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Skaggs: A little work can be fruitful
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University of Georgia horticulture publications: Find information on growing a variety of fruits, including how to deal with pests and diseases.

If you have fruit trees, you have probably experienced the disappointment of watching apples or peaches grow to almost ripe, only to be wiped out by an insect or disease.

At this point, many home gardeners consider spraying to control the dreaded pest. But care should have been taken earlier to prevent such problems.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is certainly the case in the home orchard. Once a pest has moved in, it can be hard to evict. It's best to try to prevent it from making your orchard its home. So, what can you do?

Prune out the pests. Fruits should be pruned now to remove excess wood, to shape the tree and to remove diseases and insects. For specifics on fruit pruning, call us at the Hall County Extension office for a brochure.

To remove pests, prune out scabby or rough-looking wood, old fruits in the tree and limbs with cracked, peeling or warty bark. Remove all dead wood. Remove or destroy all pruned material.

Pick up old fruits around trees and throw them away; these may be a fruit pest hideout. Also, keep weeds and grass killed around the tree; they may harbor insects.

Some pests may live on the main trunk and they cannot be pruned out. Scale insects are one such example - they attach to the trunk of the tree and suck the plant's sap.

Scales can make the stem look like it has white powder on it, and some scales look like small fish scales or turtle shells. All attach themselves permanently to the tree.

If you have scale insects on your trees, spray twice with a dormant oil to smother these insects hiding in cracks and crevices on the bark. A lime-sulfur spray can also be used to reduce fungal diseases left in the tree from last year. Use these sprays before the trees begin to bud out.

Soil testing is a practice that pays dividends all year long. After all, well-fertilized trees are healthy trees!

Collect soil in six to eight places in the area to be sampled. Take a slice of soil 6 inches deep, mix the soil very well in a clean bucket that has not had lime or fertilizer in it and bring about one pound of it to our office for analysis.

In about two weeks you will have a report that tells you how to lime and fertilize. Soil samples cost $8 each but can easily save this much money by preventing problems.

Weeds are also a very preventable problem. Keep a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around the tree. Mulch out to the edge of the drip line of the tree, if possible, and do not pile the mulch around the trunk of fruit trees; keep it pulled back slightly. Some pests can hide in the mulch and damage the trees.

Fruit trees are fun to grow, and you can lower your maintenance of them by following these recommendations. Plan now to enjoy juicy, pest-free fruit this year.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.