When is the best time to plant a fruit tree?
I recently met up with Kevin O’Neill from Walcot Organic Nurseries, who are based locally in Drakes Broughton, near Pershore, who specialise in fruit trees and I asked him for some simple advice on planting, varieties and care.
The winter is the best time for planting bare root fruit trees when they are dormant – ideally between end of November and end of March. So now is a good time to be deciding what to plant and ordering. By planting before the winter’s end, the trees will be ready for a good start in the spring.
Alternatively, you can buy pot grown trees, these are usually more expensive than bare roots and the choice of trees may be limited. But they can be planted throughout the year which may be more convenient.
Bare roots are more suitable if you want to train the fruit tree into a fan or espalier or cordon, or some other format, a 1-year bare-root tree is usually the best way to start.
What are the tastiest fruit trees to grow?
This depends on what you want the fruit for ie cooking or eating straight from the tree. Walcot grow around 80 varieties of apple tree, and 30 varieties of plums plus cherries, damsons, pears and many more fruits. They include a mix of traditional and modern such as Lord Lambourne, Egremont Russet, Sunset and Lord Derby. More modern varieties – Red Falstaff, Herefordshire Russet and Rajka. So, there is an apple for every sized garden and taste.
Cherries are the first to ripen with their red fruits that can turn almost black if you can resist picking them! Next to ripen are Plums – Victoria is a superb variety but there are many other excellent plums to choose from that extend the season. Then there are Pears, Damsons, Quinces and Crab Apples.
In my humble opinion Cox apples make great eaters and Bramley apples make a fabulous crumble!
How big will the fruit tree grow?
You may have read about root stocks and seen ‘M’ numbers on plant labels and wondered what it refers to. It’s important to understand this to ensure you buy the right sized tree for your plot. Here’s a chart to explain it easily
Bear in mind that Apples pollinate apples and no other fruit trees species ie Pears. The same goes for Plums, etc. So, for successful pollination if no other fruit trees are in the vicinity select two or more of the same species to ensure fruiting. Also make sure the trees you buy flower at the same time – this will allow bees and other pollinators to move from tree to tree.
Where should you plant fruit trees?
Growing fruit trees successfully requires an open situation with plenty of light and shelter from prevailing winds. Good light ensures good growth and ripening of fruit. Shelter warms the site and improves pollination (bees don’t like wind and rain), which leads to better growth and fruit production. The ideal soil for fruit trees is a well-drained loam that is slightly acid. Avoid sites susceptible to waterlogging.
How to care for your trees
Ideally stake and tie at planting time, this will stop the tree from rocking in the wind and support the tree whilst growing. Remove all vegetation from around the base of the tree and add mulch to retain water and keep weed free.
Watch out for pests, especially aphids. There are other pests usually around when the tree is fruiting such as Codling Moth (their larvae feeds on fruit rather than leaves) – pheromone traps will help a little. Winter Moth caterpillars can eat early spring growth – wingless female winter moths emerge from pupae in the soil during November to April and crawl up trunks to lay eggs on the branches. To help reduce this happening, apply grease bands around the trunk in the autumn which is a pesticide-free way of keeping winter moth caterpillars away from your pear and apple trees in the spring. Although birds like the aphids and caterpillars and they help feed their babies.
Pruning is really important and essentially there are three stages to pruning:
- Early hard pruning to develop the shape of the tree
- Lighter pruning to encourage fruiting
- Once fruiting, pruning to maintain a balance between growth and fruiting.
It’s best to read the article on pruning on Walcot Nursery’s website for detailed information as it depends on the age and type of tree you have.
More detailed information and a catalogue is available from www.walcotnursery.co.uk
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