The whys and wherefores of fruit trees
In my experience, most people have their car serviced twice a year. The average life time of a car is no more than 7 years. A fruit tree has an average life of 28 years. That is 4 times as long. And yet many people plant a tree and then forget about servicing the poor tree! By that I mean a fruit tree also needs to be serviced at least twice a year. Just the same as your car.
But then most people say, “Well what am I supposed to do?” I hope that the topic of fruit tree care and the elementary principles on which fruit tree care should be based will become clearer as time goes by. I will regularly update the whys and wherefores via this blog .This will particularly apply to trees grown in Northern Europe. Warmer climates changes things for trees substantially, and several other points need to be taken in consideration. All in all, fruit trees are very responsive to the care and attention given. The result will be regular crops of reasonable quality, without having to resort to genetic manipulation or extensive use of chemicals. That is my experience gained over many years.
The Mirabelle de Nancy plum, peaches, nectarines and apricots are coming close to the pink bud stage. If the trees are outside and not under cover, they should be covered using a double layer of garden fleece, to stop the frost destroying the blossom buds/flowers. When it is a nice sunny day and the flowers have opened, don’t forget to uncover the trees for pollination to take place unhindered.
If, when in blossom, there are no insects about, use a soft brush to gently stroke the blossoms to trigger the various natural hormones/growth processes, which will hopefully lead to fruitset.
Do not carry out any form of pruning on these trees at this time of the year, as it may result in an infection of “peach leaf curl,” a fungal disease. If you had trouble with this disease last year, make sure no old leaves are still underneath the trees, as these will produce the spores which may initiate another infection. If you can stop the leaves from becoming damp or wet, that will further reduce the chances of infection.
Just leave a comment if you need more information on these topics!
Often, we hear the question: what should we do once the trees have arrived from the nursery and planting of the trees has been completed? We are of course assuming that the trees have been planted at any time during their dormant period, from November to April.
My experience is that it is always better to give the tree time to settle down, to encourage the root system to develop and grow properly in the new soil. To that effect and for that reason alone, it is always better to prune the young trees back to a height where one would like to see new shoots develop, which eventually will be part of the future framework of the tree. At this particular stage it is always best to seal the pruning wounds, immediately after pruning has been completed. Prunings can be left on the ground to provide an indicator to the presence of mice and/or rabbits; if you see signs of gnawing on the prunings, check the rabbit guards on the trunk.
For the same reason, it is important to keep mulch away from the trunk. Mice, which like to work under the protection of mulch, can severely damage the bark of young trees if the mulch around the trees is touching the young fruit tree stems. Keep an area of 6″ around the tree stems free from mulching material of any description.
Many people like to plant apple or pear trees in the form of an espalier or fan shape, along a wall or a fence.
North-facing walls are only suitable for Morello acid cherries or damsons. Pears need a higher input of warmth compared with apples. A south-facing aspect is best for pears.
Frequent watering and mulching are essential as it can be very hot in that situation, at the height of the summer months. A South-facing wall is also suitable for peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots.
Next, one has to decide about the support system used in such situations; if it is a wall then the height of the wires is important. If it is a fence, then the spacing of the supporting stakes is also of importance.
For example, with apples, you first have to make up your mind whether you want to grow your trees on M26 or on MM106 rootstock. M26 (a rootstock that creates a weaker tree) will need a stronger support system compared with MM106 trees.
For espaliers on M26 trees, the planting distance should be 10 feet, with the union just 2” above soil level.
For espaliers on MM106 trees, plant 12–14 feet apart. The union can be any height above soil level.
The stakes will need to be 8’ tall and 1’6” in the ground. Only if your soil is very sandy, your posts will need to go 2 feet into the soil.
Space the stakes at the same distance as you space the trees. Make sure the stake wood has been treated against wood rot fungi.
DO NOT SECURE ANY WIRES UNTIL YOU HAVE PLANTED THE TREES!!
It is likely that the first wire will be 15 to 18 inches height above soil level, to coincide with the natural side branches of trees, already formed.
Moreover, to put the first wire at 12” above soil level is a mistake, as fruit rot can be a major problem due to soil splashing during heavy rainfall.
If the soil quality is really good, then I would plant trees on M26, three meters apart.
If there is any doubt about the depth of good dark, well aerated earth, then plant FERTILE apple varieties on MM106, four meters apart. The fruit variety choice will be critical, to avoid excessive wood growth in later years. Peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots can also be spaced four meters apart.