Care and Cultivation of Fruit Trees
Many thanks for your order! Please unpack and check your trees immediately to ensure they are exactly what you ordered and in the condition you’d expect. Let us know within seven days if there are any problems.
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, plums, damsons, greengages, cherries and hazelnuts in colder areas and for peaches, nectarines and apricots in all parts. The last three of these are best trained as fans on a warm wall in all but the south.
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.
Hazelnuts are the exception to the above soil requirements as they enjoy lime and prefer a pH of 7.5-8.0. Also, a very rich soil is not needed and may lead to excessive growth.
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. For hazelnuts this manure or compost is not needed if the soil is already fertile. For trees that are to be trained in a bush form, plant 3.6-4.5m (12-15ft) apart, locating apricots, cherry plums, nectarines and peaches at the wider and other types at the narrower of these spacings. Trees to be fan-trained need a wall space about 3.6-4.5m (12-15ft) long.
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 bush 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.
Apricots, which flower particularly early when pollinating insects are scarce, often benefit from hand pollination with a soft brush.
In a favourable season the crop set on most trees except cherries and hazelnuts 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, e.g. about 7-10 cm (3-4in) apart for apricots and 20cm (8in) apart for peaches.
The ideal size container for patio trees is 20-30 litres for the first year. After the first year you will need to re-pot the tree into a larger container 35-60 litres in size.
Place some large stones or broken pots in the bottom of the container to allow for drainage and then use a mixture of normal soil and compost for planting; using just compost will let your tree dry out too quickly.
Stand the tree upright in the container and fan the roots out. Fill with soil and compost mix up to the base of the tree, where the trunk and roots join. Leave 2-3in between the soil level and top of the container. Water in well and do not allow to dry out. Feed during the growing season.
All trees will require staking for at least the first 4-5 years of their lives. For a bush form tree this stake should be about 1.5m (5ft) long and, preferably, treated with preservative. Insert it at the time of planting, driving it 45-60cm (18-24in) into the ground. Before planting, trim any broken roots and identify the union where the fruit variety was budded onto the rootstock. This should be clearly visible near the bottom of the stem except in the case of hazelnuts, which are grown on their own roots.
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.
- Peaches and Nectarines – Up to the third year, pruning is very similar to that of apples and pears except that it should not be done until March and the main stem is not cut back as hard in the first year so as to allow a trunk about 90cm (3ft) long to develop. All pruning cuts should be protected with wound paint.
As most fruit is produced on the previous year’s wood, however, the pruning of cropping trees is rather different involving removal of a portion of the 2-3 year old wood each season, cutting back to young replacement shoots. At the same time any dead, diseased, crossing, crowded or broken shoots should also be removed.
- Plums, Damsons, Greengages, Cherries, Apricots, Aprium and Pluot – 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.
- Quince - requires an open, sunny position and will thrive in any well drained, fertile soil. They will tolerate light shade, but may not be so floriferous and therefore give a lower yield. They may be grown as freestanding shrubs or used to create a hedge. Prune back long shoots in Sept/Oct
- Medlar - grows best in fertile moist but well drained soil in sun or part shade. Prune in late winter when dormant. Fruits are very hard and acidic. They become edible after being softened by frost, or naturally in storage given sufficient time. Once softening begins, the skin rapidly takes a wrinkled texture and turns dark brown, and the inside reduces to a consistency and flavour reminiscent of apple sauce. They can then be eaten raw, often consumed with cheese as a dessert, although they are also used to make medlar jelly and wine.
PLEASE NOTE: Your trees may 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.