A few days ago we had such lovely weather that I took some time to prune my rose garden and home orchard. Although I did not see much in the form of growth in the orchard I did see allot of activity with the roses. Because of the growth in the rose garden, I decided to do my dormant oil spraying after everything was completely pruned. I was never a huge fan of dormant spraying as it seemed an extra step in an already over burdened schedule. However, after several years of growth, my orchard was not producing the way I had envisioned it, especially with the stone fruit varieties and the apples and pears. Two years ago (2008) I had made the decision to dormant spray in the fall and spring. Having been in this industry for almost 3 decades, I was a little sad that I felt I finally folded and started this annual procedure, but as I said, the fruit trees were just not preforming well. There was plenty of aphids and shot whole virus each year and I really am loath to use synthetics on my fruit and vegetable plants.
Now when I do something, I try to see the big picture. To tell people, "This does not work" without some form of empirical evidence seems foolish to me. As you might have already suspected from that last sentence, I saw absolutely no improvements. The disease and insects still seemed to be as prolific as before and fruit production was certainly no better overall. As we humans often do, I quickly decided is was a waste of my time. But then I took a step back to look at our last two years of gardening in this area. I don't think there is one person I have spoken with that has seen these last two years as great for edible production. From the home gardener to the farmers, everyone seems to be held hostage by changing weather patterns. It is not the fault of the gardener or the product when nature changes her ways, the best we can do is calmly roll with the punches. And as there are countless studies of the efficacy of dormant oil spray I had to rethink what may have occurred.
I also thought, what might have happened if I had not sprayed? The host of concerns in my orchard may have been twice (or more) as bad. I consistently try to take the higher positive road on things so I decided to do this with dormant spraying as well. My thoughts are that as long as this trend in weird weather continues, I really can't make a completely logical assertion on dormant spraying. And as any Northwest gardener knows, roses always seem to attract black-spot but the colder wet weather we have had in the last two springs must be taken into consideration when formulating an opinion on the value of spraying dormant oil.
So I am back to step one it seems. I did spray again and we will see what this season provides with the weather and if the fruits that do set will be better than previous years. The window for dormant oil spray is always fluid as there are specific times and temperature requirements to consider. 40-70 degrees is optimal for performance with at least 3-4 days without a freeze after application. And the buds on the fruit trees must be at the infantile stage of development to right before they pop. You do not want to spray when the buds have opened. So take a look at your garden and see what stage they are in and if you choose to spray dormant oil...let me know what happens this Spring in your gardens, because I can always learn something new about nature and she always has something new to teach us.