UT Extension News: Sanitizing Your Orchard

October 12, 2021

By Chris Hicks, County Director – UT Extension Smith County

We’ve heard a lot about sanitation over the last year, with some going as far as posting instructions on how to wash your hands in public restrooms. I for one am all for cleanliness and being sanitary and would like to extend that to the home orchard. 

When we talk about sanitation in an orchard, we are referring to the cultural practice of removing plant material that can harbor diseases and pests. If you want to have fewer diseases next year and rely less on pesticides, sanitation is a must. The UT Home Fruit & Vegetable Garden calendar points out some common diseases that can be at least partially managed through good sanitation including:

• Scab in apple – One of the most common fungal diseases in humid climates, the fungus overwinters in leaves on the ground. Fall leaf removal or mowing as well as N fertilizer application (to speed leaf breakdown) can reduce spore production next year. Plus, early season sprays and cultivar resistance are helpful in reducing scab issues. 

• Mummy berry in blueberry – This fungal pathogen can infect blueberry flowers and then destroy fruit as they shrivel and drop from the plant. The overwintering structures release spores the next year to infect new blooms and fruit. So, removal of infected fruit is crucial to control infection. 

• Fireblight in apples and pears – This very damaging bacterial disease overwinters in cankers on stems, so removal of these areas during the winter is essential to lower the risk of spread and infection the next spring. Cultivar resistance is also crucial to manage fireblight. 

• Black rot in grapes – Fungus overwinters on tendrils, canes, and leaves and berries. These berries are one of the main sources of spores the next year to infect young leaves. Sanitation as well as sprays are often needed for control.

While the harvest season may be over, disease management in the orchard doesn’t have an off-season. Taking some time now to clean up orchard residue will give you a head start on preventing diseases next year. For more information on growing fruits in Tennessee, contact the University of Tennessee Extension office at 615-735-2900, or find us online at smith.tennessee.edu.