Top Ten Tips on caring for fruit trees

  1. The fundamental thing to remember is that even though trees don’t talk or run around, they are living organisms and highly responsive to human beings. Regular visits to the trees are important, not least because in this way one can develop an understanding of the tree’s needs and behaviour. One can then respond in the right manner to achieve good results in terms of growth and fertility. Trees that are well looked after will live much longer than us! Try to understand the tree’s needs by frequent visits, and all will be well.
  2. Do not plant an oldish or so-called “mature” tree, as you may be starting off with lots of problems. Plant a healthy 2 to 3-year old tree, and cropping will start the year after planting in the case of apples, peaches and apricots. Pears, plums and cherries will take another one or two years to start cropping. Read more about planting fruit trees.
  3. Fruit trees are like youngsters; give them room to stretch out and grow, when they are young. Cropping will follow sooner than you think. Read more about fruit tree planting spacing and rootstocks.
    Make sure the trees have full light. That’s their source of energy. Shade always reduces cropping.
  4. The soil has to be the best. The soil is the tree’s home. A tree likes its soil to be well aerated and full of nutrients. Read more on the best soil for fruit trees.
  5. Make sure that the soil and subsoil are never waterlogged, particularly in winter. Stagnant water is a death sentence for a fruit tree. Read about a quick method of determining if your soil is suitable for fruit trees.
  6. From April to September, water weekly, when the trees are young. 10 to 15 litres per week is a minimum. More in hot periods.
  7. During the growing season, take note of the leaves. If they are deep green, the tree is happy. If they are a different colour, the tree is telling you something and needs your help. Take a look at our apple tree leaf diagnosis page.
  8. Only transplant trees from December to March. This is the period of dormancy.
  9. Keep one square metre of soil around the trunk totally free from grass and weeds. This solves many fruit growing problems.
  10. When you think that picking time is near, taste the fruit. If you like the flavour, pick the fruit gently, without bruising it, and store it in a cool dark place at a temperature as close to 3° Celsius as possible. A second-hand fridge is ideal for storing all fruits. Read more about when to harvest fruit trees.

How to look after fruit trees – choose the right location

It is important to choose the right trees for the location, because trees are site-specific. This is particularly important for plums, which are extraordinarily sensitive to location. But in general, all fruit tree varieties should be selected according to the site.

Well-balanced tree development 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.

Plant fruit trees at the right time

If you plant the tree after the end of March (considering the UK), you are giving the tree a very poor start. Bareroot trees should be planted in their dormant period, from December to March. Read more about when to plant fruit trees. The concept is that when a tree is lifted from the soil at the nursery, the roots lose most of their microscopic feeding roots, and the nursery staff will shorten the roots for easy transport. If you plant during dormancy, the root system has a chance to regrow the feeding roots when the tree starts emerging from dormancy and its requirements for water and nutrients are still relatively low. If you do the same thing during the growing system, the tree will find itself with high needs for water and nutrients, but without a sufficient root system.

Read an article on how to get fruit trees into production sooner

Fruit trees and nutrition

Fruit trees react very positively to organic manures, particularly if straw is the manure’s basic material. Caution is needed when chemical fertilisers are used. Cropping will be delayed if nitrogen fertiliser is used in excess. Too much potash can cause bitter pit, lowering the quality of the apple. Leaf analysis is an excellent guide to keep the nutrition of fruit trees at an optimum level.

Water regularly after planting

For newly-planted trees, applying a full watering can, once a week, is absolutely essential! More about planting fruit trees here.

Keep an area free from grass and weeds

Please do not forget that any vegetation surrounding the stem of the tree will rob most of the applied water, which was meant for the tree.

Therefore, within a circle of a radius of 60 cm, make sure that grass and weeds are totally removed. This does not apply only in the first year. Keep this up for at least 3 years. Watch a video about the need of controlling weeds around fruit trees.

Control aphids and greenfly

Aphids/greenfly carry various viral diseases, which can harm the tree very greatly. When the newly-formed leaves at the end of the young shoots look curled up, this provides a visible sign showing that the tree is in trouble. Control these insects and remove this threat to the tree’s survival, at the earliest opportunity. Watch a video on how to control aphids on apples trees

How to look after fruit trees – visit your trees regularly

It is important to visit your trees at regular intervals. A quick look once a week. For example, if the leaves are dropping off, it may be that the tree is crying out for water. Or, when the bark of the tree has changed colour from a healthy brown or grey to deep red, this is very likely a sign that the tree is suffocating due to lack of oxygen near its growing roots, due to impeded drainage. Take a look at our Diagnostic Leaf Atlas.

These are only a few examples, but as time goes by, you will begin to see the signs of stress or the first symptoms of some sort of disease, at an early stage. Most of the time you can do something to help the tree to get over its trouble. Usually you will have time to act. Trees are long-living plants and therefore have learned to cope with afflictions. However as you would also like to harvest some tasty fruits, it is wise to minimize negative influences. Biologically there are often lots of beneficial predators for fruit trees, which will minimize the need to interfere. If, however, the number of certain harmful insects are too great, then without the use of artificial chemicals, most of the time, the situation can be brought under control, without any ill effect.

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