Care & Cultivation
21. Care and Cultivation of Fruit Trees
What to do First
After unpacking, inspect the roots and, if dry, stand the plants in a bucket of water for up to an hour to moisten the root system thoroughly. Plant as soon as possible but, if ground is not ready or too wet, temporarily ‘heel’ the plants into a shallow trench on a spare patch of ground, covering the roots with moist soil. Alternatively, if there is no ground available in a workable condition, wrap the roots in damp hessian or newspaper to protect them from drying and stand the plants in a cool shed or garage until conditions improve.
Soil Preparation and Planting
Fruit trees occupy the same position in the garden for many years, so careful choice of site and good soil preparation are essential for good results. Choose a sunny area of the garden, sheltered from strong winds. Where possible, avoid planting in a known frost pocket. As they flower so early, a sheltered position is particularly important for pears and plums.
Most fruit trees can be grown on many different types of soil but, as far as possible, the soil should be fertile, well-drained, free of perennial weeds and at least 45cm (18in) deep. If the area is compacted, dig it over thoroughly. A slightly acid soil is ideal (pH 6.5-7). Add lime if it is strongly acid or dig in flowers of sulphur if it is strongly alkaline.
In the second winter select the strongest 4 of the branches that will have grown and remove all others. Cut these selected branches back by about half to an outward facing bud.
By the third winter further branches will have been produced from the initial 4 and these should, again, be cut back by half as well as being thinned to the 8-12 strongest.
In subsequent years continue to shorten leading shoots as before and cut any strong laterals back to 3-4 buds. The smaller laterals that bear the fruit should mostly be left alone but some of the least fruitful ones should be removed if they become too crowded.
Be sure to prune near the end of the flowering period to help distribute the remaining pollen and, as plants grow towards their mature size, also cut back branches to suitably placed laterals, as necessary to maintain an overall height of about 2.1 m (7ft). Throughout the life of the tree remove any strong upright growths that may be produced from the base.
Flowering and Fruiting
Most types of fruit trees flower early or very early in the year and, even in a sheltered spot, the blossom can be affected by frost. Once the flowering stage is reached in early spring it is advisable to check the weather forecast daily and, with the exception of the most frost tolerant apples, to have some fleece ready to cover the trees if a damaging frost is likely. If this is not done it is possible for much of the crop to be lost or damaged in some seasons.
In a favourable season the crop set on most trees may be substantially more than the tree can satisfactorily carry to maturity. If nothing is done the result can be lots of small, poor quality fruit and broken branches. In these circumstances fruit should be thinned while still fairly small (about a quarter size), leaving the best a suitable distance apart for the variety.
For each tree dig a hole larger than the root system. Fork over the soil in the bottom of the hole and, at the same time, incorporate a generous amount of well-rotted manure or garden compost.
All trees will require staking for at least the first 4-5 years of their lives. Mix about 100gm (3oz) of slow-release fertiliser with the excavated soil then position the tree in the hole about 7.5cm (3in) from the stake and with the union (if present) above ground level. Now carefully infill with soil, spreading out the roots and firming with your boot as you go. After planting, tie the tree to its stake with a rubber or plastic tree tie. This will need loosening off from time to time as the tree grows.
Apply a slow-release fertiliser at recommended rates around each tree in February and mulch with organic matter such as well-rotted manure or weed-free garden compost. Spread the mulch on the surface of the ground in spring while the soil is still moist from winter rain.
For at least the first three years, keep the ground around the bases of the trees free of grass and other plants so they don’t suffer from competition. For the first year keep newly planted trees well watered during any spells of dry weather.
A major advantage of the maiden trees we supply is that they can be trained into any required tree form. However, coverage of the training required for all of the different possible forms is beyond the scope of these notes, which cover only the training required to produce the commonly used bush form. [For more information on this subject we can recommend the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘Fruit Garden Displayed’ or Dr D G Hessayon’s ‘Fruit Expert’].
Apples and Pears
Pruning of apples and pears is carried out in the winter, between November and March, when the trees are dormant. A bush form tree has an open centre and a clear stem or trunk about 75cm(30in) long. To achieve a well-balanced shape and a strong branch framework, some formative pruning is necessary in the first 3-4 years.
If your newly planted tree already has several well-balanced side shoots, cut back the main stem to leave 3 or 4 of these at about 75 cm (30in) from the ground. Then cut back these side shoots by about two thirds of their length to an upward or outward facing bud and completely remove any shoots coming from lower down on the main stem. If your young tree has no side shoots, look for a strong bud at about 75 cm (30in) with 2-3 other good buds below it and then cut the stem back to just above this bud.
In the second or third year, when the first side shoots have themselves branched, cut back the leading shoot from each by about half. Then select sufficient good laterals to fill any gaps in the branch framework and similarly shorten these by half. Cut any other laterals back to 4 buds.
In subsequent years pruning should be less severe with leaders being cut back by about a third and laterals to 4-6 buds. Any dead, diseased, broken, crowded or crossing growths should also be removed and the tree centre kept open.
Because of the risk of disease infection, the pruning of these trees should be delayed until April. In the first 2-3 years after planting pruning is otherwise much the same as for apples and pears except that, as with peaches and nectarines, the main stem is left a little longer at about 90cm (3ft). Subsequently, only the removal of dead, diseased, broken, crowded or crossing branches is normally needed.
PLEASE NOTE: Your trees have been cut back for despatch purposes. Please note that this will not harm the future growth of your trees and is usual nursery practice.