Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Category Archives: Tree growing advice

Video: Three fan-shaped pear trees in blossom

In a previous video, Dan Neuteboom explained that it is best not to prune pear trees until it is clear which buds are fruit buds, and so should be left on, and which are wood buds, and so can be pruned to control the size and vigour of the tree. That was late February-early March. We are now in the middle of April, and the results are evident. The three different pear varieties are all fan-trained and so use a minimal amount of space on the wall. The trees are facing south, pollination is good (because of the proximity of different varieties), temperatures are good, flowers are dominant, and so a very good fruit set can be expected. Some thinning may be necessary, and that will be the subject of another video.

Video: Protecting newly-planted trees

Trees need a lot of help in the first five years of their life. When you plant a new tree, its root system has to completely regrow, and it can only do this if there is enough moisture. A good way of helping the tree in this regard is to put mulch on the ground around it. The mulch retains moisture levels in the soil and encourages the bacterial activity that causes its own gradual breakdown, so that it enters the soil and adds nutrients. Trees love organic matter. But mulch can also have a negative side. Mice may make their nests under the mulch and in the winter months they may eat the bark of the tree. This can be avoided by ensuring that the mulch is not in direct contact with the trunk.
Another important aspect of planting a new tree is to protect it from deer, muntjacks, hares and rabbits. As soon as you have planted a tree, put a guard on it straight away. In the case of deer, a higher protection may be necessary.

Video: Tree bark, tree health, and canker treatment

It is a good idea to take a look at your tree at regular intervals and assess its overall health. The colour of the bark provides a good indication of health. If the colour of the trunk and main limbs is a bright grey shade, you can be sure that there are no drainage problems, and the root system is happy. If on the other hand the colour of the main trunk is reddish, this is an indication that the tree has been waterlogged, and the root system has suffered. In this case the only solution is to try to improve the drainage.

At this time of the year, April, you can check for other diseases that are easier to locate when there are still no leaves on the tree, such as bacterial canker and ordinary tree canker which is caused by a fungus. If you find canker, use a special curved canker knife to cut it out. Cut away the brownish, canker-affected parts until the wound is entirely green. Then coat the wound with anti-fungal paint. The tree will heal the wound itself.

Video: Improving pollination and cropping by grafting on a second variety

Dan Neuteboom shows us a 15-year old pear tree that was cropping irregularly. To improve the situation, he grafted a second pear variety onto the main variety, right at the centre of the tree, choosing a variety that flowers slightly earlier, so that the pollen of the grafted variety is ready as soon as the flowers of the main variety are opening. The system helps ensure good cross-pollination, encouraging fruit set, and therefore a good crop. An easier way to obtain the same effect is to place some flowering branches in a bottle and hang it in the tree. The graft is a permanent solution. See this video for more details on how to perform the graft. Click to watch.

Video: A pear tree in bad condition

Dan takes a look at a 7-year old pear tree that is showing evident signs of distress. Trees react to the treatment that you give them. In this specimen, there is very little fruit bud, and the new shoots are very thin. The problem is caused by the competition of grass and stinging nettles. To take action, a square metre around the tree has to be cleared of grass and nettles, best done by covering the area with mulch that will smother the weeds. Secondly, the tree centre should be opened up so that light can get back into the centre. Thirdly, give the tree some extra food, namely extra water, and farmyard manure if possible. Trees are like people: people can survive for quite a long time without food, but trees and people cannot survive long without water. Here you can see a combination: the tree didn’t get enough water because of the enormous competition with the nettles, and on top of that it didn’t get any food whatsoever. Yet pears are by nature very strong-growing trees.

Video: Making a fruit tree – whip & tongue grafting, tools and technique

Nurseryman William Seabrook demonstrates the tools and techniques involved in whip & tongue grafting, which is a method of uniting a scion of the desired variety to the rootstock. To make the graft, the right tools are essential: sealing tape, secateurs, a specialist sharp knife, the wax, and the large cutter used to prepare the rootstock. William Seabrook demonstrates how to cut the scion, with double cuts – a first diagonal cut and a second tongue cut – in both scion and rootstock, which interlock so that the vascular cambium along the cut surfaces is as great as possible, for optimum cambial contact. The diagonal cut in the scion is made so that the bud ends up directly over the cut of the stock. This helps keep the tree straight. The graft is secured using sealing tape tied tightly, and then the cut surfaces are coated in grafting wax to keep air, rain and infection out. Click to watch.

Video: Pruning pear trees – how to tell the difference between fruit bud and wood bud

Dan Neuteboom describes the difference between fruit bud and wood bud on a pear tree. It is important to recognise the difference so that when pruning, you leave the fruit buds in position to ensure a good crop.

It can be difficult to get pear trees into production early. Pears tend to form fruit bud later than on apple trees. How do you prune the tree if you are not sure which is fruit bud, and which is wood bud? It’s best to delay pruning until the moment that you can easily see the difference. From mid-March to early April, you can see that the fruit buds are large and round, while wood buds remain smaller and more pointed. So it’s best to wait until this time to prune the tree. You can cut away the shoots that are filling up the tree, leaving the shoots with fruit bud and ensuring that they have maximum exposure to light. Click to watch.

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/

Fox in a garden, photo courtesy of Mike Holloway/

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

The effects of weather on fruit trees, April-May 2017

This year, April and May have been very problematic weather-wise for anyone who is interested in home-grown fruit. On several nights, temperatures dropped to well below freezing. This has affected all the different types of fruit, inflicting moderate to severe frost damage to open blossom. Crop prospects are definitely a lot better on those trees which were covered with a double layer of garden fleece. Because of the tendency to flower earlier in the season, pears, peaches, nectarines and plums are all very badly affected. Apples, which flower later, usually still set some sort of a crop. This year I am afraid that even apples will have been thinned out a lot, particularly in frost pockets. We will know by the end of May for sure about the initial set. By early July we will finally know what’s left; this after the June drop has further reduced the number of fruits. Who said growing fruit is easy?

What to do next? Watch this space.

Evidence of frost damage on leaves