Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Monthly Archives: January 2011

Growing and planting hazelnuts

Hazel catkins

Hazel catkins, photo courtesy

In winter, the first signs of life of the new growing season can often be seen in hedgerows, exactly at this time of the year, when the catkins of hazel nut trees are beginning to appear.

These developing male catkins are shedding their yellow pollen in the wind. The female flowers, which, lke the catkins, also appear on last year’s wood, are much smaller and reddish in colour. Cross fertilisation is essential in order to achieve fruit set. If you have a few hazels in your garden – cultivated hazelnuts are also called cobnuts or filberts – it is therefore very important not to start pruning too early, so that you give time for the male catkins to do their job. March is therefore the best month for pruning. The objective of pruning is to achieve a general thinning of those branches that are too close one to another, and the removal of very strong surplus shoots.
If you would like to plant new cobnuts, the best time is February. You should plant at least 2 different varieties. Trees should be spaced anything from 7 to 10 feet apart, depending on soil depth and quality. Cobnuts are usually ready to harvest around St. Philibert’s Day, which is the 20th of August (and this is the reason why hazel nuts are sometimes called filberts!).

Regarding the site, good drainage and a sunny aspect are a real help. Rich soil should be avoided, as this tends to produce excessive growth. As flowering takes place during February, some shelter from north and north-east winds is a help to achieve regular fruit set.

Top ten tips for transplanting fruit trees

Apple trees

Apple trees

Dig a trench of a couple of feet long, 8” wide and 6” deep, cover the roots completely with damp crumbly soil, and your trees will be very happy to sit in that trench, until you are ready to take them out of the trench and putting them in their permanent planting position.
That means giving yourself plenty of time to plant the trees, when you have got the time to do a good job and the weather is cooperating, for you to pay attention to the details of planting. Never forget that the soil is the tree’s permanent home. The better the soil is prepared for the transplanting operation, the better the tree will grow. Its food and its drink come via the soil. Transplanting for a fruit tree is the same level of stress as is the upheaval of moving house for us humans.
The main points of successful transplanting fruit trees are:

1) don’t plant fruit trees in the shade,

2) don’t plant fruit trees on top of other roots of living trees,

3) Plant fruit trees in a crumbly soil, which  is essential for new roots to be able to access the soil’s nutritional store house of goodies.

4) Don’t plant fruit trees in water or a waterlogged soil. The tree will suffocate as it cannot get hold of the essential oxygen for the roots to live and work properly.

5) Before you put the tree in the ground, knock in a good quality, six foot stake, so that the tree can become established well.

6) Take your wheel barrow and, in the wheelbarrow, mix your best topsoil with John Innes compost number 3 at a 50/50 ratio.

7) Put that wonderful mixture on top of the roots , move the tree up and down, for this mixture to filter in between all the roots, firm it gently, making sure the union of the tree is 5 cm above the finished soil level.

8) Apply a mulch of wet hay or straw, or better still well rotted manure around the trunk of the tree, without touching the stem, for an area of at least 1 square yard.

9) Remove all permanent grass and weeds in that area to start off with, for the tree to have the full benefit of the provisions you made.

10) In the spring, when the tree is beginning to show green, make sure your tree has the benefit of one watering can full of water, on a weekly basis, during its first year in your soil.

Time to plant for best results

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

There is a lot of confusion around the topic about which is the best time to plant. Many people believe that March to May is the best time to plant. In fact in most cases it is the opposite! By far the best time to plant trees is in the period from early December to the middle of March. And in that period it is most important to choose the right moment to plant, soil wise and weather wise.  It is a mistake to delay the planting to the last moment. The weather  is very variable and unpredictable. The best way of doing it is to have the trees on site, from early January onwards. When you receive the trees, heel them in, near the house, in a trench 8 inches wide and 8 inches deep, cover the roots totally with soil, and leave them until that moment when weather and time are opportune for planting. These moments of ideal planting conditions may only last for a day. If the trees are on the site one can make use of these ideal opportunities , which occur spasmodically during the winter months.

Now, why is it so important to plant early? It is a mistake to think that when the trees are put in the soil they start to grow from that moment. Trees need time to adjust and closely associate with the soil, in order to rebuild the micro-feeding roots. This process can take as much as from 3 weeks to a month, depending on soil temperature. Without these roots being functional, the trees are totally dependent on the reserves stored in the thicker roots and in the woody parts of the tree above ground . Once those reserved are used up, the tree, if not planted early enough, starves, and will look miserable for the rest of the season.

Finally, don’t put big lumps of soil on top of the tree roots. Micro roots cannot grow in this. Instead, visit your garden centre, and buy some of the best tree planting compost such as John Innes compost number three. Cover all the roots with it, move the tree gently up and down to enable the crumbly soil to filter in between the roots, then secure the tree to the stake or the wire or the fence and make sure the union of the tree is 5 cm above the soil. Apply a mulch around the tree and water weekly with 5 litres of water once growth has begun around April time.