Winter Prep: Young Fruit Trees

It's snow season again, signaling the beginning of winter rest. The snow is falling just before winter holidays, and I am grateful to be able to relax and celebrate, since I no longer need to tend to my trees or garden.

Or do I…

Actually, I haven't yet put up my tree guards. And I thought, this is a good time to remind you all about them, so that voles aren't nibbling on the bark of your young fruit trees over the winter! As the snow piles up, the voles make tunnels through the snow (rather than along the ground) searching for young trees and shrubs. They then eat the inner bark as a tasty winter snack.

Although many trees and shrubs can bounce back from this kind of treatment, fruit trees cannot (or not as well), in part because bark damage sets them up for disease, and in part because, if they do bounce back, it might be by sprouting again from below the graft line. This won't be helpful to you, since it will give you a totally different variety of tree.

We suggest the Fruit Tree Guard found at Hadley Garden Center: a white roll of plastic that's easy to get around low limbs. Make sure it goes all the way to (or into) the ground and stretches up to above the expected snow line. Avoid that moment in the spring when you realize it was just a few inches too short!

We also recommend checking-in on your trees over the winter. Anything nibbling? And once the spring comes, take those tree guards off! It is vital they are not left on after winter, as they will trap moisture and become a breading ground of diseases and pests.

If you would like something that you can leave on all year, try a circle of hardware cloth attached to a stake. Here's a great video showing how.

One thing I have done (phew!) is insulate my fruit trees' roots with coarsely-ground woodchips. This protects the roots from extremely cold temperatures, and will keep the trees from waking up too early in the spring (when they could flower and then lose their flowers to following frosts). If you don't have access to woodchips, you can use straw as an insulator. For young trees, we do not recommend leaves - voles love living under leaves! Just make sure the straw wasn't treated with roundup or another herbicide before using.

Local Native Plants

Folks often ask us, where do you get your plants? Well, some we grow here at our homestead. Those are the ones we are able to offer at the cheapest price, and we hope to keep growing that capacity. Our eventual goal is to share, rather than purchase, all of our plants.

Meanwhile, we also shop locally. We shop anywhere the nursery can guarantee us that the plants are grown without the use of herbicides, especially neonicitinoids. Neonicitinoids are just what they sound like - a "new nicotine" chemical that confuses and kills insects, including native bees, honey bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. And it can be found in any of the following insecticide ingredients: 

  • Acetamiprid
  • Clothianidin
  • Dinotefuran
  • Imidacloprid
  • Nitenpyram
  • Thiocloprid
  • Thiamethoxam


Neonicitinoid-free Nurseries

- Nasami Farm in Whately, Kohl Gardens in Wendell, Wing and a Prayer Nursery in Cummington


Other Excellent Local Nurseries (Not all of the plants sold at these nurseries are neonicitinoid-free, so please ask!)

- Hadley Garden Center, Greenfield Farmers' Co-op in Greenfield, Amherst Nurseries. The Amherst Nurseries Grow Bag Production System is awesome! It is a great place for larger trees and shrubs.


Vibrant Healthy Soil

We named our business "Broadfork Permaculture" because we wanted to emphasize our work with the soil first. We do a lot to increase the health of the growing medium: incorporating local materials, setting up an easy and aerobic composting system, adding organic amendments, and, when needed, bringing in healthy ready-made compost to add to the soil.  

So where do we bring this soil in from? There are two high-quality local providers: Bear Path Compost in Whately, and Martin's Farm in Greenfield. Both offer friendly, helpful service and an excellent product.