realenglishfruit

Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

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Video. How to support fruit tree branches

In a previous video we saw a freshly-planted tree. This tree was tied out last year, and you can see the amount of regrowth that has taken place. The tree has set a lot of fruit, and so Dan has provided support by using strings tied to the top of the stakes and looped around the branches. It is a temporary arrangement that stabilizes the tree. Once the framework is fixed, and the branches hold their position naturally, at the end of the season it is a good idea to remove the strings to ensure that they don’t get enveloped by the growing branches. This tree gives a good idea of the shape that we need: drooping branches, strongly-developed framework branches, well furnished with new wood. With an apple tree it’s important to support branches to prevent breakage.

Narration by Dan Neuteboom, camera John Paddy

Video: An insect hotel and fruit tree pollination

Dan Neuteboom shows us an insect hotel. The problem with the pollination of early-flowering fruit trees, such as cherries, plums, greengages, apricots and peaches, is that often it is so cold, there are hardly any insects around. But when the sun does come out in those early months, it can quickly get very warm and the insects will come out. In this sort of insect hotel, which should be placed facing south, insects like hoverflies and lacewings can spend the winter. These are the insects that can help with pollination after just a few hours of sunshine. Dan shows us an open-centre greengage tree in which there is good air circulation. The basic requirements for good fruit set, in a location where there are other varieties all around, are there. The other important thing is that frost is a real danger with early-flowering fruit. The trees least at risk from spring frosts are apple trees. All the other trees flower earlier. There are various ways of avoiding the risk of frost and stopping the trees from getting hurt by frost. One technique is shown right here: the chickens keep the grass cropped right down, so that the sun can heat up the ground which can then radiate the heat back into the air at night, helping protect the trees from frost. Another useful technique is to use nets, ensuring that air circulation is not obstructed. Mulch also requires care. It is great for late-flowering fruits such as raspberries and apples, but if you put mulch around the trees early in the season, thinking particularly of frost-sensitive trees such as pears, peaches and apricots, you have to bear in mind that the mulch worsens the frost situation because it doesn’t allow the ground to absorb heat from the sun during the day. Lastly, the position of the trees should be considered when planting new trees. If you plant them in a valley where cold air can accumulate, this increases the risk of frost damage. In this case it can be useful to ensure that there is an opening in a hedge so that cold air can flow away.

Video: Planting new fruit trees – variety choice

Many new houses are being built in the UK, and so there are thousands of new gardens. It is very difficult to know which fruit tree varieties to plant. Here Dan Neuteboom shows us an apple varieties chart that provides some suggestions and that has proved over the years to be fairly accurate. It lists a series of apple varieties, shown according to the period at which their fruit ripens, and then their fruit keeping time, with the months from July right through to March. An important consideration in variety selection is fruit tree pollination – apples do better if they are properly pollinated, and in fact, adequate fruit trees cross-pollination is essential. As a rough fruit tree pollination guide, you should plant any three of the varieties shown if there are no other varieties close at hand. If there are already some apple trees in the vicinity, you can get away with planting two of the varieties on this list. Another important consideration regards blossom and frost-tolerant fruit trees. Everyone loves beautiful blossom, but if you are in a location that is frost-sensitive – and that means frosts in April and May – fruit trees have no problem at withstanding frosts in winter – it is best to choose varieties that are frost-resistant (marked “F” in this diagram). Examples of frost-tolerant fruit tree varieties are Discovery, Red Ellison and Spartan. Another factor is the location in terms of latitude. Some varieties can be planted nationwide, including northern districts. Varieties that do well in the north include Discovery, James Grieve, Worcester Pearmain, Lord Lambourne, Charles Ross and Egremont Russet. Lastly, there is the question of tree health. No-one likes to have to spray trees, and so it is best if this can be done only in the case of urgent need. Some trees by nature have little need for spraying, such as Ashmead Kernel, a compact tree that needs very little treatment, likewise Egremont Russet, Red Ellison and Discovery. In addition to a primary selection of varieties according to location, another very important factor is the soil of the new garden, essential for the success of new trees. This will be the subject of another video.

Video: How to improve pollination on a cherry tree

A cherry tree in a garden may not set fruit for several reasons. One reason could be the lack of pollination – the transfer of pollen from one cherry variety to another that is essential for fruit set. If you have just the one cherry tree in your garden, you can compensate for this problem by cutting a branch from another cherry tree in blossom, putting it into a milk bottle with water, and placing the bottle at the centre of your tree. Bees will then visit the flowers both of the branch and the tree itself, and perform the cross-pollination needed to get a crop. It’s a simple but effective technique.

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: The open-centre tree, ideal for plums and greengages

Dan shows us a 17-year old greengage that over the years he has transformed by removing the central leader. This creates a bowl-shaped tree in which the main framework branches slope upwards very gradually so that lots of light enters. This has stimulated the tree to produce flower all the way across the tree, even in the very centre. With plums and greengages, it is important not to prune in the winter. The pruning has to be done when the trees are still in full leaf, so that the risk of silver leaf is greatly reduced.

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: Two plum trees, one badly pruned, one well pruned

Dan Neuteboom shows us two mature plum trees, one of which has been pruned badly, while the other has been pruned well. One will produce little fruit, the other will set a good crop. The first tree was pruned with a chain saw, removing large branches, creating large wounds, leaving branches that are at the wrong angles, without consideration of the overall structure. The tree will react by throwing out a lot of new wood which will produce shade and stop light reaching the centre. The second tree shows a good structure, with a strong central leader, large horizontal branches well furnished with two and three-year-old shoots which are the best for fruiting. A tree that has a lot of two to three-year-old wood well positioned to receive light is a tree that will crop well. This tree will produce masses of flowers, bees will pollinate it, cross-pollination is ensured by the other plum tree, and all being well, there will be a good crop.

Video: Pruning a mature apple tree

Dan Neuteboom demonstrates how to prune a 50-year old Bramley tree. It is a tree that already has a good open structure, with plenty of fruit bud. All that has to be done when pruning the tree is to maintain the quality of the light reaching the centre of the tree. This means removing the upright shoots which will create a lot of shade once they have leaves on them. Dan is careful to leave the short twigs bearing fruit bud which are ideal for cropping.

Video: How to shape a young tree without pruning

A young trees doesn’t crop because of pruning, it crops in spite of pruning. In its early years, the ideal pyramid shape can be achieved by selecting a central leader, and using string, clothes pegs and spacers to bend down the branches that will form the main table, the base of the pyramid. Click to watch.