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Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

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Why the correct choice of fruit tree is paramount to success, part 3 – soil

 

Photo courtesy of the Hanwell and Norwood Green Orchard Trail

Photo courtesy of the Hanwell and Norwood Green Orchard Trail

Soil is the home of the fruit tree, and as such, everything possible should be done to make it as pleasant as possible for the trees to live in and happily produce crops for the next 50 years or so. A basic error is made by just digging a hole and shoving the tree roots in the hole, covering them with soil and forgetting about it. In most cases this will lead to great disappointment, with trees desperately struggling to survive.

Fruit trees are very sensitive. Particularly the first year after planting. Usually if planting is carried out correctly, then the first step has been made to ensuring that the trees do well. It is often forgotten that the parts of the tree below ground level, the roots of the trees, must be able to function well, in order to support the numerous demands of all the remaining parts of the tree above soil level.

The importance of oxygen

If the soil is well drained, oxygen levels around the tree roots will be sufficient to create the energy enabling the roots to grow. If for whatever reason the oxygen of the air in the rooting zone is suppressed, trouble will be brewing. For example if soil compaction is the cause of limiting oxygen supplies around the roots, the tree will be struggling throughout its life. It will be subject to tree diseases such as canker. This in turn will greatly reduce the life span of the tree, apart from a serious reduction in the keeping quality of the fruit.

Micro-organisms help nutrient uptake

Secondly the depth of the soil and its organic content is of great importance. Without the cooperation of various beneficial micro-organisms surrounding the root tips of the tree roots, uptake of nutrients will become impossible. These micr- organisms work best if the soil has a good level of organic matter. All types of well-matured farmyard manure, are a real stimulus for all round good development of tree growth and regular cropping.

Soil pH

If you live in a location with soils where rhododendrons and azaleas do well, it is important to test the acid level of the soil. Fruit trees will do best with a pH of 6.3 to 6.6 . Outside these parameters, the uptake of certain nutrients may become be a problem. It is easy to determine the pH of the soil . In good garden centres for little money you can purchase a pH meter.

Regular nutrient application

Most soils will need regular applications of nutrients. Fruit trees do best in the long run if the soil nutrients are applied in the form of organic manures. Additional foliar feeding will be very helpful if certain elements are short. This is not a regular occurrence if the soil has been looked after over many years in the past.

Water-retention

Pure sandy soils are often problematic for fruit trees as the water-holding capacity is very low. At the other end of the scale, heavy clay is a difficult type of soil for roots to develop well. The closer the soil is to a deep loam the better the trees will perform. These soils will hold a lot of water between the soil particles. This is of great importance particularly during droughty conditions. After all, water is the life blood of the tree. Without sufficient water the tree will die.

Why the correct choice of fruit tree is paramount to success, part 2 – site

Why the correct choice of fruit tree is paramount to success – part 1

If you can’t find manure…

Super-Dug Extra, a good substitute for "well-rotted farmyard straw-based manure"

Super-Dug Extra, a good substitute for “well-rotted farmyard straw-based manure”

If you like your fruit trees to carry regular crops of fruit, do not let them go short of food.
On the market there is a superb product called SUPER DUG. It is totally dried organic natural manure. It comes in a 25 kilo bag. It is a wonderful tonic for all type of trees, shrubs and vegetables. When you plant fruit trees, follow the instructions on the bag, put a couple of spade-fulls in the wheel barrow and mix it well with the soil that you are going to put back into the planting hole. More details at www.compost-technology.co.uk

September tips for fruit trees: apply manure

Well-rotted manure

Well-rotted manure. Photo courtesy The Word Factory Ltd/flickr.com

Apply farmyard manure or home-made compost around the trees, if the soil is in need of it. Remove perennial weeds before applying farmyard manure.

Top ten fruit tree tips for September

1. Start preparing the ground where you are intending to plant your new orchard, cordons, fans or espalier-trained fruit trees. Check the pH of the soil which needs to be between 6.3 and 6.8. If the pH of the soil is below 6.3, apply some lime and work into the soil.
2. Make sure the site and position is right; not in a frost pocket or on the northerly and shady sites of buildings, walls or hedges.
3. Apply plenty of well-rotted farmyard manure and work into the soil up to a depth of 15 inches.
4. Remove and kill perennial weeds such as bramble, stinging nettle and couch grass.
5. Eliminate wasps nests and remove rotting fruits, which will hide the wasps, from the orchard floor.
6. Remove any rotting or damaged fruits from the trees. Pick the fruit that is ready to eat. Do not store early-maturing fruits such as Discovery and Grenadier apples. Fruit for storage needs to be slightly immature. Fruit that is too ripe will not store.
7. Finish the summer pruning programmes as mentioned in the August tips.
8. Check the storage space for your fruit; it needs to be clean, cool and free from vermin such as flies and mice.
9. Check that the thermometer in the store is in good working order.
10. Start discussing which varieties would be suitable for your location with a knowledgeable and experienced fruit specialist. All types of fruit are site sensitive!

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

Planning a new orchard

Well-rotted manure

Well-rotted manure. Photo courtesy The Word Factory Ltd/flickr.com

To create a successful multi fruit orchard, it is very important to carry out the various soil preparations during this time of the year. The winter months, the correct time to plant fruit trees, are often not good for soil preparation, as the soil is already too cold and handles badly. The quality of the soil in the planting hole will determine how quickly and how well the newly-planted tree settles down in its new home.

The rootstocks that you will be using depends on the space available for planting fruit trees. Dwarf rootstocks are recommended when limited space is available. If a good deal of space is available, then the trees would do best if planted on semi-vigorous stock such as MM106, Quince A and St Julien A. These trees need to be planted approximately 3.5 to 4 metres apart. The exact number of trees needed also depends on the proximity of other large trees, such as hedgerow trees, oak, ash and sycamore. Fruit trees do badly when planted on the live roots of other trees. Follow this link to find out more about tree size and rootstocks.

I think that it is a good idea to set out the orchard at this time of year, initially using 6-foot tall bamboo canes. This way you can mark the planting spots of your new trees, in relation to hedgerows, buildings etc.; it gives you an idea of how the new multi-fruit orchard will look. Variety choices can only be made once you have decided which type of fruit you want to plant. Follow this link to view a list of fruit tree varieties.

The ideal pH of the soil is 6.3 to 6.8. Outside those limits, nutritional deficiencies will occur when the trees get older. Fruit trees love well-rotted good organic stable manure, provided straw is used as a base material and not sawdust or wood chips. The more manure you can work into the ground during the summer months, the better the trees will perform in years to come.

Now is the time to put manure around your fruit trees

Well-rotted manure

Well-rotted manure. Photo courtesy The Word Factory Ltd/flickr.com

Fruit trees do a lot better if regular applications of well rotted straw-based manures are made. Pears and apricots produce better-sized fruits if fed organically. The ideal time of the year to apply this type of manure is now. This gives the worms plenty of time to start working the manure into the soil. Then by about next April the trees are already beginning to benefit.