Introduction to Fruit Trees
To grow fruit trees follow the rules of growing ornamental trees, and you’re most of the way there with growing fruit trees. There’s variations on pruning different varieties of fruit such as kiwis (climbing shrub / tree) peach, figs, apricots, mulberries and medlars which we’ll cover below. But the methods of planting, watering and feeding are the same.
Planting Fruit Trees
Fruit trees are normally available as bare rooted or containerised plants that are young (up to five years old) and trained by the growers to grow well and develop maximum harvests. Depending on how you receive your plant will determine in which season to plant it.
Choose a site which is well-drained and in a position which benefits from good sunlight. Avoid planting in a part of the garden that is a frost pocket - opened flowers and fruitlets are susceptible to frost damage. Also, avoid planting in an exposed or windy position as this will both discourage pollinating insects and cause crop damage.
Avoid planting near larger or overhanging trees. To reduce the possibility of carrying over any dormant disease, do not plant where an old fruit tree has recently been removed. If your garden or allotment is visited by rabbits, then adequate protection must be given to the tree trunks using wire netting or plastic tree guards.
As long as young trees are mature enough to survive, younger trees actually establish quicker than older trees. A 1-year fruit tree will have a 3-year old root-system underneath it, which is more than mature enough.
The young trees rely upon the wispy (fibrous) roots to re-establish into its new home. The strong rigid heavy roots are best pruned back before re-planting. The fibrous roots should not be left too long, they’re best shortened to about 3in. If the roots are left too long at planting time it is very difficult to ensure the roots are spread out radially when refilling the hole. If the roots end up scrunched up, or worse, still wrapped round the stem below the ground, the tree develops with the trunk connected to the earth via a giant spring, which 10 or 20 years later makes the tree likely to fall over in a gale.
If a pot-grown tree spends too long in the pot it can become pot-bound, so it is important to ensure a newly planted tree is stabilised with a stake and tie for the first year or two after planting. The new roots initially are very brittle and will snap off if the main stem just above the ground is allowed to move around in the wind.
Planting Bare-rooted Trees
Planting time: November to March
Preparing the soil: The soil should be thoroughly dug and, at the same time, incorporate some bulky
compost or Organic Extra Manure, and a feed of Fish, Blood & Bone or Light & Easy garden compost. Make sure any deep rooted perennial weeds are removed with a fork, or shallow-rooted weeds which you can remove with a hoe.
Most fruit varieties will tolerate a wide range of soil types, especially when you incorporate manure into the soil to increase its fertility and improve its texture.
Planting method: Dig a planting hole 15cm (6in) wider than the root system once it has been spread out, and to a depth whereby the soil mark from the nursery on the stem of the young tree will be just covered. This should mean that the graft union (the knobbly part at the base of the stem) is about is 12-15cm (5-6in) above soil level when you have finished planting.
Fork into the sides of the hole which will encourage the roots to penetrate the surrounding soil and establish well.
If you want to add a tree-stake for stabilising the tree in a windy site, bang it into the hole before the tree is planted, so you don’t damage roots by tapping in the stake after the young tree has been planted.
After placing the tree in the hole, spread out the roots and add layers of soil, firming down with your foot. Repeat until you’ve filled the hole with soil. The tree should be firm enough in the soil that it does not up-root when you pull the main stem and it shows resistance.
Water the area generously after planting and add a layer of warming and moisture-locking mulch around the tree, making sure that the mulch does not come into direct contact with the main stem.
If you have added a stake, tie to the tree by means of a tree tie ensuring that it’s firmly attached but allows a small degree of movement.
Planting Containerised Trees
Instructions (see bare-rooted, but note the following).
Planting time: All year round (though avoid high-summer and deep winter)
Planting method: Remove any weeds that may be growing on top of the container, and tease out some of the roots that are circling around the root ball. This will encourage the roots to penetrate the surrounding soil and establish well.
Feeding Fruit Trees
Incorporating bulky compost and/ or manure into the soil before planting will increase nutrient levels in the soil and give the young tree a good start.
Fruit trees will produce flowers and fruit any time up to five years. Until they flower, feed with a general purpose fertiliser that you can add to water. Once the tree starts to flower, change this to a feed high in potash, like tomato food, which encourages good flowering and fruiting.
Watering Fruit Trees
In the first year of planting, water generously. A good rule of thumb is to water to the point of creating a small pool around the stem. Let this absorb into the ground and repeat. Water morning and evening in times of drought, and one or the other during wet periods.
It’s good to add a mulch after planting which conserves water in the soil.
Training Fruit Trees
Mulberries: Just cut out the dead, diseased and damaged branches and one or two branches that spoil the overall shape. You want to prune as little as often on this tree as it tends to exude a lot of tree sap when pruned.
Peaches: On established trees prune the side branches in spring so there’s three shoots per branch. In May, cut each of the three shoots to six leaves. After harvest, cut out the side branches that fruited down to a leafy shoot that will replace the side branch the following spring.
Apricots: For young trees, prune main stems by half in early February, and repeat the following year to get a good strong framework. On established trees prune like mulberries, only ridding the dead, damaged or diseased plants.
Medlars: Just prune this variety lightly and harvest when the fruits are very soft in autumn (when they are ‘bletted’.)
Kiwis: This is more a climber, but grows on woody stems that gives it tree ‘status’. Prune as you would outdoor grapes. In the first and second year after planting in spring first train the main stem to grow vertically, and the side branches to creep along wires. Cut back these side branches to five leaves and remove the flowers. In November shorten the growth of the vertical stem by about 10-15cm (4-6in) and cut back side branches to 2.5cm (1 in) of the main stem.
In the third year and after in spring cut the side branches to two leaves past the first set of flowers. You want one set of flowers per side-branch, to get nice-sized fruits.
Figs: With 2-3 year old trees, in winter prune strong branches to half their length and weak branches by a third. For three to five stems.
With older plants harvest the larger fruits at the end of the year that are still green. The pea-sized ones will overwinter fine for growing and ripening in the following summer. For successful fruiting though, figs really require lots of sun, which in the UK they get all too sporadically.
Pests and Diseases
Apples - Greenfly, caterpillar, sawfly, brown rot
Pears - Bullfinches, caterpillar, brown rot
Plums - Greenflies, wasps, silverleaf, brown rot
Cherries - Birds, silverleaf, bacterial canker
Mulberries - Leaf spot
Peaches - Greenfly, peach leaf curl, bacterial canker
Apricots - Greenfly, red spider mite, bacterial canker
Medlars - Winter moth caterpillars
Kiwis - Root rot, bleeding canker
Figs - Canker, grey mould, coral spot