How to choose the right site for fruit trees? Trees are site-specific. Site selection for fruit trees is to a large degree determined by the quality of the soil and the moisture availability during the growing season. A well-drained sandy loam of sufficient depth is ideal. Another major factor, not to be under-estimated, is the quality of the light available to the trees. Fruit trees should be planted in full sun light, without shade caused by buildings or other trees.

How to reduce the effect of wind on fruit trees

Open sites without any protection against strong winds may be OK in the South of England. However in the North of England and Scotland, where the temperatures are already lower and the winds even stronger, compared with the South, the trees may survive, but regular crops are unlikely to be achieved. Read more about shelter belts.

However it is amazing what can be done if some sort of shelter is available, such as planting along a south or east-facing wall or behind a tall hedge or a row of trees acting as a windbreak, for the area where the fruit trees are planted. However leave enough room as a headland, as fruit trees do not like to grow in the shade of other taller trees, neither do they like being planted on top of live roots of existing trees in the surrounding area.

How to reduce the risk of frost on fruit trees

Frost risks can be increased by geographical conformation. Valleys collect cold air and often lead to spring frosts at the time fruit trees are in blossom. The prospects of a decent crop diminish with every spring frost in the period from late March to the end of May. For that reason, if possible, try to plant further up the slope, where the air is warmer.

If there is a hedge or a dense row of trees that stops the cold air from draining away, a 3 to 4 metre gap should be created at the lowest point in the hedge.

Summarizing, fruit trees do best if planted at a site with a good micro climate of relative warmth and shelter. Valleys collect cold air and are therefore risky sites for fruit trees. This is linked to the possibility of serious frost damage to fruit tree blossoms in the period from April to May.

Read more about fruit trees and climate effects.

Wild flower meadows help fruit tree pollination

A final note regards wildflower meadows. Good pollination for many types of fruit is vital for regular crops. Without the help of pollinating insects, regular crop production is a frequently-occurring problem. Wild flower areas can help in this regard, by providing a regular food supply for these insects, in the form of flowering plants throughout the growing season, from March to some time in September. While a meadow is ideal, if space is restricted, even just a small wild flower area can help. Read an article about wild flower meadows, and watch a video about a wild flower meadow.

Yellow rattle in a wildflower meadow

Can you plant different fruit trees next to each other?

Perhaps you already have some healthy, well-established trees in your garden, and you want to fill a gap with a new tree. In this case, you have to follow a certain procedure to give the new tree or trees a chance to compete successfully with the trees already there, and ensuring them a constant supply of moisture, light and nutrients throughout the growing season. Here we go:

  1. Choose the correct fruit type, rootstock and variety compatible and vigorous enough to compete with the already established and larger trees in close proximity.
  2. Use a mini digger to prepare the planting hole, and cut and remove all the roots of surrounding trees that are crossing the planting hole. The size of the planting hole needs to be 1 metre square and 45 cm deep. (If you don’t have a mini digger, well, it’s going to be spade work… take your time, take it easy, do some warm-up exercises before you start. If you have back or heart problems, ask someone who is fit to do it… or hire a mini-digger.)
  3. Next, loosen the subsoil but do not take that soil out of the planting hole.
  4. Remove or cut back all overhanging branches of other trees, which will be taking away the light of the tree or trees to be planted.
  5. Mix plenty of garden compost or well-rotted straw-based farmyard manure into the soil that you have taken out of the hole.
  6. When planting your trees make sure the union of the trees is at least 4 inches above soil level once planted. Read more about how to plant a tree.
  7. Plant the trees well away from any building or wall, which might create shade.
  8. Firm the soil around the roots, but with only moderate force. No stamping. Stake the trees with a 6 foot, circular-section, 2” diameter stake, which has been treated against fungi. If it is not treated against fungi, it may rot off at soil level.
  9. During the growing season do not forget to water the trees weekly, with 10 litres of water for each tree.
  10. Apply “Growmore” spread evenly over the 1 square metre area, twice a year, in February and June. Do not allow any weeds or grass to grow on your specially-prepared soil area, around the trunks of the trees. Mulch the trees if possible. Follow instructions on the fertilizer packet. Do not exceed the stated rate of application.

If you do all the above you will succeed. Good luck and all best wishes!

How to deal with tree height restrictions

Many people with newly-built houses or allotments are keen to grow fruit trees along their border line or separating fence or wall. But often they run into a problem: due to legal restrictions or rules, the trees are not allowed to grow any taller then 6 feet, 183 cm.

In this case, it is best to follow a modified planting procedure:

  • in the case of apples use the rootstock M26,
  • in the case of cherries use the rootstock Gisela 5,
  • in the case of plums, the rootstock Pixie is not always suitable, seek advice,
  • in the case of pears, use a root control bag.

An alternative method is also available. Use an 16 to 18-inch clay or plastic pot with good drainage holes. Sink the entire pot into the soil with the rim of the pot protruding above soil level by 1 inch (to prevent the tree-roots escaping over the top of the pot), and plant the tree in the pot. To stop the drainage holes getting blocked by roots in future years, it is essential to cover them with broken bits of terracotta pots or the equivalent. Blocked drainage holes kill trees!

This method will effectively reduce the root run. This in turn will limit the tree height to around 6 feet. However, if this method of growth control is chosen, it is most important that the trees are routinely watered once or twice a week depending on weather conditions.

Another method is to use a root control bag. These are suitable for all types of fruit trees. These bags reduce root circling and result in an altogether more fibrous root system. Excellent root bag products are obtainable from:

GardenSelect Ltd
http://www.gardenselect.co.uk
enquiries@gardenselect.co.uk
Tel. 01908 631594

Renovating neglected orchards

New owners of a property that includes an old orchard are often faced with this question: is it worth the time and finance to renovate a neglected orchard? Even when taking out of the equation the value of the site related to other considerations such as, for example, house building, careful thought has to be given to the problem before undertaking such a major operation. The chances of success are not always very great. The following questions will have to be asked:

  • Why did the orchard become neglected?
  • Which rootstock was used for the trees?
  • At what distances apart were the trees planted in relation to the rootstock used and the quality of the soil?
  • Is the soil free draining?
  • Are the fruits of the varieties of interest to you, whether for sale or family consumption?
  • Could the fruit be used for processing?
  • What is the rating of the site in relation to the risk of hail?
  • Are there any difficult diseases in evidence, such as canker or Armillaria root rot or collar rot?

Often, if fruit trees become neglected, and they are planted in deep, free-draining soils, the task of renovating the orchard – which includes bringing the trees down to a manageable size – is particularly difficult. The main reason is that one has to deal with the very powerful root systems of healthy trees. Often the root systems are larger than the trees themselves.

Therefore hard pruning is usually not a successful way of dealing with the problem. In short the renovating process will have to be spread out over a period of 3 to 4 years. Even so at the same time one has to do everything possible to keep the trees cropping well. This is of great importance because to control tree size, it is important that a major part of the tree’s energy resources is used in fruit production and not for surplus wood production.

In summary, the questions listed above have to be looked at first of all. Only after having determined the answers can you make a realistic risk assessment. The outcome of the overall risk assessment evaluation will determine if renovating the orchard will be worthwhile. You can contact me if you need help with this sort of problem.

Is it worth restoring an old tree?

This question is often asked, when people are unsure what to do with an old fruit tree. There are many points to consider before a decision can be made. For example:

  • Is the tree healthy?
  • Is the tree wanted as an asset, in the position in which it is growing?
  • Does the tree crop regularly?
  • Is it a variety of fruit that you want?
  • How old is the tree?

In general terms, fruit trees do not do well on waterlogged soils. Usually this is clearly demonstrated when the tree shows excessive canker. If no canker is present, then it is very likely that the soil quality is well suited for the tree. Secondly, older trees do best when given plenty of room. Older trees struggle when they have to live in cramped conditions. At the same time, if for example two apple trees are growing in the same area and they are not too close to each other, predators are usually around in greater numbers in order to keep harmful insects under control. Trees can communicate with each other via their root systems.

It is also important to consider the type of tree. For example walnut and pear trees live considerably longer when compared with a plum or a peach tree. Apple trees, in optimum surroundings and suitable soils, can live for a long time. Many small orchards, in which trees are planted fairly close to each other, do not have a long life span. After 25 years the trees are well past their best. This applies particularly to plums, peaches and nectarines growing in the UK. In countries with different climatic conditions, this does not necessarily apply.

Summarising, if the old tree is wanted, a lot can be done to extend its lifespan. Often, older trees are of such beauty that any effort to save the tree is very worthwhile. Judging the health of the tree is a good point to start from. Having seen in practice the success achieved in restoring old trees to their former glory is a very satisfying experience. You can contact me if you need help with this sort of problem.

Trees and flooding

We have heard and seen so much about the dreadful floods all over the country. Nothing is worse than having your house and home standing in water, due to rivers bursting their banks, due to vast amounts of unprecedented volumes of rain.

This made me think how people had to cope in Holland with rising water levels of the North Sea after violent storms from the north-west, some 800 years ago. Their main concern and top priority was to safeguard the home and the shed for the domestic animals, a few cows, pigs and chickens. These small farm steads were situated as totally isolated buildings in the middle of lots of low-lying surrounding fields. The surrounding fields were mainly grassland for their cattle. What they did was to build terps (artificial mounds), by hand and a wheelbarrow. They built their home on top of this mound.

Obviously in most cases today this is not possible due to a host of environmental regulations. However it is still possible, under similar threatening conditions, to surround your home and garden, with the aid of a JCB, with a dike, wide enough and high enough, to keep the water out. The surrounding dike can be stabilized further by planting fruit trees on the top of the dike and a mixed hedge at the bottom. These will help keep the soil together. Cover the soil with deep-rooting grass to anchor the soil all over the area. Keep some sheep to utilize the grass and there is your personalized flood defence.

Terp, de Hallig Hooge, Germany
Terp, de Hallig Hooge, Germany, photo courtesy of Sandra Buhmann/Wikipedia