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Articles on Holistic Orcharding

Seasonal Checklist for the Holistic Orchard

by Michael Phillips

This task compendium doesn't tell you everything to do in your orchard as much as provide a starting place. The specifics of each orchard site and the fruit being grown have to be woven in accordingly. Writing down your orchard's schedule will deepen your understanding both of what needs to be done and what can be improved. The timing of avant-garde holistic techniques is included here to guide you in the healthiest ways I know to grow tree fruit.


Dormant Season

  • Check for deer incursions at least weekly; snowshoe around the base of tree trunks to pack down vole tunnels.
  • Order rootstock; collect scions for grafting.
  • Prune all bearing trees. You need to establish an open framework of scaffold branches that allows maximum penetration of sunlight and drying breezes.
  • Remove all mummified fruit (still on the trees) to reduce rot spore inoculum.
  • Complete routine maintenance on all orchard equipment.
  • Order organic orchard supplies for the coming season. Be sure to include seaweed extract to add to every spray tank throughout the growing season.


  • Chip prunings in orchard for the benefit of soil fungi. Any obviously-cankered wood (and thus a source of disease inoculum) should be removed from the site.
  • Finish any compost spreading not completed in late fall. Spread deciduous wood chip mulch in haphazard fashion.
  • Prune out old canes in berry plantings; fortify the soil bed annually with an organic fertilizer blend or compost; spread deciduous wood chips or leaves (bagged back in the fall) as bed mulch.
  • Plant new trees as early as possible.
  • Boron needs are met with a sprinkle of Borax every few years. Most other micronutrient shortcomings can be corrected by good compost habits and using seaweed in tank mixes when spraying.
  • Remove any spiral trunk guards used on young trees.
Mycorrhizal Planet: How Fungi and Plants Work Together by Michael Phillips -- click for book summary. Image by Anne Stokes, Mycorrhizal Planet: How Fungi and Plants Work Together

Week of Quarter-inch Green

  • 1st holistic spring spray (liquid fish, pure neem oil, effective microbes) at double rate aimed at ground, trunk, and branch structure. This is a catalyst spray to wake up beneficial fungi, establish arboreal colonization in bark crevices, and interrupt the development of foliage pests now in the egg stage. Stone fruit growers can initiate the holistic sprays as much as two weeks earlier than apple timing.
  • Apply an organic fertilizer blend to non-bearing trees in order to grow a strong framework of branches quickly.
  • Train branch crotch angles on young trees with limb spreaders.
  • Cultivate around non-bearing trees and replace "shade mulch" if available.
  • Check all trunks for borer damage missed in fall inspection.
An Intelligent Paradigm -- click for this Article on Organic Orcharding from the is a Holistic Orchard Network
more insights: An Intelligent Paradigm


  • 2nd holistic spring spray (liquid fish, pure neem oil, effective microbes) aimed at unfurling buds, trunk, and branch structure. A good amount of run-off should reach the ground as well. Direct a blast at any obvious leaf piles as not yet decomposed from the year before.
  • Spray fruit trees with Bt (add to holistic tank mix) if unfurling leaves reveal a significant presence of bud moth larvae.
  • Hang white sticky traps for European apple sawfly.
  • Primary scab season has begun. Relax. The holistic applications have the trees primed to deal with early ascospore release.


  • Cut down wild fruit trees spotted in bloom within a hundred yards of orchard to prevent pest migration to your trees. The exceptions here are those trap trees managed (i.e., pruned at this time) as an "alternative home" for insects put off by repellent strategies.
  • Become a honeybee steward and give three cheers for the wild pollinators.
  • Hang pheromone wing traps for monitoring moth presence (pheromones are species specific) and timing of first generation egg hatch.
  • Lightly cultivate edges of dwarf tree rows in preparation for a summer cover crop.
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Petal Fall

  • 3rd holistic spring spray (liquid fish, pure neem oil, effective microbes) aimed at leaf canopy and developing fruitlets. Make this application early if king blossom pollination was good as oils may assist in smothering excess flowers. Including a light rate of Surround® in this mix will help establish a "clay matrix" for bonding additional kaolin clay layers.
  • Initiate full coverage of the refined kaolin clay. Two or three applications are necessary from the get go to build up barrier protection from the imminent curculio invasion and to be helpful in suppressing moth oviposition (laying eggs). Repeat every 5 to 7 days for next 2 to 3 weeks, taking into account the wash off factor due to a heavy rain.
  • Gather EAS sticky traps. If damage to fruitlets seems apparent and widespread, include spinosad in the first full-rate clay spray to check further EAS damage to additional fruitlets.
  • Primary scab season is in full force now. Some growers may deem a micronized sulfur application on disease-prone varieties necessary if spore maturity has built up and definite rain is predicted. Sulfur can be tank mixed with subsequent Surround® sprays. Take note: Mineral fungicides will compromise arboreal colonization.
  • Prune out shoots and break off blossom spurs if fire blight strikes become apparent. Good arboreal colonization is the best offense against fire blight.
  • Begin mowing of green understory (preferably with a sickle bar and/or scythe) and pile resulting mulch thickly under trees around the dripline.

More from Michael:

The Holistic Orchard: Growing Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way -- click for book summary
The Holistic Orchard: Growing Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way by Michael Phillips

DVD: Holistic Orcharding with Michael Phillips
Michael's Holistic Orcharding DVD guides you through the orchard year.

Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist by Michael Phillips -- click for book summary
Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist by Michael Phillips

First Cover

  • 4th holistic spring spray (liquid fish, pure neem oil, effective microbes) aimed at leaf canopy and developing fruitlets. The fish will help meristem development for return bloom, neem stimulates immune function and hinders moths, microbes are biological reinforcement for the summer ahead. Add horsetail and nettle teas as well to this brew.
  • Full clay coverage continues on bearing trees for growers faced with curculio.
  • Place drop clothes under trap trees to contain infested "June drops" thus preventing larvae from getting to soil to pupate. Alternatively, give those chickens a particularly rousing pep talk.
  • Hand thin crop, beginning with heaviest-setting varieties. Leave one fruit per cluster, being even more aggressive on varieties that tend to bear biennially otherwise. Timely thinning must be completed within 40 days of petal fall. Place infested fruitlets in buckets for disposal via the chicken coop or as road splatter.
  • Primary scab season usually ends with a daytime rain around this time. A second micronized sulfur application may be deemed necessary on susceptible varieties, especially if more than a week has passed since the previous rain.
  • Spray for first generation codling moth according to degree day tracking if egg laying suppression from the clay has been gauged insufficient the previous season. Options include Bt, spinosad, and granulosis virus; any of which can be tank mixed with fish oil as a UV inhibitor and molasses as a feeding attractant. Growers may rely on parasite control and cardboard banding if high moth pressure has been abated previously.
  • Pinch off shoots on young trees to correct crow foot situations from heading cuts.
  • Continue "biological mowing" with a scythe or sickle bar mower.
  • Hang bird netting in place over cherries and blueberries.

Those Lazy, Crazy, Hazy Days of Summer

  • Hang out sticky traps for apple maggot fly by mid-June. Target early varieties and/or the orchard perimeter. Renew tangletrap coating every 4 to 6 weeks if using a sticky variation of this strategy. Traps should be moved to mid-season varieties in late July.
  • Apply thick kaolin slurry by brush for borer protection in late June and late July. Alternatively, botanical trunk sprays (at a 1% neem oil concentration) can be directed to saturate lower bark tissues and the soil at the immediate base of each tree.
  • Summer prune watersprouts on especially vigorous apple trees in late July/ early August to improve fruit color.
  • Spray for summer moth control according to the timing of the species attacking your fruit. A rotation of spinosad and Bt just as eggs hatch is typical. Pure neem oil may well get this job done in its own right if holistic spray options for disease are being continued in the summer months.
  • Holistic summer sprays include pure neem oil and nettle tea. Horsetail tea should be included the first two rounds as well to build up the silica defense against summer diseases. These are ideally applied every 10–14 days up till harvest. In addition, bicarbonates may help with sooty blotch and flyspeck on light-colored apples where humidity tends to be especially high.
  • Spray foliar calcium (at biweekly intervals) beginning when the fruit reaches the size of a nickel if bitter pit has been a problem on certain varieties. Fermented comfrey tea is a homegrown source for bioavailable calcium and can be included in the holistic summer sprays.
  • Mow pathways for better harvest access and enjoying your orchard. A light scything under heavily-laden trees will help in keeping early drops picked up.
  • Visit your trunks: handweed that peastone circle, check for borer, adjust mesh vole guards, rub loose bark off, place a repellent mudpack over active sapsucker holes.
  • Sow an oat (or legume mix) cover crop along the edges of dwarf tree rows.
  • Take ongoing soil tests every few years to check on nutrient status and thus the need to obtain specific soil amendments for fall application.
  • Place intact bales of mulch hay around orchard environs. The goal here is nesting sites for field mice (which are not voles) so that abandoned nests the next spring become bumble bee habitat.
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  • Prune stone fruit post-harvest in dry zones to lessen winter establishment of bacterial canker.
  • Check for borer egg slits at soil line of trunk and smush these in along the edges with the tip of hand pruners.
  • Gather AMF traps and clean; remove all other monitoring traps.
  • Gather all drops biweekly to feed to the cow or other livestock. A hot compost pile (turned often, for garden use) will work to destroy larvae in infested fruitlets whereas a laissez faire pile will not.
  • Applying soil amendments at this time works best as the soil remains relatively warm and feeder roots are in uptake mode.
  • Oh yeah . . . pick an amazingly high percentage of beautiful fruit! is a Holistic Orchard Network -- click for more Articles on Organic Orcharding more articles on:
Organic Orcharding

Winter Preparation

  • Spread lime (if light applications of "renewal lime" were indicated earlier on a soil test) on fallen leaves, mow aggressively, then spread well-aged compost.
  • A holistic fall spray (liquid fish, pure neem oil, effective microbes and/or compost tea) made when 50% of the leaves have fallen off the tree is absolutely recommended. Target the ground, trunk, and branch structure. This is important for leaf decomposition as well as competitive colonization from bacterial and fungal disease within bark crevices. The nitrogen in fish should also help alternative bearing trees shore up bark nitrogen reserves for spring bud growth.
  • Remove limb spreaders.
  • Install tree guards on young trees and fork thick "ring mulch" further back to deter nearby nesting. Check that mesh protection from voles remains in place on all bearing trees with tender bark. Speak kindly to resident foxes and coyotes if vole numbers seem especially high.
  • Renew whitewash on smooth trunks to prevent snowline freeze injury. Growers using "borer slurry" in midsummer may find enough whitening still in place.
  • Hang peanut butter strips on electric fence for baiting "uneducated" deer tongues.
  • Give thanks for another blessed year on this good earth.

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bar stripe is a Holistic Orchard Network: Together we can Grow Organic Apples as part of the local foods movement. btm

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