It’s not all about the yield: a homeowner’s guide to fruit trees

20th November 2019

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A fruit tree can be a wondrous addition to a garden. They look amazing when they flower, they produce fruit you can eat straight from the tree or use as ingredients in so many tasty treats and they’re easy to maintain. Why wouldn’t you want a fruit tree in your garden?
Some people worry about whether they could manage a fruit tree, others leave them in the hands of tree surgery cowboys and, as we don’t want either of those situations to continue, we’ve put together a quick guide to fruit tree maintenance.

It’s not all about the yield. Fruit volume each year is important, but so is the quality of the fruit, the health of your tree and the way it looks in your garden.

Step 1: Planting
If you don’t have any fruit trees in your garden, or if you want more, then it’s good to know that planting a fruit tree is quick and simple, though you do need to look after them carefully in their first year or two so they can establish healthy root systems.

The best time to plant a fruit tree is in autumn or early spring, i.e. when the tree is dormant.

  1. Find a space in your garden where your new tree will not need to compete too hard for its water and nutrients.
  2. Dig a hole around one metre square and 20–30 centimetres deep.
  3. Add a layer of compost to the hole and mix into the soil below to create a softer transition for roots to grow through.
  4. Look for a darker watermark at the base of the tree to show the soil level it was previously planted at and make sure that you do not place new soil above this.
  5. Insert a wooden stake for support, just off-centre in the hole.
  6. Place the tree into the hole next to the stake and start adding the soil you removed, add more compost and every so often pat/firm down the soil to ensure the tree is securely planted.
  7. Use a tree strap to fix the tree to the stake, leaving an inch or two between them.
  8. Add organic fertiliser and cover in mulch to keep the moisture in the soil, to maintain a more consistent temperature and water availability.
  9. Water well.

Step 2: It’s first year
New fruit trees can require a little extra effort to make sure they thrive, but trust me, the results are well worth the effort.

  1. Young trees require water and lots of it. You might want to water your tree once or twice a week, possibly more often throughout a hot summer.
  2. Don’t allow them to fruit. You should not allow your young trees to fruit in the first year after planting as we need them to focus on building those root systems. Remove all flowers when they appear to discourage fruiting.
  3. Remove all leaves from base of tree and dispose of.
  4. Weed regularly – we don’t want other plants stealing the tree’s water and nutrients, or to give insects reason to get too close.

Step 3: Pruning
Once the roots are established and your tree is healthy and stable, all you’ll need to do is to make sure it does not suffer in dry spells, does not get sick, and prune it regularly.

  1. When to prune: With the exception of trees bearing fruits with stones in them (plum and cherry for example) which should be pruned in the summertime, all other fruit trees should be pruned in the winter or very early spring, i.e. when the tree is dormant.
  2. How to prune: Use only extremely sharp equipment as dulled blades will tear the fibres of the wood and create more damage than necessary, increasing the chance of infection or infestation as it will take longer for the wound to heal. Also, disinfect your equipment before use to minimise the chance of spreading diseases.
  3. How much to prune: As a rule of thumb never remove more than 20–­25% of the crown/branches. Among other things, too much thinning can lead to sun damage on branches and fruit.
  4. What to prune: Remove sprouts from the base of the tree and from branches, but do this after the fruit season. Prune to encourage fruit to grow every 4–6 inches up the branch.

There’s not much more to it. If you water and tend to your pruning then your tree should produce lovely crops for many years to come, but do watch out for fungi, illness and insects damaging your tree and if you’re worried about any of the above, then call in your local trusted ARB Approved tree surgeons.

And so, to summarise:

Plant fruit trees in early spring   You want your tree to be dormant when you plant it, so late winter to early spring is the best time.
Don’t allow to fruit in its first year   New trees should concentrate on building healthy root systems – fruiting takes energy away from this.
Water, water, water   New fruit trees need lots of water, so water them at least once a week, more often in dry spells.
Prune no more than 20–25% of crown   Pruning a fruit tree is a precise art, removing branches that steal energy and encouraging correct spacing of fruit.

To book a free survey and consultation with one of our ARB Approved arborists for advice on your trees or to book in our tree surgeons to prune/maintain or fell your tree(s), call us on 0208 292 8992.

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