realenglishfruit

Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Excessive rainfall during the growing season

In many parts of the country we are experiencing very high levels of rain fall. This comes at a time when large amount of oxygen are needed in the soil. If soil drainage is not efficient in the soil where the fruit trees are planted, the trees can literally drown. Where there is excess water around the roots of the trees, the oxygen-bearing air is driven out of the soil and the roots die. The effect will not be visible immediately. However, as soon as droughty conditions return, the symptoms will be clearly visible: shoot die-back. More seriously, the trees’ immune system will have been seriously damaged. This means the trees will be an easy target for all types of fungal diseases, such as tree canker, armillaria root rot, crown rot, silver leaf, just to name a few.

Summarising, the soil is the tree’s home. It pays handsomely to ensure that all surplus water, up to a depth of 2 feet of soil, can drain away without any hindrance. Air can enter the soil again and all will be fine.

Flooding conditions, photo by Dave Gunn/flickr.com

Flooding conditions, photo by Dave Gunn/flickr.com

Tasks for garden fruit trees in June – part 2

Check your pheromone traps for codling and plum moths. Renew the lure if necessary. Start spraying the apple varieties which have a tendency towards bitterpit in the fruits. Apply fruit nets where bird trouble might occur, cherries in particular. Continue thinning out the fruitlets to doubles or singles. Remove scabby fruits at the same time. Start the summer pruning programmes of plums, cherries and greengages. The same applies to nectarines, peaches and apricots. Hang rolled up corrugated cardboard in the trees to attract the caterpillars which would otherwise damage foliage and fruits. Regularly inspect and renew when caterpillars are caught. Deal with aphids if present in too large a number in folded-up shoot tips. Do not let the trees dry out. This in particular applies to potted trees. Continue with foliar feeding if foliage of the fruit trees is not up to the mark. Make a start on preparing the ground where new trees will be planted in the autumn.

After natural drop, in June it is advisable to reduce the number of fruitlets in a group like this

After natural drop, in June it is advisable to reduce the number of fruitlets in a group like this

June fruit tree update

Your young fruit trees are now at top activity; new roots and shoots are being formed and young fruitlets are appearing. Therefore additional water, one full watering can a week, will help the tree very much. Any tree planted in a pot or a container, whose roots are therefore restricted, will need extra moisture in particular.

By the end of June, the clusters of young fruitlets will have to be thinned out. Two fruits per cluster will be plenty. Make sure these clusters of young fruitlets are spaced out. Approx. 6 to 8 inches apart is about right. The reason for this is because for each fruit to be able mature properly, it will need the help of 20 fully grown leaves.

Now is the optimum time to place your pheromone traps. Just read the notes placed for the month of May for further details.

Thinning fruitlets

After thinning, the result should be 2 fruitlets per group

Planting young fruit trees

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The critical points to get right to ensure that the trees to do well.

1) The soil is the tree’s home. Only the best will do. Use John Innes compost number 3 as a soil improver, if necessary. Ideal pH: 6.3- 6.8

2) Choose a spot in full sunlight.

3) Do not plant the tree on live roots of any other tree or on old orchard land.

4) Stay away from any type of hedge. The distance depends on the height of the hedge: for example if the hedge is 3 metres tall, plant the tree at least 3 metres from the hedge canopy.

5) Prepare the planting spot well before the tree’s arrival.

6) Moist soil is fine. Waterlogged soil is a no. Plant in a raised bed when in doubt.

7) The tree should be staked at all times from planting, right through its life. Use a 2”diameter, round, treated stake, 6 feet in length, treated against wood rot fungi.

8) First put the round stake upright in the ground, to a depth of 1’6”.

9) Then dig a decent-sized planting hole at spade depth. Approx. 1’6” diameter. Loosen the sub soil with a rigid tine fork. Keep the union of the tree above soil level.

10) Put the top soil in a wheelbarrow and mix it with some blood and bone meal and some garden compost or well rotted manure.

11) Always make sure crumbly soil is put back on top of the roots. Not big lumps of stiff clay. Firm the soil with your boot.

12) Tie the tree with a flexible adjustable tie. An old nylon stocking is perfect.

13) Put a rabbit guard on the trunk. If deer are a problem, use the appropriate guard.

14) Keep 1 square metre of soil around the trunk free from grass and weeds, during the growing season, from April to September during the next 4 years. Use a soil membrane from the garden centre. WITHOUT THIS, THE TREES WILL STRUGGLE. Grass is the worst enemy of young fruit trees.

15) Water your tree weekly during the growing season, above all from May to September. A full watering can for each tree. The first 3 years are decisive for healthy tree development.

16) Prevent aphids from damaging your trees. This applies in particular just before flowering time and soon after that. Any garden centre will stock what you will need for this. Use an approved organic method in order to save the ladybirds, lacewings and earwigs. These are excellent predators and the earwigs remove lots of caterpillars.

Peach leaf curl disease

Peach leaf curl disease (Taphrina deformans) is the main issue you have to be aware of with peach, nectarine and apricot growing. I f you follow my guidelines you will have no trouble with this fungal disease.

Apricot has the same trouble, but in a milder form. However, if you cover your peach tree or your apricot tree with a double layer of garden fleece from late January until the middle of May, every year, or bring the potted tree indoors during the winter months, the disease cannot develop.

Peach leaf curl

Peach leaf curl, photo courtesy of Scot Nelson/flickr.com

The fungus Taphrina deformans attacks the tree species of peach, nectarine and apricot.

The symptoms are the development of large reddish blisters on the leaves. The tree is seriously weakened as photosynthesis by the leaves is seriously affected.

Eventually the tree is starved to death as it is no longer able to make essential carbohydrates through photosynthesis. Leaves tend to fall prematurely and growth comes to a full standstill.

The fungus attacks the tree from early February until the middle of May. After May the fungus is no longer producing spores and therefore cannot cause new infections.

How to avoid peach leaf curl disease

There are various options for controllilng this fungus. Some varieties are more resistant than others. However this is no help if you already have to cope with this problem.

Actions to be taken immediately are the complete removal of leaves affected. This applies to the fallen leaves as well as the affected leaves that still attached to the tree. Make sure the leaves are all collected up, put in a plastic bag and then put in the non-recycling bin. Make sure the tree is well watered and does not stand in a carpet of weeds and grass. Apply a full watering can of water once or twice a week, particularly during the summer months. Mulch the tree with well rotted farmyard manure. The area to be mulched must be of a minimum size of one square yard.

Never let the tree go short of water! By late January cover the tree with a double layer of garden fleece. Fasten the fleece securely. Make sure the wind cannot affect it or lift it off. Keep your eye on the tree and if a tear develops in the fleece after particularly bad weather, repair the damage properly. This fleece needs to stay in position until the second week of May. After that time, carefully remove the fleece.

Never prune the tree during the autumn and winter months when the leaves have fallen. It is at that time that new infections occur very quickly. Prune during the middle of May or during late August, making sure the old wood is removed to make room for new shoots to form. This is essential as the fruits of peach and nectarine are formed on one year wood only. Seal the pruning cuts with “Prune and Seal”, a compound available from your garden centre. The foliage of a well pruned tree dries up quickly, with less chance of new infections.

If it is not possible to cover the peach tree, to avoid the disease you can spray with copper during the first week of February and repeat the spray 14 days later. Follow the instructions on the packet in detail. Garden centres stock it. At leaf fall in late November put on another spray of copper.

Peach leaf curl disease is spread by rain droplets. The fungus over-winters and is hidden in crevices of the bark and between the bud scales. Therefore consider planting a peach tree in a 15 to 18 inch diameter pot. By the end of January, wheel the potted peach tree into a cold shed or a cold green house or a cold poly tunnel. In that way no fleece is needed as the tree is sheltered from the winter rains. By the middle of May it is safe to take the pot outdoors again. Then position the tree in a warm sunny place and water it weekly or twice a week when very warm weather is occurring. Never let the tree go short of water as it will surely die.

Feed the tree monthly with a suitable foliar feed , obtainable from garden centres.

Why we should care for trees and their surroundings

Trees all over the globe are the homes of many creatures, which breathe the same air and drink the same water as humans do. All those creatures communicate not only with others of the same species, but with all that lives and surrounds them. Just because we as humans have voices, it does not give us the right to dominate life in all its forms on the planet. Instead we will all be better off respecting each other and trying to understand what makes other creatures tick. For that reason I believe that Schumacher was right when he said “small is beautiful”. Globalization is based on the principle of domination and commercial control for self enrichment.

It is for that reason I believe there is much more we can do close to our homes, to ensure our children will find a world worth living in and giving them the chance to admire all that is alive around them. Only then can we agree with Louis Armstrong when he published his song called “What a wonderful world”.

Cherry blossom, photo Mathias Liebing/flickr.com

Cherry blossom, photo courtesy of Mathias Liebing/flickr.com

Watering update for newly-planted trees in the UK

Young trees and newly planted trees are now at a critical stage of their development. Rainfall in the UK is very erratic at this time of the year. These young trees are now very much depending on local showers which may not come in time. Therefore supply these trees with help, when they need it most; SUPPLY EACH TREE WITH A FULL WATERING CAN OF 5 TO 10 LITRES OF WATER, DEPENDING ON THE SIZE AND AGE OF THE TREE, NOW. In that way new roots can be formed and at the same time plenty of moisture will be available for the rapidly increasing canopy of foliage.

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May orchard update – grubs in plums or apples

If last year you found grubs in your plums or apples, now is the time to do something about it. Depending on the severity of the problem, the correct pheromone trap will reduce or eliminate the damage.

If you have plum trees, please make sure a pheromone trap is placed in the tree. This will reduce or eliminate damage by the plum moth. The same principle applies to apple trees, but in this case the trap to be hung in the tree is the codling moth pheromone trap.

Continue to water young fruit trees. Make sure the one square metre of clean soil around the trunk of the fruit trees stays without grass and/or weeds. This is to ensure that your watering is to the benefit of the young fruit trees, and not the weeds and grass.

Pheromone trap, photo courtesy of MPaola Andreoni/flickr.com

Pheromone trap, photo courtesy of MPaola Andreoni/flickr.com

Death of established fruit trees

Apart from old age, some times trees die unexpectedly, even at a young age.
The death of fruit trees can be caused by several factors:

1) Collar rot
2) Armillaria root rot
3) Soil contamination with aggressive chemical substance
4) Tree canker
5) Tree trunk restriction
6) Drought.

Drought is often the cause if the trees are not cared for and the competition of grass and weeds is too severe, combined with a long dry period. If this is not the case, then a careful examination of the tree will need to be carried out.

Examine the tree trunk very carefully. Is there an obstruction that has grown into the tree trunk and is causing severe restriction? If this is the case some new and healthy-looking young shoots will appear below the restriction. This will also be the case if tree canker is girdling the tree. Next, use a sharp knife to peel back a portion of the bark on the trunk. If no healthy yellowish cambium under the bark is present and the wood is brown and dead, then points 1, 2 or 3 , as mentioned above, are the most likely causes of the tree trouble. An example of Point 3 is when a chemical substance such as concentrated weedkiller has been poured onto the ground next to the tree.

If this is not the case, we will then be left with points 1 and 2 as the most likely cause. In both cases, the chance of the trouble spreading to other trees becomes an issue, because the fungus remains active on the tree roots. If it is the armillaria fungus, the toadstools will appear around the trunk in the late autumn period. However the bootlace-like fungal threads will then already have arrived around the roots of your nearest fruit tree or ornamental tree. In that case grubbing the tree in total is the only option.

Summarising, if after a detailed examination, you find that the likely cause of tree death is armillaria, then you will have to grub the tree immediately, remove it off the site, roots and all, and burn it, as soon as you can. Armillaria fungus is very active in finding and infecting its next victim.

Whatever the outcome of your examination, my advice is to always use new, clean soil if you want to replant a fruit tree this coming autumn. Taking in consideration crop rotation principles, do not plant apple after apple or pear after pear etc. Vary the tree types. So, for example, apple after pear will be fine.

Armillaria

The illustration above is from “The Book of gardening: a handbook of horticulture”, 1900, edited by William D. Drury. It is accompanied by the following text:
“Armillaria mellea (Agaricus aielleus) This is a most destructive fungus found upon living ornamental trees, such as Conifers, as well as upon orchard trees. It is responsible for the disease known as Tree Root Rot. The fungus is most abundant, and is found both as a saprophyte and as a parasite. The clusters of Mushrooms at the base of trees are very familiar; they are, moreover, conspicuous alike as to size and colouring. The cap is of a pale yellow, with darkish scales upon it; the stem is also yellow. The fungus finds access to healthy trees either by means of its spores, which germinate on an injured part of the bark; or by means of the very peculiar mycelium, which is black and stringlike, and always endeavouring to penetrate the roots of healthy trees. The only thing that can be said in favour of this fungus is that its sporophores, or Mushrooms, are edible, though not particularly rich in flavour, being somewhat strong. Care should be taken to carefully remove and either eat or burn all specimens of the fungus, so that the danger of trees being infested by the spores which are shed is minimised. The mycelium found under the bark is white and felted. Once a tree has been badly attacked nothing can save it from destruction, as the mycelium spreads under the bark with considerable rapidity. Preventive rather than remedial measures should be adopted. These may well consist in the removal of all dead stumps on which the fungus is growing as a saprophyte; and in isolating the infected live trees.”

The goodies in your garden

Earwig, lacewing, ladybird, the goodies on your fruit trees

Earwig, lacewing, ladybird, the goodies on your fruit trees. Photos courtesy of (from left) Tom Sinon, Andy McDowall, Ravichri, all from flickr.com

While we are all enjoying the wonderful spell of warm dry weather, do make time to visit your trees and see if all is well with them. There are baddies around which will be harming your trees especially now! Look after the real friends of your fruit trees which are trying to do their best to produce crops you will enjoy.

At this time of the year there are many visitors in and around your fruit trees. Some are good, others are harmful. The fruit trees defenders, to keep the baddies in check, are the ladybirds, the earwigs and the lacewings. These friends will do their best to stop greenfly of all sorts from gaining the upper hand and ruining the leaf surface. Damage to leaves makes it more difficult for trees to make their various foods. Encourage the lacewings, ladybirds and earwigs by providing them with homes to live in and do not kill them off with harsh chemical sprays. There are plenty of sprays which can be used in the gardens and small orchards, based on organic principles, which will do this job very well.

Talking about providing homes for beneficial insects and various other living creatures, do spare a thought to the small birds in and around your garden. These have insect-based diets and get rid of many aphids and caterpillars. The large family of blue tits and long tail tits are just a few birds of them. Make sure you have nest boxes at the right places for them to make their homes in your garden. One final point: when your fruit trees are in blossom, do not spray them with anything. Wait until the blossom is over. That’s the time to visit your trees weekly and monitor what is going on. If the leaves are curling or showing signs of drought, be ready to water your trees and take action. If too many aphids are curling up the leaves and therefore harming your trees drastically, reduce their numbers.