realenglishfruit

Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Category Archives: The whys and wherefores of fruit trees

How to stop foxes and deer from raiding your apple trees

A reader and customer wrote to Dan a few days ago, about the first crop on his two new trees. The trees supplied by Suffolk Fruit & Trees are always 2-3 years old and so they dutifully flowered in the first season after fruiting. Dan advised to grow just two apples on each tree for their first crop in the garden, and so the owner removed all surplus fruitlets towards the end of May. His first two Cox apples grew to maturity, but the Fiesta apples were raided by foxes. And so what will happen in subsequent seasons when the Fiesta tree is in full production?

Dan said, “In the next and following seasons, when the fruit is beginning to ripen, you could try this method. It is often effective to hang a small, highly scented piece of soap using a metal S-hook. This often deters foxes and deer. Once the piece of soap loses its scent, it is no longer effective. Check and replace it if this is the case.”

Fox in a garden, photo Mike Holloway/flickr.com

Fox in a garden, photo courtesy of Mike Holloway/flickr.com

Crop rotation in fruit growing in the garden

As the volume of fruit grown commercially in the UK is nowhere near enough to satisfy demand, the departure of the UK as a member of the European Union is likely to cause a rise in prices for fruit in the shops. It is therefore very important that fruit trees in the garden are healthy and have a structure such that a good proportion of the fruit can be picked from ground level. This is perfectly possible provided the basic facts of crop rotation are not ignored.

For example we must remember that if an old apple tree is grubbed because it has reached the end of its life, then we certainly can plant another fruit tree on that spot, but not another apple tree. Crop rotation does not only apply to vegetables in the garden. It also applies to fruit trees. In other words, apple after apple or pear after pear is not to be recommended. If this is done all the same, replant disease will probably badly affect the new tree, and the growing and the cropping of the tree will be a disappointment. And yet it is so easily to achieve good growth and cropping of new trees. Just plant a pear or a plum or a cherry at the place where the old apple tree spent its time of life and all will be well. Water the young trees weekly and the trees will have a very good start in life. Particularly if well-rotted farmyard manure or garden compost is applied as an extra tonic.

Old fruit trees in a Suffolk garden

Old fruit trees in a Suffolk garden

Tips for garden fruit trees, December-January

1) Check stakes and ties. Make sure the supporting stakes have not rotted off at ground level. Loosen ties where needed, if too tight.
2) Start pruning apple, pear and mulberry trees that have reached regular cropping.
3) Check that rabbit and deer guards are in good working order.
4) Check fruit in store. Remove rotten fruits
5) Apply farmyard manure where trees have been struggling
6) Cut out dead branches and canker wounds. Paint wounds with Arbrex or similar.
7) Apply winter wash if greenfly/aphids were a source of trouble last year.
8) Protect fruit buds of plums and pears. Bullfinches can cause serious damage during the winter months.
9) You’re still in time to order new trees. In addition to the 5-tree Orchard Pack, Suffolk Fruit & Trees is now offering a Two-Tree Training Pack for Cordon, Espalier and Fan-Shaped Trees, specially selected for training, and at a reduced price with respect to ready-trained trees.

Bullfinch by Jacob Spinks flickr

Bullfinch, photo courtesy of Jacob Spinks/flickr.com

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

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.

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

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.

Top 10 tips on growing figs in the UK

The best time to plant a fig tree is from November to March.

1) If it is to be trained against a wall, erect a support frame.

2) Prune in April and feed with “Growmore”.

3) Prune back new growth to a 5-leaf length in June.

4) Continue to water weekly. Approx 5 litres/week from May onwards.

5) From November to April, protect new growth against frost with a double layer of garden fleece. This protects the mini pea-size figs.

6) If you like figs annually, then you will have to plant the tree in a container 45 cm in diameter and at least 40 cm in depth, with good drainage holes, covered with broken terra cotta pots. A bigger container results in a bigger tree.

7) Keep the plant free from weeds and particularly grass.

8) Figs will appear at the new growth each year

9) Drought conditions will kill the fig plant! However the more sun the better.

10) Recommended varieties are White Marseilles and Brown Turkey.

fig leaves