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 4 – weather conditions

Photo courtesy of Joshua Heyer/

Photo courtesy of Joshua Heyer/


Usually in the UK, winter frosts are not sharp enough to seriously damage fruit trees. It is the spring frosts, particularly in the months of March, April and May, that can seriously diminish crop prospects depending on their severity. The types of fruit that flower earlier compared with apples are most at risk. However in a garden environment it is possible to protect the blossoms from frost damage by covering the trees with a double layer of garden fleece. This should be done in the late afternoon. The fleece has to be opened during the day to provide an entry route for the bees to carry out cross pollination.


Prolonged periods of rain can be the cause of various fungal diseases such as scab and tree canker. It is best to use varieties with a reasonable level of resistance to these diseases, rather than chemical spraying.

Drought, wind and hail

Another weather problem is drought. Light sandy soil can cause difficulties. In these cases it is important to apply extra water, weekly, during the growing season. Water must be available to the trees to create new growth and mature ripening fruits.

Strong winds are often the cause of blackened leaves and fruits. Particularly in the more northerly counties and areas close to the sea, consideration should be given to planting a shelter belt to diminish damage to trees and fruit. A walled garden environment is another option. Good staking will be essential for best results.

Hail can be very damaging during the growing season. Avoid planting in areas known as hail belts.

Type of fruit planted

In warm and shelter positions in the UK any type of fruit can be planted. If this option is not available, then the earlier flowering fruit varieties should be avoided in the more northerly counties. Specialist advice is a way of avoiding disappointment.

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

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

Trees as long-range weather forecasters?

DSCN0367-2000At this time of year we are busy lifting trees and despatching them to their purchasers, and so we regularly inspect the roots of hundreds of two to three-year old trees. From the appearance of the roots, we can judge the period of dormancy of the trees, and so, on the website, this season we recommend planting from December to April.

This is later than normal. In fact, the usual dormancy period is from November to March. But the winter of 2013-2014 wasn’t particularly cold, neither were spring and summer 2014. So why is the dormancy period later this year, and how can we tell?

I should start with a bit of background information on how the roots work. The feeding roots – tiny and delicate capillary roots invisible to the naked eye – operate from April to September. Then they begin to shut down, and the tree stores resources in the trunk and main root stems. At a certain stage, usually in mid January, white roots begin to emerge from the main root stems. These are not functional as roots, but just serve to establish the initial structure from which the feeding roots will develop. This year, today, 2 February 2015, not one of the trees has begun to develop these white roots. What is the reason for this?

It’s as if the trees know that there is no point in developing their root system yet, because the weather is going to be colder than usual over the next couple of months. How do the trees know this? Perhaps they have a sensitivity to certain meteorological parameters that enable them to time the moment at they begin preparing for the end of dormancy.

And so, on the basis of my observations, I would venture to say that it will be a long, cold winter, or at least longer and colder than usual. And whatever happens, whether right or wrong, I am convinced that the world of plants still holds a lot of mysteries that still awaits scientific explanation.

(In the photo below, we partially lifted a young tree to show the brown roots. We couldn’t find any white roots at all!)