Despite the wintry weather that we have been having recently we are not very far away from the early days of spring and therefore it won’t be long before many of our fruit trees start showing the first sign of life for the oncoming fruit growing season. To maximise our fortune with our fruit the important thing is to be ready for the season ahead as once our trees start moving it may be too late to help them to be at their very best. In order to act as an aide memoire I suggest that you consider the following points for your fruit trees:
- Have a good look at your trees. Are there any branches that were missed in last summer’s pruning or are there any branches damaged by winter weather. With the exception of stone fruit (cherries, plums, gages, damsons, peaches, nectarines and apricots) you can prune your trees now and then you can prune your stone fruit at the end of April.
- Quite often after heavy winter rains surface feeding roots become exposed and your trees will benefit from these roots being covered by soil which can be obtained from elsewhere in your garden or allotment but making sure that the bud or graft union with the rootstock is not covered.
- Check that where trees are tied to any form of supporting structure or stakes they are still adequately so. It is usually impossible to see ties during the growing season and winter can take its toll particularly if there have been strong winds.
- Clear all weeds, old leaves and decaying fruits on the ground around the base of your trees as these will harbour pests and diseases which can quickly spread during the growing season. Lightly fork around the base of your trees to expose any overwintering unfriendly grubs, insects and maggots which birds will very happily home in on and eat!
- To prevent the winter moth from climbing up your apple trees apply insect barrier glue or a band of fruit tree grease to the trunk about 300mm (12 inches) from the ground. Do not attempt to use anything other than horticultural grease otherwise you can seriously harm animals.
- Apply a handful of Fruit Feed or blood, fish and bone to the base of each tree and very lightly fork it in. This will give your trees a good boost for the beginning of the season and help the trees start off well.
- Although time is getting on you can still contemplate, order, buy and plant bare root fruit trees. You can continue to plant bare rooted trees until the end of March (or end of April if the trees have been kept in coldstore) although the earlier in the year they are planted the better. However, the downside with planting later in the season is that you will need to keep these trees well watered during the growing season as they will not have much of a chance to grow any feeding roots into the soil.
- Sometimes when fruit trees begin flowering one or two may not and therefore there is an assumption that they may have died during the winter. This may be particularly so with plums, damsons and gages. Please do not be tempted to quickly root these trees out and contemplate replacing them. It is highly possible that such trees will not have developed any fruit buds and growth buds often don’t appear for several weeks after trees have blossomed. I’m certain that many a good fruit has been dug up and taken to the tip unnecessarily! I suggest that you wait until June before you make such a pronouncement.
Hopefully our spring and summer this year are going to be good for fruit growing which is much needed after quite a poor 2012. Helping your fruit trees along as I have just noted will help them flourish in the year ahead!
7th February 2013
Gerry is an experienced amateur fruit grower who is Chairman of the RHS Fruit Group, a member of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Fruit, Vegetable and Herb Committee and also their Fruit Trials Panel. Gerry judges fruit nationally for the Royal Horticultural Society and is also a qualified National Vegetable Society judge.