Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Monthly Archives: May 2019

Video: An insect hotel and fruit tree pollination

Dan Neuteboom shows us an insect hotel. The problem with the pollination of early-flowering fruit trees, such as cherries, plums, greengages, apricots and peaches, is that often it is so cold, there are hardly any insects around. But when the sun does come out in those early months, it can quickly get very warm and the insects will come out. In this sort of insect hotel, which should be placed facing south, insects like hoverflies and lacewings can spend the winter. These are the insects that can help with pollination after just a few hours of sunshine. Dan shows us an open-centre greengage tree in which there is good air circulation. The basic requirements for good fruit set, in a location where there are other varieties all around, are there. The other important thing is that frost is a real danger with early-flowering fruit. The trees least at risk from spring frosts are apple trees. All the other trees flower earlier. There are various ways of avoiding the risk of frost and stopping the trees from getting hurt by frost. One technique is shown right here: the chickens keep the grass cropped right down, so that the sun can heat up the ground which can then radiate the heat back into the air at night, helping protect the trees from frost. Another useful technique is to use nets, ensuring that air circulation is not obstructed. Mulch also requires care. It is great for late-flowering fruits such as raspberries and apples, but if you put mulch around the trees early in the season, thinking particularly of frost-sensitive trees such as pears, peaches and apricots, you have to bear in mind that the mulch worsens the frost situation because it doesn’t allow the ground to absorb heat from the sun during the day. Lastly, the position of the trees should be considered when planting new trees. If you plant them in a valley where cold air can accumulate, this increases the risk of frost damage. In this case it can be useful to ensure that there is an opening in a hedge so that cold air can flow away.

Video: How to prune fruit trees – stages of bud development

It is a good idea to delay pruning until you can see the difference between wood bud and fruit bud. In January, the fruit bud is totally closed, and this stage is called the Dormant Stage. Then comes the swelling stage, and at this stage you can already see the way in which fruit bud becomes much larger than wood bud. This is the time at which you can adjust the pruning and ensure that you don’t cut off what will become blossom and thus fruit. After this, fruit bud begins to break – the Breaking Stage – and then it opens, at the Burst Stage, followed by the Green Cluster stage in which the first leaves start to form around the bud. After another week or ten days, according to the weather, the bud reaches the so-called White Bud Stage. This eventually develops to the Fruitlet Stage. Dan shows us a peach tree on which he delayed pruning to ensure that there would be sufficient fruit. This tree is now at the Early Fruit Set Stage.

Video: How to plant a hedgerow

In the countryside, hedges have a special role, providing protection for birds and small animals such as hedgehogs. They can be thought of as highways for fauna, connecting one coppice to the next. They are therefore important for biodiversity, and for making the countryside attractive not only to humans, but to all forms of life. Dan comments favourably on how his neighbour has planted a new hedge. This video was filmed in April. Preparation for the hedge began earlier: the farmer ploughed a ten-foot strip in February, cultivating it down to a depth of 8-10 inches. He then removed all the grass, and then started to plant the hedge in two rows, with species such as hawthorn, blackthorn, dogwood, maple, and others. He dedicated thought about how these new plants would be able to survive in conditions of drought, and so already by the beginning of March he had placed a protective layer of straw on the ground around the new plants. Each small tree has a guard and a small stake. In short, this is a super job, a great example of how to grow a new hedge in an arable environment, in such a way that it will become established quickly.

Video: Apricot tree frost damage protection

Apricot and peach trees flower quite early in the season, even in March or early April. At that time of year there are a lot of night frosts which could cause apricot tree frost damage compromising the crop. Dan presents Carol Wilson, who has constructed a neat solution to the need of protecting apricot tree blossoms when there are night frosts. This specimen is a Golden Glow apricot planted in February 2017, so it is now about two and a half years old. It has been planted against a south-facing wall, and it has been carefully trained, so that all the leaves have excellent exposure to light. When it was planted, Carol ensured that there were no tree roots at the site, and removed all grass in the immediate area. She improved the soil with chicken pellets put into the hole. She made a frame that provides protection from muntjac and roe deer. Putting the frame up also gave Carol the chance to install a rail at the top, a piece of plastic tubing, that holds some garden fleece, hemmed as if it were a curtain. So each night, Carol closes the curtains to provide protection, and it is so easy that she can do it anyway, even if she is not certain whether or not there will be a frost. Dan provides some indications on apricot tree care and how to continue the apricot espalier training pattern. The success of this tree is shown by the abundant fruit already present in the tree’s third year. Dan also comments on apricot pruning – it is important not to cut out the thin wood, because the fruits are found on the one-year-old wood. This also applies to peaches.

Video: Planting new fruit trees – variety choice

Many new houses are being built in the UK, and so there are thousands of new gardens. It is very difficult to know which fruit tree varieties to plant. Here Dan Neuteboom shows us an apple varieties chart that provides some suggestions and that has proved over the years to be fairly accurate. It lists a series of apple varieties, shown according to the period at which their fruit ripens, and then their fruit keeping time, with the months from July right through to March. An important consideration in variety selection is fruit tree pollination – apples do better if they are properly pollinated, and in fact, adequate fruit trees cross-pollination is essential. As a rough fruit tree pollination guide, you should plant any three of the varieties shown if there are no other varieties close at hand. If there are already some apple trees in the vicinity, you can get away with planting two of the varieties on this list. Another important consideration regards blossom and frost-tolerant fruit trees. Everyone loves beautiful blossom, but if you are in a location that is frost-sensitive – and that means frosts in April and May – fruit trees have no problem at withstanding frosts in winter – it is best to choose varieties that are frost-resistant (marked “F” in this diagram). Examples of frost-tolerant fruit tree varieties are Discovery, Red Ellison and Spartan. Another factor is the location in terms of latitude. Some varieties can be planted nationwide, including northern districts. Varieties that do well in the north include Discovery, James Grieve, Worcester Pearmain, Lord Lambourne, Charles Ross and Egremont Russet. Lastly, there is the question of tree health. No-one likes to have to spray trees, and so it is best if this can be done only in the case of urgent need. Some trees by nature have little need for spraying, such as Ashmead Kernel, a compact tree that needs very little treatment, likewise Egremont Russet, Red Ellison and Discovery. In addition to a primary selection of varieties according to location, another very important factor is the soil of the new garden, essential for the success of new trees. This will be the subject of another video.

Video: How to obtain a soil analysis for fruit trees

If you are moving to a new garden, you will be faced with the question of whether the soil is suitable for growing good fruit trees. To find out the answer, a soil analysis is crucial. It is not expensive, and a soil analysis kit is available from the Royal Horticultural Society soil analysis lab at Wisley. The soil analysis procedure is not complicated: you send them an email, they will send you some containers in which to put some soil and ask you what you are thinking of growing, and within a fortnight, they will let you know whether the site is suitable in terms of fruit tree soil requirements. As trees are comparatively expensive, they can be thought of as a long-term investment, and so they deserve an initial examination of what will become their new home. One of the most important factors revealed by a soil analysis is the pH of the soil. Different plants have different preferences: for example, azaleas and rhododendrons prefer acid soils, with a pH of 4 or 5 (7 is neutral). Apple trees on the other hand prefer slightly acidic or neutral soils, so pH 6 to 7. When you receive the soil analysis report from the RHS, it will show the pH and it will also inform you of the soil’s suitability for what you want to grow and on amending new garden soil if necessary. The analysis will also tell you the type of soil, clay, loam, sand, or a mixture. It will give you the percentages of three substances that are very important for fruit trees, magnesium, potash and phosphate. The recommendations on fruit tree soil preparation are clear and straightforward, and if you follow their advice, the trees will do well. So if you are moving to a new house with a new garden, a soil analysis will help you enjoy tasty fruit that you have grown yourself. The RHS website is

Video: Tydemans Late Orange – a biennial bearing apple variety

Dan Neuteboom compares two varieties, James Grieve and Tydemans Late Orange. The first tree is covered with blossom, the second has none at all – so-called biennial bearing. Why? Tydemans Late Orange is a variety that tends to crop well one year, and very little, or none, the following year. This is part of the tree’s genetic make-up and we have to put up with it. But Tydemans Late Orange has such good eating quality and good storage quality that it’s well worth growing in any case.

James Grieve is a summer apple, Tydemans Late Orange is a late autumn apple. Trees that mature their fruit late in the season often have better eating and keeping quality than the earlier fruiting trees. Another variety that shows the same tendency for biennial bearing is Laxton Superb: like Tydemans Late Orange, it’s worth waiting for.