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Watering the Orchard in 2021

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I am always hoping for more, but CREC was grateful to receive 2.52” of rain August 20-28, and more than 0.8”, today, September 2nd. Before that, we’d had just 3.84” inches of rain since April 1st.

In the past at the Fruit Project, I’ve only watered in the fall or maybe a bit in-season when larger crops like Juneberries and Aronia were beginning to ripen. But this year was a different story. The drought began in 2019, and all the fruit crops were watered before freeze-up. After all the pruning and cleanup was done this spring, new header lines and drip tape was laid throughout the orchard. Watering started the first week of June and has continued all season.

Water tank in orchard
Photo Credit:
NDSU Carrington REC
Water tank in the CREC orchard

Each crop gets watered about every 10-14 days. The drip tape emitters are spaced at 8-inches and using the row length, I apply 1 gallon of water per foot of row, per tape, using only gravity feed from our 1,200-gallon tank. To decrease the time and hopefully make the water more accessible, I use two tapes on each side of the row for some of the bigger crops, such as apples, plums, juneberry, aronia and pears. I have to hope this water holds out under the mulch because there is only one water tank and one of me. So far, crops have been respectable, though many black currants shriveled before harvest.

Perennial plants grown for flowers or fruit are setting their buds for next year throughout the current growing season.  This is why it’s important to keep the plants watered all season.

Even with this recent rain, consider watering your own trees and shrubs to help them along. They are the most expensive part of your landscaping and difficult to replace. Use a sprinkler to get the water out under the drip line of the tree or shrub. This is the soil area at the outer edge of the plant’s branches and leaves and a bit further out, where most of the feeder roots are. There are not many roots right by the trunk, so running a hose there isn’t as effective as providing water at the drip line. Let the water spray for 1-2 hours depending how much area you’re covering and the rate of application.

Young haskaps with drip tape
Photo Credit:
NDSU Carrington REC
Young haskaps with drip tape

Decrease or stop watering perennials plants and trees from early September (right now; sorry this post got delayed) until the leaves fall off the deciduous trees, so that they get the idea to prepare for winter. This is called ‘hardening off’. After this time, if the ground is not frozen, you can water again to keep the tree and roots moist until spring. Most roots are in the top 6-12” of soil and this area should be moist, but not wet when the soil freezes. Keep checking; the subsoil is so dry that it will keep pulling water downward, drying out the root area. Consider getting a handheld moisture meter for $15-25 so that you can more easily tell what is happening under that mulch.

Best of luck. These last few years have been difficult ones for perennial plants.

Kathy Wiederholt
Kathy.Wiederholt@ndsu.edu
Fruit Project Manager