realenglishfruit

Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Category Archives: Orchard maintenance

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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Critical Points to be followed to enable your trees to do well

Planning and preparation

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 the live roots of any other tree.

4) Stay away from any type of hedge. When planting several fruit trees, for every metre in height, calculate 1 metre’s planting distance from the other trees. For example, if the final height of the tree will be 3 metres, it should be at least 3 metres from any other tree.

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

6) Moist soil is fine. Waterlogged soil is a no. If in doubt, plant the tree in a raised bed.

7) The tree should be staked at all times, from planting, right through its life. Use a 2” diameter, circular-section, treated stake, 6 feet in length.

Planting

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

9) Then dig a decent-size planting hole at spade depth. 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 wheel barrow and mix it with blood and bone meal.

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 onto the trunk.

Maintenance throughout the tree’s life

14) Keep 1 square metre of soil around the trunk free from grass and weeds, during the growing season, from April to September, in every year of the tree’s life.

15) Water your tree weekly during the growing season, above all from May to September. 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.

Weekly update for the fruit garden – first week of October

It is now getting close to picking time for late varieties such as Tydeman’s Late Orange, Winter Wonder, Suntan, Crawley Beauty, Court Pendu Plat, Winston, Newton Wonder, Jonagold, Laxton Superb, Lord Derby and Lane Prince Albert. Always treat late storage apples with the respect they deserve. That means storing them in single layers, in the coolest room or in the cellar in the dark. The closer the fruit is kept to 4 degrees Celsius, the longer the shelf life. Look at the fruit once a fortnight and remove any rotten apples.

You can also hang the fruit in slices on a piece of string, out to dry. This of course needs to be done in a warm and dark cupboard. This was often done during the Second World War, in order to have some fresh dried fruit during the cold winter months.

Don’t forget to put the grease bands on the trunks of the trees. Garden centres stock those items.

It is still not too late to spray trees with Bordeaux mixture to stop nasty fungi developing during the winter months. This applies particularly applies to plums, greengages and cherry trees while still in leaf.

Laxton Superb, image courtesy Eivind Kvamme/flickr.com

Laxton Superb, image courtesy Eivind Kvamme/flickr.com

Weekly update for the fruit garden – fourth week of August 2015

Wasps have been a real hindrance all round, due to the changes in weather patterns. As a result, fruit which has been damaged by wasps or birds is now showing the usual signs of brown rot developing. It is very important to remove this fruit and dispose of it. Irrespective of whether the fruit still is hanging on in the trees or has already fallen on the ground, if it is left there, the spores of the fungus may be developing on the remaining fruits. Orchard hygiene at this stage needs to be taken seriously.

If the trees have been growing strongly, this is the right time to carry out summer pruning. Details of the summer pruning technique are explained in the Pruning Section on the website www.realenglishfruit.co.uk

This is also the right time to prune away surplus growth on trees which are being trained as cordons, fan or espaliers or step-over trees.

Photo courtesy of LHG Creative Photography/flickr.com

Photo courtesy of LHG Creative Photography/flickr.com