Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Monthly Archives: November 2012

Is ivy good or bad for trees?

Ivy on the trunk does no harm

Ivy on the trunk does no harm

Ivy is a good source of winter feed for birds in relation to its flowering at that time of the year. However ivy must not spread out along the branches of its host tree. Ivy then reduces the light quality too much and the host tree will suffer. Ivy climbing up the trunk of trees does no harm at all and is therefore a valuable part of the ecosystem.

Ivy just uses the tree as a support. It roots just cling on to the bark, they don’t extract any nutrients from it. So if you have some mature trees with ivy, you just need to cut back the ivy from where they are growing into the branches.

Birds, our allies

Bird table

The rewards of a well-tended bird table

Gardens are now the most important places during the winter months for birds to find that extra bit of food to keep them alive and well and get them through these cold, damp and frosty periods. Bird tables don’t take a lot of effort to make, either by yourself or your partner. It is amazing how much we can learn from the behaviour of all these birds, they have their own likes and dislikes. Once spring arrives then these little birds repay us by clearing up all sort of niggly problems such as aphids and caterpillars eating those things we have just planted or are nearly ready to harvest.

On pruning

Pruning a young tree

Pruning a young tree. Photo courtesy of London Permaculture/

There are numerous publications about pruning. All very interesting and very helpful. However my view is that we should tackle the subject of pruning in a different way. First and foremost we need to be able to distinguish clearly between the difference in appearance of a fruit bud and a wood bud. These buds all look different again, if we look for example at shoots and buds either from apple, pear, plum and cherry, or from peach, apricot, nectarine or almond. I believe if we first and foremost learn to differentiate the state of the buds on any type of fruiting tree, then pruning becomes a lot easier and more satisfying. Because the aim of pruning is not the same anywhere and any time. We can set a target, before we lift the secateur, what it is we want to achieve by pruning the tree confronting us. And there are no two people alike, nor are there anywhere two trees alike. It is the individual that is different. The same applies to trees. The only difference is that the tree is silent and passive and we are noisy and active. Therefore even more reason to think twice before you cut/prune.

The second point of importance regarding the way we prune is very much determined by the fact how the tree has been raised; is it budded, grafted or on its own roots? If it is on its own roots it is likely to be very vigorous. The purpose of grafting or budding the trees on rootstocks, is to bring the tree into production more quickly, and often at the same time finish up with a smaller tree, which is easier from the point of view of picking and tree maintenance.

Click here to read more about pruning

Now is the time to put manure around your fruit trees

Well-rotted manure

Well-rotted manure. Photo courtesy The Word Factory Ltd/

Fruit trees do a lot better if regular applications of well rotted straw-based manures are made. Pears and apricots produce better-sized fruits if fed organically. The ideal time of the year to apply this type of manure is now. This gives the worms plenty of time to start working the manure into the soil. Then by about next April the trees are already beginning to benefit.

Orchard work in early November

A mature orchard, photo courtesy of AllieOooster/Allison/

Today is a beautiful day, ideal to start preparing the planting positions for the new trees. At the same time we will carry out a check to make sure the water is not becoming stagnant in the root range of the trees. Tree roots need lots of oxygen and if the roots of the trees stand in water during the winter months, then the roots will die.

It is now too late to prune apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries and plums. To invigorate growth, apple and pear trees can now be pruned any time from now on until the end of March.

Eliminating canker

Canker on an apple treeOnce the leaves are off the trees, look out for the canker fungus.
Cut it out and treat the wounds with “heal and seal” compound.
Make sure the tree tie is not too tight, replace broken rabbit guards and replace broken stakes.

How to deal with peach leaf curl

Peach leaf curl

Peach leaf curl, photo courtesy of Joel Ignacio,

Did your peach, nectarine or apricot look odd with reddened, screwed up, puckered leaves?. Or no crop or very little? That’s most likely the result of the fungal disease “peach leaf curl” and frost damage. To begin with, now is the time – late October/early November – to collect all those leaves, infected or not. Do NOT compost them. Put them all in the non-recycling bin. Once the soil underneath those trees is clear of all litter, cover the soil with a 4 cm-deep layer of straw-based farm yard manure. Leave no gaps uncovered.

Phase 2 is equally important; it has to do with making sure that the “Peach leaf curl” fungus no longer has a chance to disfigure your tree. Make yourself a framework, as illustrated by the picture below, to stop the new young foliage becoming wet. Cover the wood frame with plastic or garden fleece. The framework is needed to stop the plastic or garden fleece cover, touching anywhere any limb or branch or ¬†twig of the tree. By keeping the young newly-emerging foliage dry, the spores of the fungus are unable to germinate on the newly emerging foliage. Don’t forget these trees flower very early in the season. The new cover will also protect the blossom from damaging spring frosts. And finally when the fruits are nearly ready, the wooden frame is also very useful to fasten on to some netting, to stop the birds eating your peaches or apricots, before you had a chance to taste the fruits.

Frame for fleece on an espalier tree

Frame for fleece on an espalier tree

Tree hygiene operations in late October


Rabbit, photo courtesy Country Creations by Kathy/

This is a good time to repair or replace rabbit guards, check wire netting fences, repair holes and broken stakes, check gateways, as rabbits are getting hungry and the bark of fruit trees is on their wish list.

Tree hygiene this time of the year is very important. Many spores of diseases are carried over by fallen leaves. Collect and remove all dropped leaves. In that way the trees will have a better start next year.

How to store apples

Storing apples for the winter

Storing apples for the winter

Now is the time to pick the last varieties of apples that are still hanging on the trees. The last apples to be picked usually have the best storage life.
Put them in single layers, not touching each other, in a dark, cold, vermin-proof place. Some cooking and eating apples are of such good storage quality that you can keep them in good condition until the next lot of apples are ready in 2013!