realenglishfruit

Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Category Archives: Orchard maintenance

Video: Pruning a mature apple tree

Dan Neuteboom demonstrates how to prune a 50-year old Bramley tree. It is a tree that already has a good open structure, with plenty of fruit bud. All that has to be done when pruning the tree is to maintain the quality of the light reaching the centre of the tree. This means removing the upright shoots which will create a lot of shade once they have leaves on them. Dan is careful to leave the short twigs bearing fruit bud which are ideal for cropping.

Garden orchard maintenance tasks, early December

Planting new trees

Soon we will have arrived at the beginning of a new tree planting season. Now is the time to prepare the spot where the tree is going to be planted. Just make sure that no grass or weeds will stop the young fruit tree roots developing properly. Remove any grass in the area around the tree, for about 1 square metre around the trunk. Later, once the tree has been planted, it will be good to apply an organic mulch on the same 1 square metre area around the tree trunk, but without the mulch touching the trunk. Provide a stake next to the tree and tie the tree to the stake with a FLEXIBLE tie. Protect the trunk of the tree with a proper guard. If deer are present a tall guard is essential. Here is a link to our main website where you can order trees.

Woolly aphids

This year a lot of woolly aphid are making their present felt. Effective insecticides are no longer available to the gardener or the allotment holder. Using luke-warm water and some detergent, brushing the affected branches will reduce the problem. Repeat the same treatment a month later.

Woolly aphid

Canker

Now the leaves have fallen, canker infections are clear to see. To stop winter spores from developing , cut out all surrounding wood and the wound itself, until no brown markings can be seen in the healthy green surrounding bark and cambium layer. Then paint the treated area with a wood sealing compound.

Canker

Overwintering aphids eggs

Spray the trees with a “winter wash” obtainable from any good garden centre.

Organic magic

All living creatures are interconnected, in ways that often we would never have imagined. For example, manure, which is classed as an animal waste product, is an essential food source to to living creatures in the lower part of the evolution chain, such as fungi and bacteria, including those that live in the soil, in symbiosis with tree roots. So live manure is a superb form of food and nutrients to trees, in our case fruit trees.

Trees love organics: it can come out of a bottle, for example liquid seaweed, or out of a container, natural herb mixtures, or out of a bag, such as dried chicken manure, or straight from the stable such as farmyard manure.

For trees this is pure magic and I have seen the undeniable results as regular as clockwork many times during my life! The real essence of organics is linked to the thousands of nematodes, microbes, fungi and bacteria which work in close harmony with the trees, permitting the uptake of nutrients and giving the trees a real tonic. This in turn improves leaf quality and reinforces the immune system.

Farmyard manure, dried chicken manure, liquid seaweed

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

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.”

Night frosts in the UK

tree cover during frost

We are now entering a week with frequent night frosts. This can be very harmful for fruit trees in the blossom stage. It is very important to cover the blossoms with a double layer of garden fleece or similar, to prevent the blossoms being damaged by the spring frosts in the early hours of the morning. If it is warm during the day, in the sun, give the pollinating insects enough room to visit the blossoms, to ensure a reasonable fruit set. It is all extra work but it does pay off!

Update for the fruit garden – April

Apple blossom

Apple blossom, photo courtesy of Tambako The Jaguar/flickr.com

1) Check if the flowering fruit trees are well served by pollinators, which need to be in flower at the same time. If this is not the case, hang a water bottle in the flowering branches of the same species but of a different variety, to ensure cross fertilization and good fruit set.
2) Keep 1 square metre totally clear of all weeds and grass around the trunks of the trees.
3) On light sandy soils start watering the trees on a weekly basis.
4) Check that tree ties are not too tight.
5) Deal with fungal wood diseases such as canker, collar rot, bootlace fungus
6) Cut out dead branches and paint the wounds with a sealing compound
7) Mow the grass at a higher setting to start off with
8) Do not let damaging insects get out of control. Keep on the lookout for various types of aphids
9) Cover spring frost sensitive trees with garden fleece
10) Look at your trees at weekly intervals in order to detect possible damage by mice, muntjacks, deer, rabbit and hare.

Renovating neglected orchards

Old orchard

An old orchard, photo courtesy of sparkleice/flicr.com

New owners of a property that includes an old orchard are often faced with this question: is it worth the time and finance to renovate a neglected orchard? Even when taking out of the equation the value of the site related to other considerations such as, for example, house building, careful thought has to be given to the problem before undertaking such a major operation. The chances of success are not always very great. The following questions will have to be asked:

1) Why did the orchard become neglected?
2) Which rootstock was used for the trees?
3) At what distances apart were the trees planted in relation to the rootstock used and the quality of the soil?
4) Is the soil free draining?
5) Are the fruits of the varieties used in demand?
6) What is the rating of the site in relation to the risk of hail?
7) Are the fruits going to be used for processing or the fresh market?
8) Are there any difficult diseases in evidence, such as canker or Armillaria root rot or collar rot?

Often, if fruit trees become neglected, and they are planted in deep free draining soils, the task of renovating the orchard – which includes bringing the trees down to a manageable size – is particularly difficult. The main reason is that one has to deal with the very powerful root systems of healthy trees. Often the root systems are larger than the trees themselves.

Therefore hard pruning is usually not a successful way of dealing with the problem. In short the renovating process will have to be spread out over a period of 3 to 4 years. Even so at the same time one has to do everything possible to keep the trees cropping well. This is of great importance because to control tree size, it is important that a major part of the tree’s energy resources is used in fruit production and not for surplus wood production.

In summary, the questions listed above have to be looked at first of all. Only after having determined the answers can you make a realistic risk assessment. The outcome of the overall risk assessment evaluation will determine if renovating the orchard will be worthwhile.

How to keep a fruit tree in check and maintain its fruitfulness

This is a fundamental question for anyone growing fruit in the garden: how do you keep the trees in check, while at the same time keeping them fruitful?

The first thing is to protect the trees from spring frosts. As soon as the first flowers are open, it is very important that whenever a spring frost is forecast, the trees are covered before you go to bed with a double layer of garden fleece or the equivalent. By 9 o’clock in the morning, when the temperature has risen above 0 degrees Celsius, the fleece will have to be removed for pollination purposes. The point of all this is that temperatures below 0°C kill the flowers, which in turn prevents fruit from being formed.

This may sound like quite a lot of work to incorporate into your busy daily schedule. In actual fact it doesn’t take long and it can be quite easily done, on one condition: as long the trees are of a size not much taller than say approximately 8 feet. THIS CAN ONLY BE ACHIEVED IF SUMMER PRUNING IS CARRIED OUT. Winter pruning increases tree size, summer pruning maintains tree size to the height and width you like it to be, without the tree losing its ability to crop the following year.

The important point to remember is that timing is of critical importance. As a general guide, summer pruning should be done as soon as the tree has been picked. Definitely no later than the end of September. Once leaf quality is starting to deteriorate, it is too late. Remove the older wood. Retain the fruiting spurs and the younger wood, and the two-year-old short darts. Always seal the wounds with “Heal and Seal”, obtainable from garden centres.

Not all varieties can be summer pruned in this way. Considering pear trees, the variety range suitable for this treatment is Concorde, Conference, Onward, Williams and Beth.

Quite a lot of apple varieties are suitable, but only diploid varieties. such as James Grieve, Red Windsor, Egremont Russet, Katy and Sunset. Triploids are usually too vigorous to be kept in control in this way. With tip bearers such as Worcester Pearmain, keeping size under control by summer pruning is possible but tricky, and with shy-bearing varieties such as Cox Orange Pippin, it is an uphill struggle. Therefore always seek advice. After all, fruit trees, all being well, should be a satisfying long-term investment. Similarly seek advice when you are considering cherries and plum varieties.

A dwarf stock is a help in controlling tree size, on good soils. On shallow soils, this is often not the case. A raised bed is a better alternative than planting in a poor soil.

Lastly, never let your trees dry out. Water weekly during the growing season. Do not flood the trees; one full watering can per week for each tree is enough. Do not starve your trees by planting in a bed of grass and weeds. The trees will dry out in no time!!

Watch a video on the subject of summer pruning:

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