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What can you do to prepare for rain and protect your fruit?
Storms and big dumps of rain are not uncommon in spring. The rain is often welcome, but as experienced fruit growers know, it can also cause lots of problems and headaches.
The big concerns that can damage your fruit in spring are:
- fungal diseases like brown rot and black spot;
- fruit cracking on the tree from the rain;
- fruit being blown off by gale-force winds;
- the potential for hail;
- fruit being generally battered by the weather, or becoming dirty.
Knowing when to prepare for rain
The first thing is to keep a keen eye on the weather forecast. This is especially important during spring and summer when the trees are flowering or have fruit on them.
It’s also a good idea to check out the long-range forecast because many of the preventive measures are hard to do in a hurry. Of course, it’s always possible to be surprised by a flash storm, but it’s better to be aware of whether it’s generally likely to be a rainy or stormy season in advance.
In Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology has short and long-term forecasts for every district. You can also download their app to your phone. Check the rain radar for a good visual representation of what’s heading your way.
It can be pretty scary though.
We keep a close eye on the weather, particularly in spring, because we’ve been wiped out more times than we care to remember. Here’s one particularly big storm we saw heading our way. The yellow is heavy rain and the orange and red are REALLY heavy rain.
On this occasion, we were indeed hit by massive amounts of water – though we weren’t the worst hit in this event, as some parts of the state had up to 190 mm in the day!
3 steps to protect your fruit
Your local weather bureau will often issue guidelines for how to protect your property (like houses, sheds, and cars) in extreme weather events.
When it comes to more ‘expendable’ items like fruit trees, there’s not usually any specific advice about protecting your precious produce. Some bureaus may offer services such as brown rot warnings for stone fruit growers, which are useful.
We’ve been through extreme weather more times than we count, so we’ve had considerable practice with this one! Here’s how we prepare:
- Pick any fruit that’s ripe enough. This may involve picking some fruit that is probably a little greener than you’d normally pick. If it will ripen off the tree, it’s better picked and ripened safely in the fridge rather than being damaged on the tree in a storm.
- If you have enough time and warning, put an organic sulphur spray on your apple, pear, and stone fruit trees. This may help to prevent outbreaks of fungal diseases like Brown rot and Black spot.
- If your trees are netted, make sure the net is well secured. If you have time (and available nets), try to get as many trees netted as possible. It might seem like meagre protection, but in fact, nets can be very helpful in protecting against the risk of hail, and can also minimise damage to fruit by preventing the trees from blowing about too much in the wind.
Another trick you can consider is watering the trees before the rain if you have enough warning. This seems counter-intuitive, but in fact, it can help prevent splitting. This is because of the little-known fact that variations in water availability is one of the main causes of fruit splitting.
Investing in hail covers is a more capital-intensive solution, but it can definitely pay off for commercial growers who live in hail-prone areas.
Remember that wind is your friend if you have fruit trees. Wind can help trees dry quickly after rain and therefore minimise the risk of fungal outbreaks.
When you’re planning your orchard and thinking about where to put new fruit trees, aim to plant them in moderately windy places.
We’ve even heard of large commercial orchards hiring helicopters to help dry cherry trees after storms, but that’s probably a bit out of most people’s league!
How much water do your fruit trees need? Follow our simple 5-step plan to set up a watering system that’s both efficient and effective.
Feeling overwhelmed with looking after your fruit trees in spring? We break down the main jobs you should be doing.
Windy conditions are often blamed for fruit losses but it’s not all bad news, and wind can be the fruit grower’s friend.