Introduction to Growing Fruit Trees
Our range of fruit and nut trees has been carefully chosen for their suitability for the modern garden. Knowing that space can often be at a premium we have selected trees that will crop reliably yet not easily become large and uncontrollable.
Through working with some of the leading growers in Britain and Europe we are able to offer the very latest varieties and also include the best selections of some old favourites. By now you will probably have chosen your fruit trees, so the purpose of this guide is to help you to give them the best possible start and provide the aftercare needed to pick delicious heavy crops in the shortest possible time — in many cases beginning in the year after planting!
We supply well developed ‘feathered maiden’ fruit trees which will be between 18 months and two years old when you receive them. The trees are of ‘professional’ quality and are from the same plantations as those which supply the best commercial growers. Your fruit trees have thus had every cultural care taken to enable them to establish rapidly and crop heavily in their early years.
Most trees will show a good degree of ‘feathering’ (the development of side branches), the extent of this is dependent on variety and some, such as the Bramley apple tree for instance only naturally feather from around the third year. Special cultural techniques are used on the nursery to promote good feathering.
Fruit trees are lifted once they become fully dormant – in late autumn – as this causes the minimum of damage. They are then placed in specially designed cold stores for a number of weeks. In nature young fruit trees benefit from exposure to traditional winter weather where the low temperatures prime the tree to produce abundant blossom in its first couple of years. The advent of milder wetter winters means that a tree left outside does not receive these ‘chill hours’, so that cold storage before planting ensures the best possible start.
Position of Fruit Trees
Fruit trees will grow well on most soil types provided the ground is not waterlogged. Plenty of sunlight is essential however and areas of deep shade should be avoided. Areas that have previously grown fruit should not be used as this removes the risk of ‘re-plant disease’.
Ground Preparation & Planting Soil should be well cultivated a few days before planting to at least two spade depths and a generous amount of garden compost or well-rotted manure incorporated. A dressing of bone meal at 105–140 gms per sq.m. (3–4oz per sq yd) may also be applied, or use a special planting fertiliser. We advise that your fruit trees are planted as soon as possible after receipt. If this is not possible trees can be kept in a cool place such as a garden shed for up to a week provided the roots remain moist. If planting is not possible within this time, ‘heel’ the trees into a sheltered spot in the garden by digging a hole and firming soil over the roots.
Soil should be well cultivated a few days before planting to at least two spade depths and a generous amount of garden compost or well-rotted manure incorporated. A dressing of bone meal at 105–140 gms per sq.m. (3–4oz per sq yd) may also be applied, or use a special planting fertiliser. We advise that your fruit trees are planted as soon as possible after receipt. If this is not possible trees can be kept in a cool place such as a garden shed for up to a week provided the roots remain moist.
If planting is not possible within this time, ‘heel’ the trees into a sheltered spot in the garden by digging a hole and firming soil over the roots.
When planting into final position a hole should be dug about 15cm (6″) wider than the spread roots of the tree and deep enough to allow the tree to be comfortably planted at the depth that it was growing on the nursery (a soil mark on the stem should indicate this). This should ensure that the union on grafted trees is around 15cm (6″) above soil level. If a tree stake is used this should be inserted before planting to avoid root damage. Check that the soil at the bottom of the hole is loose after previous cultivation, if not then loosen to ensure that developing roots can easily penetrate.
Before planting the trees, roots should be soaked for about 4 hours. We recommend a solution of seaweed extract (such as Maxicrop) for this purpose as it contains many ingredients including plant growth substances which young fruit trees respond very well to. Plant by placing the tree into hole, spreading out the roots.
Fill using layers of soil, firming each one with the foot before proceeding with the next. The final layer should be left loose to allow easy ingress of water to the roots. Water in well after planting. Many fruit trees have relatively shallow root systems and we strongly recommend that a high quality stake is used that can be left in place for a number of years.
To prevent damage use a purpose-made soft tree tie that can be loosened periodically as the tree grows. A very effective and inexpensive alternative is to use a pair of ladies’ tights tied in a figure of eight around stake and tree, this will secure the tree and act as a cushion against wind rock.
Fruit Trees in Containers
The fruit trees will need a sunny, sheltered position on the patio. Choose a 30 litre container or larger. Avoid plastic containers as they are light and more likely to be blown over. For added stability we would recommend using a heavier soil-based compost such as John Innes Number 3 potting compost. Good drainage is essential and small stones, or gravel should be placed in the bottom of the container. Place your fruit tree in the container so that the graft will be about 2–5cm (1″) above soil level.
Fill the container with compost to within 2.5cm (1″) of the rim, firming as you go and ensuring there are no air pockets around the roots. Keep the compost moist, and from flowering through to just before harvesting, feed with a high potash liquid fertiliser. When the tree is dormant, after 4–5 years replant the tree into a 35 litre or larger container, pruning it hard and also removing 20–30% of the roots.
Your young fruit tree will soon break into leaf in spring and provision of adequate moisture is vital. This will certainly involve regular watering in hot dry weather, at other times do not over water as this will encourage shallow rooting. A useful aid to watering is a piece of drainpipe which has holes drilled through it, sink this into the soil next to the stake prior to planting and it will allow water to be easily introduced at root level. Keep the area around your trees free from weeds as weed competition will retard their development.
A summer mulch of straw, compost or well-rotted manure will be beneficial to retain moisture and also to provide a trickle of nutrient. Apply when the soil is wet (after a storm is ideal!) and take care to avoid the mulch touching the trunk of the tree.
Pruning your fruit tree
The basis of all pruning is to maintain a balanced tree with a pleasing shape and a good open structure that allows plenty of light and air to get to the ripening fruits.
Poorly placed, damaged and diseased branches should be removed and a constant supply of new branches encouraged as the younger wood is far more productive and gives fruit of the highest quality. To this end as a rule of thumb it is usually better to over prune rather than the reverse.
Pruning is often a matter of imagination and over time you will become used to the way in which the removal of one branch will affect the development of others.
Fruit ‘Set’ and Thinning
Once established you can expect your fruit trees to be highly productive and it is quite likely that even a youngish tree will yield a greater number of fruits than can be easily consumed! Most species and in particular apples, pears and plums will benefit greatly from fruit thinning. The judicious removal of some of the developing fruitlets will result in fewer but much higher quality fruit ripening and invariably the overall weight of fruit will be greater.
Your trees will naturally lose a proportion of their immature fruits in June, a phenomenon known as June Drop and thought to be a result of competition for moisture and nutrients, normally the weakest fruits will drop. Thinning should take place after the June Drop usually in early July.
Apples and pears should be thinned to two fruits per cluster leaving the largest fruit on the tree (excepting the ‘king’ fruit which is the large often misshapen fruit at the centre of each cluster – this should be removed).
In most years plums ‘set’ far more fruits than the tree can comfortably bear and dramatic thinning will avoid broken branches and give high quality fruit, as many as three quarters of plums can be thinned. Peaches and nectarines should be thinned to give a space of about 20cm (8″) between fruit, modern apricots have the ability to carry all set fruit to maturity with little reduction in quality but thinning to allow 7.5–10cm (3–4″) between will result in even larger fruit. Cherries, medlar, nuts and mulberry will not need to be thinned.
Fruit Tree Pollination
You will see from the catalogue description that many of our fruit and nut trees are self-fertile, this means that they will set a good crop of fruit without the need of pollen from another tree. (It is worth noting though that some such as peaches and nectarines do flower very early in the spring, before many pollinating insects are active, here it is well worth helping nature by introducing a very soft artists brush into each flower to transfer pollen.)
The remainder of our trees do show at least a degree of self-fertility. This means that a useful crop can be expected even if a pollinating partner is absent. If, however, pollen from another tree is introduced by visiting bees the resultant crop will be heavier. In such circumstances it is usual to plant a suitable tree of the same species in the vicinity thus allowing cross pollination to occur. Traditionally two or more trees from the same ‘pollination group’ (namely groups 1, 2 or 3) are planted which effectively means that they flower at the same time. In practice all that is needed for effective pollination is that the donor tree has a few flowers open and so trees from different groups are also usually compatible.
In spring in all but the most isolated situations, the garden is visited by a great number of pollinating insects. Often these insects travel significant distances and alight on a number of fruit trees along the way, the strong likelihood therefore is that they will bring useful pollen from your neighbours and introduce it to your trees. It is highly likely therefore, that in most circumstances, effective pollination will not be a barrier to the cultivation of plentiful crops of fruit.