Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Monthly Archives: May 2015

Fruit tree maintenance in May and early June

Frequent visits to the trees at this time of year will prevent problems later.


Fruit trees are now well into the various stages of flowering and or growth. Lots of new green leaves are forming. These are very important for the trees’ wellbeing. At the same time, the leaves are excellent indicators as to how the trees are coping with various pests and diseases, which are also making their presence felt. Look at the growing points of the rapidly expanding twigs and shoots. If green fly or aphids are in the process of curling up the newly developing leaves it is important to remove the aphids with the use of non toxic fatty acid sprays or horticultural soap mixture. The garden centre stock various brands to deal with these problems.

If there are lots of ladybirds, make sure you choose a method of control which does not kill them. Ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies are all very active predators of aphids. Caterpillar damage will be very easy to see this time of year. Remove if excessive numbers are present.

This time of the year the small song birds such as bluetits are consuming a large number of small caterpillars and feeding their young with them. These little birds are therefore a great asset to have aroud. Small nest boxes in the vicinity of the fruit trees encourage them to stay in the trees, just when you need them most.

Disease control

It is a very good routine to cut out and burn any foliage affected by peach leaf curl disease, apple mildew and scab. Do not leave it around on the ground as it will cause you even more trouble next year.

Tree canker must be cut out now, as at the moment you can still see it clearly. The same applies to silver leaf. Affected branches in plums need to be cut out and the wounds painted to prevent new infections.


Various moths that cause damage to fruit trees are becoming active from about now over the next couple of weeks. For example the plum fruit moth, whose grubs will live in the plum and greengage fruits, will cause a lot of damage. Now is the time to hang a pheromone trap in the tree. The lure will need to be replaced by early July to make sure the plums stay grub-free.

Fruit set and thinning

In spite of some earlier spring frosts, fruit set looks good in apples. It is variable in the earlier flowering trees such as plum, cherry, peach, apricot and pears. Trees of these varieties on frost-free sites, or that were adequately protected with garden fleece, may even have an excessive fruit set. Thinning should be carried out over the next 3 weeks to be effective. For example, apricots have set quite heavily and thinning is strongly recommended: it should be done now if you would like a good crop next year. The set on plums is variable. It would be best to wait a little longer before thinning, performing the operation once the level of fruit set is clearer. The same applies to peaches and nectarines.

After natural drop, in June it is advisable to reduce the number of fruitlets in a group like this

Later on, after natural drop in June, it would be advisable to reduce the number of fruitlets in a group like this

Read our month-by-month fruit tree care calendar.

Why the correct choice of fruit tree is paramount to success, part 4 – weather conditions

Photo courtesy of Joshua Heyer/

Photo courtesy of Joshua Heyer/


Usually in the UK, winter frosts are not sharp enough to seriously damage fruit trees. It is the spring frosts, particularly in the months of March, April and May, that can seriously diminish crop prospects depending on their severity. The types of fruit that flower earlier compared with apples are most at risk. However in a garden environment it is possible to protect the blossoms from frost damage by covering the trees with a double layer of garden fleece. This should be done in the late afternoon. The fleece has to be opened during the day to provide an entry route for the bees to carry out cross pollination.


Prolonged periods of rain can be the cause of various fungal diseases such as scab and tree canker. It is best to use varieties with a reasonable level of resistance to these diseases, rather than chemical spraying.

Drought, wind and hail

Another weather problem is drought. Light sandy soil can cause difficulties. In these cases it is important to apply extra water, weekly, during the growing season. Water must be available to the trees to create new growth and mature ripening fruits.

Strong winds are often the cause of blackened leaves and fruits. Particularly in the more northerly counties and areas close to the sea, consideration should be given to planting a shelter belt to diminish damage to trees and fruit. A walled garden environment is another option. Good staking will be essential for best results.

Hail can be very damaging during the growing season. Avoid planting in areas known as hail belts.

Type of fruit planted

In warm and shelter positions in the UK any type of fruit can be planted. If this option is not available, then the earlier flowering fruit varieties should be avoided in the more northerly counties. Specialist advice is a way of avoiding disappointment.

Why the correct choice of fruit tree is paramount to success, part 3 – soil

Why the correct choice of fruit tree is paramount to success, part 2 – site

Why the correct choice of fruit tree is paramount to success – part 1

Why the correct choice of fruit tree is paramount to success, part 3 – soil


Photo courtesy of the Hanwell and Norwood Green Orchard Trail

Photo courtesy of the Hanwell and Norwood Green Orchard Trail

Soil is the home of the fruit tree, and as such, everything possible should be done to make it as pleasant as possible for the trees to live in and happily produce crops for the next 50 years or so. A basic error is made by just digging a hole and shoving the tree roots in the hole, covering them with soil and forgetting about it. In most cases this will lead to great disappointment, with trees desperately struggling to survive.

Fruit trees are very sensitive. Particularly the first year after planting. Usually if planting is carried out correctly, then the first step has been made to ensuring that the trees do well. It is often forgotten that the parts of the tree below ground level, the roots of the trees, must be able to function well, in order to support the numerous demands of all the remaining parts of the tree above soil level.

The importance of oxygen

If the soil is well drained, oxygen levels around the tree roots will be sufficient to create the energy enabling the roots to grow. If for whatever reason the oxygen of the air in the rooting zone is suppressed, trouble will be brewing. For example if soil compaction is the cause of limiting oxygen supplies around the roots, the tree will be struggling throughout its life. It will be subject to tree diseases such as canker. This in turn will greatly reduce the life span of the tree, apart from a serious reduction in the keeping quality of the fruit.

Micro-organisms help nutrient uptake

Secondly the depth of the soil and its organic content is of great importance. Without the cooperation of various beneficial micro-organisms surrounding the root tips of the tree roots, uptake of nutrients will become impossible. These micr- organisms work best if the soil has a good level of organic matter. All types of well-matured farmyard manure, are a real stimulus for all round good development of tree growth and regular cropping.

Soil pH

If you live in a location with soils where rhododendrons and azaleas do well, it is important to test the acid level of the soil. Fruit trees will do best with a pH of 6.3 to 6.6 . Outside these parameters, the uptake of certain nutrients may become be a problem. It is easy to determine the pH of the soil. In good garden centres for little money you can purchase a pH meter.

Regular nutrient application

Most soils will need regular applications of nutrients. Fruit trees do best in the long run if the soil nutrients are applied in the form of organic manures. Additional foliar feeding will be very helpful if certain elements are short. This is not a regular occurrence if the soil has been looked after over many years in the past.


Pure sandy soils are often problematic for fruit trees as the water-holding capacity is very low. At the other end of the scale, heavy clay is a difficult type of soil for roots to develop well. The closer the soil is to a deep loam the better the trees will perform. These soils will hold a lot of water between the soil particles. This is of great importance particularly during droughty conditions. After all, water is the life blood of the tree. Without sufficient water the tree will die.

Why the correct choice of fruit tree is paramount to success, part 2 – site

Why the correct choice of fruit tree is paramount to success – part 1

Why the correct choice of fruit tree is paramount to success, part 2 – site

A pear planted with protection from a shed wall

A pear planted with protection from a shed wall

Open sites without any protection against strong winds may be OK in the South of England. However in the North of England and Scotland, where the temperatures are already lower and the winds even stronger, compared with the South, the tree may survive, but regular crops are unlikely to be achieved.

However it is amazing what can be done if some sort of shelter is available, such as planting along a south or east facing wall or behind a tall hedge or a row of trees acting as a windbreak, for the area where the fruit trees are planted. However leave enough room as a headland, as fruit trees do not like to grow in the shade of other taller trees, neither do they like being planted on top of live roots of already existing trees in the surrounding area.

It is of great importance that where winds can be strong, the trees are properly staked and well secured with an adjustable tie. The stakes need to be planted in an upright fashion and be 6 foot in length and round with a diameter of 2 inches.

Unless planted in a walled garden, the best rootstock for open sites is MM106.

Secondly, valleys collect cold air and often lead to spring frosts at the time fruit trees are in blossom. The prospects of a decent crop will be diminishing with every spring frost in the period from late March to the end of May. For that reason try to plant further up the slope, where the air is warmer.

If there is a hedge or a dense row of trees that stops the cold air from draining away, a 3 to 4 metre gap should be created at the lowest point in the hedge.

Summarizing, fruit trees do best if planted at a site with a good micro climate of relative warmth and shelter. Valleys collect cold air and are therefore risky sites for fruit trees. This is linked to the possibility of serious frost damage to fruit tree blossoms in the period from April to May.

Why the correct choice of fruit tree is paramount to success, part 1

Choosing fruit trees

Why the correct choice of fruit tree is paramount to success

In principle, there are four fundamental factors that determine success in growing top fruit outdoors: site, soil, weather conditions and type of fruit planted. Under the heading top fruit we can place apples, pears, greengages, plums, cherries, quinces, walnuts, sweet chestnuts, hazelnuts and medlars. If you are planning to purchase and plant trees, it is essential to ensure that the trees are suitable for your area. Fruit trees will grow in most areas of the UK. However, successful growing and cropping is another matter. It is a good idea to obtain good advice to avoid disappointment. Over the next few posts I will make some basic observations based on many years of experience of working with fruit trees. This information is designed to make life easier for you when you are considering which tree or trees to plant.

In the next post: site.

Photo courtesy of WxMom/

Photo courtesy of WxMom/