Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Monthly Archives: August 2011

Stepover trees

Stepover tree

Stepover tree

There are certain apple varieties which can be used to plant along the edge of a bed, or next to a path. The trunk of the apple tree runs horizontally at something like 8 inches above soil level. The formation of this tree form can be done in various ways. However the most important requirement is that the formation pruning is never carried out during the winter months when the trees are dormant. Various stages of summer pruning are carried out, in order to encourage formation of fruit buds  all along the main stem. Secondly, ideally, moderate new growth needs to occur along the whole length of the stem. Depending on the soil depth and soil quality, the rootstock suitable for these types of trees are M9 and M26. Tip bearing varieties are not suitable, nor are very vigorous varieties. Spur type varieties are the most useful ones to use for this type of tree.

Good results have been achieved by the use of the following varieties: James Grieve, Katy, Greensleeves, Egremont Russet, Lord Lambourne, Ellisons Orange, Sunset, Pixie, Red Pippin,  Red Falstaff and Royal Gala.

Ideally the two newly-formed main branches should be of the same thickness  and the same length. This can be achieved by pruning the tree back, after it has been planted, at a height of approx. 10 inches. Of the new growth appearing in the early summer months, two shoots running parallel with the edge of the bed, need to be selected and the remaining shoots rubbed out, early during the growing season, early in June. These two shoots should be left to grow, uncut, but gradually lowered to a final horizontal position by the end of September.

The following season one will see new growth appearing all along the horizontal branches. It is very important to pinch out the growing tips of the newly forming shoots as soon as 6 inches of length has been established. By the middle of July these shoots are cut back again to 4 inches.  New growth will occur again. The shoots are now cut back again, by the middle of September to 2 inches in length. All being well, fruit buds have now been formed along the base of the main horizontal stem.

The trick is to make sure these fruit buds set fruit the following season. This can be achieved by making sure good cross pollination occurs every new season. For that reason two compatible diploid varieties need to be planted The stepover trees should be planted approximately 5 to 6 feet apart, depending on the quality of the soil and the rootstock used.

There is another method of growing stepover trees. I have often seen heavily laden mature fruit trees that have been blown over by strong gales, level to the ground. As long as 10% of the roots are still undamaged, these trees may start a new life, with the trunk actually lying on the ground. This knowledge can be used with good effect for the construction of stepover trees. As long as trees are well watered and fed, sizeable containers can be used, from which two young  maiden trees can be planted, WITHOUT HAVING TO CUT BACK THE TREES. It is essential that these containers have large sized drainage holes from which new roots can find their way into the soil. Often the new shoot growth occurring along the full length of these trees, is easier to control, compared with the treatment of the trees as outlined above.

The development of stepover trees

The development of stepover trees

James Grieve

Howgate Wonder


Golden Delicious


Treatment for poorly cropping plums and pears



It may sound drastic, but poorly-cropping plum trees often react very favourably to treatment as set out below. This method must be seen as a last resort. Obviously improving micro climate and pollination are absolutely essential as methods to be tried first.

Consistently poorly cropping plum/greengage trees:
1)      first week of June: remove growth points of strongly growing new shoots.
2)      first week of July: cut back to five-leaf stage and remove growth points.
3)      first week of August: cut out small surplus branches.
4)      first week of September: cut tree back, ready for lifting. Seal wounds
5)      When leaf fall is complete: lift tree, cut roots and plant back in the same hole. Stake and tie the tree to stop rocking movements while roots regrow.

Poorly cropping pear trees
1)      Remove growth points as above.
2)     First week of September: carry out summer pruning programme.
3)      Do not prune during the winter months.

Reasons for poor cropping of fruit trees
1)      Spring frost damage.
2)      Too much winter pruning, causing lack of fruitbud formation.
3)      Pigeon damage.
4)      Lack of pollinating insects.
5)      Poor light due to overcrowding.
6)      Excessive nitrogen  levels due to nutritional ill balance
7)      Too cold during flowering time; as a result flowers abort and fruit set fails to materialize.

Fruit trees in containers

Cherry blossom

Cherry blossom

From the point of view of controlling bird damage, you are far better off growing a cherry tree in a container. The tree will stay relatively small and is therefore easier to cover with a net, to stop the birds eating your cherries. Mind you, the size of the container is crucial. It needs to be at least 50 cm across and 45 cm deep. This container needs to be filled with the best top soil available. In the bottom of the container you need to have a couple of 2.5 cm sized drainage holes, which need to be covered with broken terra cotta pots to stop the holes silting up.

As cherries themselves are 90 percent water, you must make sure the trees never dry out! Water the trees at least twice a week with 5 litres of water each during the growing season. When very hot and dry, 10 litres of water each. Feed the trees with “Growmore” and follow instructions on the packet. Pruning is best carried out when harvesting is completed. This to avoid the pruning wounds becoming infected by the spores of different fungi such as “Silver leaf,” and not to forget the disease called Bacterial Canker.

And where do you get the tree? Here, of course!

Is it difficult to look after a five tree multi fruit orchard?

The rewards of a well-tended orchard

The rewards of a well-tended orchard

“Is it difficult to look after a five tree multi fruit orchard?”

This question is asked very often. The answer is NO, it is not difficult, not really. But like all living plants and creatures, it is a great help to be willing to try to understand, what it is that make trees tick. Why do trees behave in certain ways and what is it we can do to make life comfortable for trees, or at least tolerable to cope successfully when things go astray or are threatening to go belly up? This means it is important to revisit your trees at regular intervals and look at the way the tree is presenting itself to you. If, for example, the newly formed leaves at the end of the growing shoots are rolled up or curled up, the tree is very likely trying to defend itself against an intruder such as a colony of aphids. Or, another example, when leaf drop is occurring, it may be that the tree is crying out for water. Or, when the bark of the tree has changed colour from a healthy brown to deep red, this is very likely a sign that the tree is suffocating due to lack of oxygen near its growing roots, due to impeded drainage.

These are only a few examples, but as time goes by, you will begin to see the signs of stress or the first symptoms of some sort of disease, at an early stage. Most of the time you can do something to help the tree to get over its trouble. Usually you will have time to act. Trees are long-living plants and therefore have learned to cope with afflictions. However as you also like to harvest some tasty fruits, it is wise to minimize negative influences, if the problem the tree is coping with needs a helping hand. Biologically there are often lots of predators around, which will minimize the need to interfere. If, however, the number of certain harmful insects are too great, then without the use of artificial chemicals, most of the time, the situation can be brought under control, without any ill effect.

Summarizing, having your own multi fruit orchard is a wonderful source of good food and of great interest apart from supplying you with truly delicious home grown fruits. Like kids, they do appreciate attention at regular intervals, and as such repay you many times over.

How to get fruit trees into production sooner

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

Earlier fruiting is a common goal

Many people would understandably like their trees to start producting fruit as soon as possible. A tree left to its own devices tends to grow wood instead of fruit over the first four years. This is understandable: the tree wants to create a firm structure before hanging lots of heavy fruit on it! This gives us a clue as how to proceed. First, get the tree growing as soon as possible. Second, don’t prune the young shoots, in order to encourage the formation of fruit buds. Third, encourage auxin production by the root system. Let’s look at these in more detail.

We want the trees to achieve strong growth within months after planting, instead of years after planting. To promote strong growth early on, the tree should be planted in fresh soil, nutritionally well balanced and of a sandy loam nature with strong water holding capabilities.

Interestingly, practical experience has shown that if trees are well supported, by a tall enough stake and/or interconnecting wires, the trees will crop significantly earlier. It’s as if the tree “senses” the degree of flexion of its branches and “decides” that the structure is strong enough to start fruiting.

To develop tree structure in its early years, pruning must be kept to an absolute minimum in years 1, 2 and 3 after planting. Tree formation is therefore carried out with the aid of stakes and wires instead of a secateur. By not cutting into the young shoots, the formation of strong fruit buds will follow. All we have to do is to tie the newly formed cropping wood into a near horizontal position onto the wires, during the month of August. Cropping will start the following year.
Obviously we have to aim to create the correct structure for the tree. This should be the form of a pyramid, in order to fully utilize the available light. Therefore at all times we have to maintain a leading central shoot, which initiate the pyramid structure. However, we can work on structure while the tree is cropping. This is the critical difference with respect to standard procedure. In the old days, one pruned during the first four years of the life of the trees, in order to manufacture a tree frame work. This stage was called the “tree formation stage”. Nowadays the emphasis is on early production and therefore minimal pruning.
Pruning is therefore necessary in order to secure a decent frame work, but it should be minimal. This pruning must never be carried out in spring at the start of the growing season. Carry out all your essential pruning when the fruit buds have already been formed. This is at the end of the growing season. The month of August and early September is ideal for this purpose. But not later!!

As mentioned above, the root systems of fruit trees will produce high levels of growth-promoting auxins, if the rooting environment, the soil, is conducive to this effect. More details in a later post!