If you want productive apple and pear trees then winter is a key time in the gardening calendar – what you do now will be heavily reflected in the fruits you harvest later in the year. One topic that has come up recently is winter washing and in particular should you do it and if so when and whether that is before or after pruning. Estate and Orchard Gardeners rarely offer up their expertise on these kind of topics so I needed to come up with my own view.
When to prune and went to wash? I take the view that now (January) is the very best time to prune (unless a severe cold spell is imminent), the leaves are all done, fruit trees are fast asleep and you can see what is what. Then once that is done I will apply the winter wash (on a dry day) and as soon as possible after pruning and where appropriate fit grease bands*.
So should you winter wash and what actually is it?
As with all gardening lotions and potions etc., all you are doing is improving the odds in your favour by heading off future possible problems but… this is at the expense of time and materials. So, it is a bit of a judgement call, one that balances blossom, frosts, fruiting, on/off years etc.
Winter wash is, as I understand it, primarily intended to damage the material used to secure pest eggs to and laid in nooks and crannies of the bark, stems and bud joints etc. so the sooner you can get it on them, the sooner any of those eggs will be dislodged by cold weather and rain and so your fruit tree is that bit less susceptible to the kind of damage that those pests may inflict later in the year.
A lot of advice about winter wash seems to tell us it will “blast” away the eggs, debris, rubbish etc. which if true would mean you could just use the garden hose on the tree, and it would achieve the same result (if not better) and without using any chemicals.
Pest eggs will have been laid many weeks/months ago, so I am not convinced about them hiding in the areas where buds (that didn’t exist many weeks/months ago) are. My view is, you don’t need to spray the whole tree – I would concentrate on the areas where there are fissures in the bark and then the joints of trunks/branches/stems.
By pruning first and then “washing” you are reducing the amount of stuff that needs spraying, but also it makes it a lot easier to get the spray into the areas you need to. So wherever possible, I will use a winter wash – it only takes a few minutes to apply with a small pressure sprayer and it does make a difference.
As for the choice of lotions and potions – Bicarbonate of Soda like Vinegar seems, according to TikTok, to be the solution to pretty much all the problems of the planet, but whether it is the best choice in this case I have yet to be convinced. That doesn’t mean to say it doesn’t work I just haven’t seen anything concrete on that. If I were lucky enough to have an orchard to play with then I would experiment with a few different options and see what the results were for myself.
When it comes to Apple & Pear trees, I prune first and now (January) and then (ideally) apply a winter wash as soon as possible afterwards and because I am improving the odds in our favour and that will mean more apples & pears for my clients (and me I hope) later in the year.
* Grease Bands – I don’t have a problem with Codling Moths on Apples (yet) which is a very good reason for using Grease Bands but I have had so many problems with ants and have been using grease bands a lot more but my top tip is… do not bother using these with anything against a wall, the ants will find a route up the wall and along supports, leaves touching the wall etc. so for those plants regular checks are needed and some appropriate control if desired.