realenglishfruit

Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Category Archives: Orchard maintenance

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

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

Apples:

Today we picked some good sample of Discovery apples. During the first week of June, we thinned the clusters of the young fruitlets to two fruits per cluster. The effects of this are now, at picking time, very evident. The fruits are of beautiful colour, decent size and very crisp. It is always right with early maturing varieties to thin out the fruitlets, EARLY in the growing season, if you like crisp fruit with a good flavour. Never store early fruit with long term storage fruit. Early varieties produce lots of ethylene and therefore reduce the storage life of all the surrounding fruits.

Make a regular check and remove any fruits showing brown rot. Do not drop this fruit on the orchard floor. Spores easily spread and will infect other fruits still on the trees.

The rewards of a well-tended orchard

The rewards of a well-tended orchard

Raspberries:

Continue regular picking of the autumn–fruiting raspberries. Cut out the old canes of the summer fruiting raspberries. Tie in the new shoots.

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

Apples:

Many apple trees are carrying too much fruit. To ensure that you have a crop next year, remove surplus fruit from the tree this week. Copncentrate particularly on damaged, small and green fruit in the centre of the tree. As we are in a drier spell of weather, do not let the trees go short of water, while the fruits are swelling.

Cane fruits:

Cut out the old canes of summer fruiting raspberries. Finish picking the red and black currants.

Gooseberries:

Watch out for gooseberry sawfly. These caterpillars can defoliate your gooseberry bushes within a week. Organic materials are available in the garden centres to prevent this menace.

gooseberry_sawfly_Crabchick

All fruit trees:

Net the trees if birds are pecking the fruits. If not, wasps will hollow out the fruits, such as apples, pears, plums and greengages.

 

Photo courtesy of Katherine Shann/flickr.com

Photo courtesy of Katherine Shann/flickr.com

Weekly update for cherry trees – first week of August

Now that the cherry crops have been picked, that is if spring frosts and birds did not do any major damage to your crop prospects, it is a good time to consider the size of the trees. This is the right time now to summer prune your tree(s), bringing them back to a size you can cope with. DO NOT LEAVE IT TO THE WINTER TIME. Summer pruning means cutting out surplus older wood and creating more sun and room for younger 1 to 3-year-old wood.

Wasps, flies and over-ripe fruit

At this time of the year, wasps and flies can be a great problem with plums and cherries and later on with apples and pears. These insects are particularly interested when fruits are becoming OVER-RIPE.

Therefore do not delay in picking the fruits when ripe. Secondly, make sure local wasps’ nests are dealt with. Wasp traps are only partially effective. Clearing the nests in the vicinity is the best solution.

Photo courtesy of Ervins Strauhmanis/flickr.com

Photo courtesy of Ervins Strauhmanis/flickr.com