Fruit Growers Treasure Trove

Buying fruit trees
Home grown fruit
Looking after trees
Top Ten Tips on caring for fruit trees

Trees all over the globe are the homes of many creatures, which breathe the same air and drink the same water as humans do. All those creatures communicate not only with others of the same species, but with all that lives and surrounds them. Just because we as humans have voices, it does not give us the right to dominate life in all its forms on the planet. Instead we will all be better off respecting each other and trying to understand what makes other creatures tick. For that reason I believe that Schumacher was right when he said “small is beautiful”. Globalization is based on the principle of domination and commercial control for self enrichment.

ladybirds great helpers for fruit growers
Click to watch a video about ladybirds, a fruit grower’s best friend.

It is for that reason I believe there is much more we can do close to our homes, to ensure our children will find a world worth living in and giving them the chance to admire all that is alive around them. Only then can we agree with Louis Armstrong when he published his song called “What a wonderful world”.

Buying fruit trees

Planting fruit trees is an important decision. The fundamental point to remember is that it is essential to start fruit growing with a healthy tree. How do you know whether the trees are healthy and of the right type/rootstock, suitable for your garden or wall/fence? I am here to make sure you are doing the right thing. As a general rule do not buy miserable, thin little trees – often a risk when purchasing online. This will give you pain and trouble at a later stage. The minimum height of a healthy fruit tree is approx. 5 feet. Make sure it has a nice lot of healthy side branches. Do not buy a fruit tree without a proper label, stating the name of the tree, the rootstock and the name of the supplier. Without this information you are courting disaster!

how to choose fruit trees to plant
Click to see a video about what to look for when buying fruit trees

Buy virus-free trees

The basic health status of fruit trees is to a large degree determined by the nursery man during the initial propagation procedures. There is now a wealth of knowledge in relation to the factors determining plant health. If this knowledge is applied in a practical manner during the initial propagation procedures, then the fruit tree will be in top health when ready for sale. If the tree is bought from a reputable nursery, where virus-free material is the basic source, you can be sure that the tree you are buying has no hidden diseases. A cure at a later stage is unlikely to be practical or available.

Soil quality and sunlight

The next stage of ensuring 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.

Click to watch a video about soil analysis


Then there is 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.

Plant at fruit trees at the right time

Remember that young fruit trees will need TLC at the same level as needed for a young puppy dog or a kitten. If you do not have the inclination or time to give your trees your full attention, as a minimum on a weekly basis, then it is highly likely that the tree will die or go out of control within the space of 5 years. The planting date will have a major effect. If you plant the tree after the end of March (considering the UK), you are giving the tree a very poor start. Just remember this: in order to place your fruit tree in your garden, its roots had to be shortened. This process produced many tree root wounds, which will heal rapidly, but only if the moisture in the surrounding soil is at optimum level. Therefore 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.

Watch out for aphids and greenfly

Finally 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 control aphids on apple trees video
Click to watch a video on how to control aphids on apples trees

Only purchase trees from outlets/garden centres where the trees are well looked after. The health status of the tree is of paramount importance. Not the price of the tree.

Home grown fruit

Traditional English orchard painting

If only I had known that, I would have done so and so. This is how the saying goes. Well, there are three headlines which few people have any doubt about:
Cash will get shorter, food costs will continue to rise, as will the cost of petrol and diesel. Fortunately, for many people there are options to consider, to do something about the family’s cost of food. What’s more it is a pleasant, healthy and exciting undertaking; GROW YOUR OWN! Many of us will think that’s not for me, I don’t know anything about this.

In my experience Nature is very forgiving. As long as the will is there and an effort is made, the food in the form of fresh tasty produce will be appear from your garden, allotment or patio, sooner than you think. People in the UK are in a very fortunate position. A multitude of garden centres, friends and neighbours are only too pleased to help you to get started to make much better use of your garden, allotment or any piece of ground to start growing your own food. And at a low cost.

Sound second-hand tools are available from car boot sales and charity shops. Second-hand book shops can supply you with additional information on how to grow your fruit and vegetables. Just plant and sow at the right time of the year, go to your plot at least once a week and you will be amazed how nature provides to all who are trying.

There is nothing better and tastier that growing your own fruit and vegetables. You can trust your own fruit to be free from chemicals, pesticides and fungicides. Plant a few trees and you will also provide an important message for children, that fruit does not grow in supermarkets.

To make a real success of it, think in the following basic terms. Make sure you feed your soil on an annual basis by adding organic matter. This can be farmyard manure or green manure from the council or your own compost from your compost bin. The other basic requirement is to be ready to supply moisture to your fruit and vegetables when periods of drought occur. For this you do not need large volumes of water. Just make sure you only put the water where it is needed, kept close to the plants and trees by using drip irrigation and in many instances backed up with a water-preserving mulch such as pieces of old carpet, layers of newspaper or cardboard, wet hay or straw or such like.

how to use mulch to help newly planted fruit trees
Click to watch a video about using mulch to help newly-planted trees

Space issues when planting new fruit trees

As far as tree fruits are concerned, go for the smaller tree, if space is at a premium. If you want the trees to begin to crop the year after planting, go for the type of fruit you can grow anywhere in the UK. That is, apples on a semi-dwarf rootstock. Make sure to ask for advice which varieties crop well and on a regular basis. If you have plenty of room then plant apples on rootstock MM106 (read more about rootstocks and tree size). Pears, plums and cherries all take longer to come into production. Only consider peaches and apricots if you have a south-facing wall with a good additional water supply. As I said, Nature is very forgiving and it will give you plenty of time during the growing season to steer things in the right direction. By that I mean keeping the weeds down in order for your fruit and vegetables to do well.

Now if you follow this approach, you will have the best and healthiest food. Far better and cheaper than your supermarket. What’s more, it is fun and relaxing to work with plants and trees. It will give you plenty of room to do things the way you want to do them, at your own pace and in your own time.

Looking after trees

Dan NeuteboomIn my experience, most people have their car serviced twice a year. The average life time of a car is no more than 7 years. A fruit tree has an average life of 28 years. That is 4 times as long. And yet many people plant a tree and then forget about servicing the poor tree! By that I mean a fruit tree also needs to be serviced at least twice a year. Just the same as your car.

But then most people say, “Well, what am I supposed to do?” I hope that the topic of fruit tree care and the elementary principles on which fruit tree care should be based will become clearer as you browse this website. The information provided here applies above all to trees grown in Northern Europe. Warmer climates change things for trees substantially, and several other points need to be taken in consideration. All in all, fruit trees are very responsive to the care and attention given. The result will be regular crops of reasonable quality, without having to resort to genetic manipulation or an extensive use of chemicals. That is my experience gained over many years.

Is it difficult to look after a small multi fruit orchard?

Leaf damageThis question is asked very often. The answer is NO, it is not difficult, not really. But like all living plants and creatures, it is a great help to be willing to try to understand what it is that make trees tick. Why do trees behave in certain ways and what can do to make life comfortable for trees, or at least tolerable to cope successfully when things go astray or are threatening to go belly up? This means it is important to revisit your trees at regular intervals and look at the way the tree is presenting itself to you. A quick look once a week. If, for example, the newly-formed leaves at the end of the growing shoots are rolled up or curled up, the tree is very likely to be trying to defend itself against an intruder such as a colony of aphids. Or, another example, when leaf drop is occurring, 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 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 also like to harvest some tasty fruits, it is wise to minimize negative influences, if the problem the tree is coping with needs a helping hand. 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.

Summarizing, having your own multi fruit orchard is a wonderful source of good food and of great interest, in addition to supplying you with truly delicious home grown fruits. Like kids, fruit trees appreciate attention at regular intervals, and as such repay you many times over.

Top Ten Tips on caring for fruit trees

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.

1) 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. Click to read more about planting fruit trees.

2) 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.

3) 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.