realenglishfruit

Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Tag Archives: tree size

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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Tree size and rootstocks

P1020556-1100When ordering trees, the choice of variety is important, but tree size is also fundamental to ensure that the final trees are right for your garden. The major factor involved in determining tree size is the rootstock. Most fruit trees consist of two parts. The first is the “rootstock” or “stock,” which comprises the root system and the lower part of the stem, normally from soil level (the so-called “nursery mark”) to about 15 cm above the ground. The second is the “scion” which comprises the rest of the stem and the branches, and so it is this part that bears the fruit. Trees are created by grafting a tree variety – say Cox apple or Victoria plum – onto a rootstock.

This system is adopted to control the size of the tree and to improve cropping. So, for example, for apples, the rootstock named MM106 gives rise to a tree reaching a height of about 10 feet, while M26, M9 and M27 produce progressively smaller trees. M27 and M9 are therefore known as “dwarfing rootstocks.” However we do not recommend the use of M27 and M9 for apples for the average garden situation, primarily because in the average garden, M27 and M9 create a root system that is too weak to keep the tree upright in later years, when it is in full production. In addition, M27 and M9 trees tend to over-produce fruit in one year, with no, or very little, fruit the following year. For successful apple tree growing, MM106 is the best choice. It has proved itself over many years, and it forms a healthy tree which fruits at a young age. MM106 is suitable for all soils, including heavy clay soils, provided the soil is not waterlogged.

Other factors in addition to rootstock are involved in determining the height of a tree at maturity. These include type of soil, height of the location above sea level, exposure to cold winds or frost pockets, and the winter rest level of water in the soil. Equally important is tree spacing. The further trees are spaced apart, the greater their final height will be. This is why the figures shown below are provided as approximate guidelines only. Click here for more details.

Apples
Rootstock Planting distance Final tree height Size description
MM106 8-12 feet 10 feet medium
M26 5-7 feet 6 feet
M9 4-6 feet 5 feet small – not recommended
M27 3-5 feet 4 feet small – not recommended
Pears
Rootstock Planting distance Final tree height Size description
Quince A 8-12 feet 12 feet medium
Plums, greengages
Rootstock Planting distance Final tree height Size description
St. Julien A 8-10 feet 12 feet medium
Pixie 7-9 feet 10 feet medium
Cherries
Rootstock Planting distance Final tree height Size description
Colt 8-10 feet 10 feet medium
Gisela 5 4-7 feet 6 feet medium-small
Peach, apricot, nectarine
Rootstock Planting distance Final tree height Size description
St.Julien A 10-12 feet 10 feet medium