of diseases and pests. They require ample irrigation, too — roughly 36-40 inches per year — and vary greatly in their chilling requirements. Rising temperatures throughout the region have posed a number of risks for stone fruit, including an abbreviated period of winter chill (which can shorten the blooming period) and a potential decrease in fruit set. Experienced growers have the tools and know-how to adapt to these challenges, but if you’re a newcomer to the stone fruit field, here are some tips for a healthy harvest.

Provide Your Trees with Good Soil

It doesn’t matter if you’re an organic or conventional grower. The soil requirements for stone fruit are still the same. You want deep, well-trained soil that’s rich in humus. Deep soil allows your trees to build strong roots and rise up to their maximum height, and good drainage helps prevent problems like root rot. Also, remember that the best soil for growing food crops has a pH between 6 and 7, with 6.5 often cited as the ideal. If you’re looking to improve your soil, some techniques include adding lime to the soil, applying nitrogen fertilizer, adding compost, and increasing organic matter with crop rotation and cover crops.

Practice Good Pruning Techniques to Maximize Light Penetration into Your Trees

Pruning helps maintain healthy fruiting wood. Remove any branches that are diseased, broke, dead, or downward growing. Make your pruning cuts as close to the branch collar at the base of the limb as possible. Young trees should be pruned minimally. Once established, fruit trees can be pruned annually, ideally after the coldest weather is finished and before new growth begins.

Keep Your Pruners and Loppers Sharp

Buy a pair of bypass pruners and keep them sharp. A sharp pair of pruners will ensure a clean cut on your branches or stems. If you find yourself pruning a diseased tree, sanitize the blade after you’re finished cutting to make sure you don’t spread the issue to other trees. To prune larger branches, you’ll want a good pair of loppers, which will cleanly cut through 1.5 inches of wood.

Ladders Can Be Clunky, so Consider Long-Arm Pruners

If you’re looking to remain on the ground while making precise cuts at considerable height, consider a pair of long-arm pruners. These extend your reach and provide good leverage, without putting you in danger of falling. Long-arm pruners come in a variety of sizes, including heavy-duty variations that will allow you to cut through thicker pieces of wood without resorting to ladders or saws.

Remember: Pruning Saws Are Not Like Carpentry Saws

Hand saws can be used to prune thinner branches in one stroke, while minimizing stress to the tree limb. They allow growers to make razor-straight cuts. Using a hand saw on a fruit tree requires a specific sawing technique, however! Unlike carpentry saws, a hand saw works best with a pulling motion. Apply pressure, pull, and release, then repeat the motion as needed for additional branches.

Do you have any questions? Just stop by one of our supply stores, and we’ll be happy to outfit you with the right tools for your specific growing operation. You can also contact us here anytime!

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