Photo courtesy of Michael Cornelius/
Photo courtesy of Michael Cornelius/

The critical points to get right to ensure that the trees to do well.

1) The soil is the tree’s home. Only the best will do. Use John Innes compost number 3 as a soil improver, if necessary. Ideal pH: 6.3- 6.8

2) Choose a spot in full sunlight.

3) Do not plant the tree on live roots of any other tree or on old orchard land.

4) Stay away from any type of hedge. The distance depends on the height of the hedge: for example if the hedge is 3 metres tall, plant the tree at least 3 metres from the hedge canopy.

5) Prepare the planting spot well before the tree’s arrival.

6) Moist soil is fine. Waterlogged soil is a no. Plant in a raised bed when in doubt.

7) The tree should be staked at all times from planting, right through its life. Use a 2”diameter, round, treated stake, 6 feet in length, treated against wood rot fungi.

8) First put the round stake upright in the ground, to a depth of 1’6”.

9) Then dig a decent-sized planting hole at spade depth. Approx. 1’6” diameter. Loosen the sub soil with a rigid tine fork. Keep the union of the tree above soil level.

10) Put the top soil in a wheelbarrow and mix it with some blood and bone meal and some garden compost or well rotted manure.

11) Always make sure crumbly soil is put back on top of the roots. Not big lumps of stiff clay. Firm the soil with your boot.

12) Tie the tree with a flexible adjustable tie. An old nylon stocking is perfect.

13) Put a rabbit guard on the trunk. If deer are a problem, use the appropriate guard.

14) Keep 1 square metre of soil around the trunk free from grass and weeds, during the growing season, from April to September during the next 4 years. Use a soil membrane from the garden centre. WITHOUT THIS, THE TREES WILL STRUGGLE. Grass is the worst enemy of young fruit trees.

15) Water your tree weekly during the growing season, above all from May to September. A full watering can for each tree. The first 3 years are decisive for healthy tree development.

16) Prevent aphids from damaging your trees. This applies in particular just before flowering time and soon after that. Any garden centre will stock what you will need for this. Use an approved organic method in order to save the ladybirds, lacewings and earwigs. These are excellent predators and the earwigs remove lots of caterpillars.

The staking of fruit trees, a necessary evil?

The amazing thing is that apple trees on MM106 rootstock, if planted well as free-standing trees, usually can do without a stake. The same applies to pears, plums cherries on semi-vigorous stock. But fruit trees on semi-dwarfing stock such as M26, Pixie, Quince C or Gisela, will most definitely need permanent support. The reason is that dwarf and semi-dwarf rootstocks have usually plenty of feeding roots but only a limited amount of holding roots. Moreover, fruit trees on dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstocks are more shallow-rooting. This is also the reason why grass, if left to grow right up to the trunks of these trees, is too fierce a competitor, particularly if the good-quality topsoil is shallow.

It is simply impossible for dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees to perform well without a good stake. The minimum length of a good-quality round stake needs to be at least 6 feet and with a diameter of 2 inches. The wood must have been treated to stop the stake from rotting off at ground level.

You may ask why the stake has to be 6 feet in length. A very good question! The answer is that without a stake of sufficient length, the central leader of the tree will quickly lose its dominant position. The tree will then become a semi-bonsai. In other words, fruit trees on strong rootstocks only need a 4-foot short stake and then only in the early years. Semi-dwarf trees, like M26 for apple trees, will need a permanent tall stake, as highlighted above.
Ideally the stake will need to be set in the soil before the tree is planted next to it. It is important to plant the tree 2 to 3 inches away from the stake, to give the trunk room to expand.

Training fruit trees

Fruit trees are very adaptable and can be trained in many different forms and shapes, such as espaliers, fans, step-over trees, pergolas and arches. Also, if on the right rootstock, cherry trees for example, do a lot better inside a fruit cage. Training apple trees or pear trees along fence panels can be very successful. Quince trees and greengages do better as free standing trees.

However it has to be understood that a lot more attention to details will need to be given as regards the way these special tree shapes are pruned and when this pruning is carried out. For young freshly-planted trees, it is better to minimise pruning in the early years. A lot of the essential formation of the different shapes of trees can be done with the aid of clothes pegs and flexi-tie material. Pruning, if it has to be done, must be carried out by the end of August – the middle of September. No winter pruning. This will only delay cropping except for exceptionally fertile varieties such as Red Falstaff.

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