Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Monthly Archives: January 2016

Fruit trees in containers

Image from page 133 of "Childs' rare flowers, vegetables & fruits for 1895" (1895)

Image from page 133 of “Childs’ rare flowers, vegetables & fruits for 1895” (1895)

A reader writes: “Is it possible to grow fruit trees, in particular a cherry and a greengage, in wooden or plastic containers on a patio?”

Yes, the important thing is to ensure that the containers are of sufficent size, to create stability and preventing them from being blown over by strong winds.

You can grow a cherry and a green gage tree in containers provided the trees are self-fertile and the containers are not too small. The bigger the container the better. The wooden container need to be no smaller than 50cm long, 30cm wide and 35 cm deep, and they have to have 2 decent size drainage holes, covered with broken clay pots to stop the drainage holes from blocking up.

The compost to be used is John Innes compost number 3, which is soil-based compost. As long as the trees are watered regularly during the growing season then the trees will be fine. Put the wooden containers on bricks and check that the water is coming out of the drainage holes. Feed the trees regularly and use the colour of the leaf as the indicator of the tree’s health and overall well-being.

Take a look at our Tree Varieties page. More information on growing trees in pots here.

Growing cherries for you to eat (not the birds!)

Compact Stella

Compact Stella

There is nothing nicer than growing cherries in your garden. Because of birds, 20 years ago growing your own cherries was a dodgy proposition. Then several new dwarfing rootstocks and some new self-fertile varieties came along. It became easier to grow your own cherries, particularly if you have a wall or a fence along which you can train your cherry tree.

Nowadays it is really possible to grow your own cherries on relatively small trees, which makes good netting as easy as winks. Being able to cover your tree as protection against spring frosts as well as birds gives an extra guarantee to your crop of cherries. Growing cherries in the garden is now a practical proposition.

Which type of rootstock to use depends on your soil and the type of cherry you would like to grow, whether a sweet cherry or a sour cherry.

However, make sure that you cover up your cherry tree with a double layer of garden fleece, BEFORE THE FIRST BLOSSOM OPENS! This is essential to avoid early spring frosts making your blossom sterile and making your crop prospects a disappointment. Leave some small gaps on the side for the bees to move in and out, as many varieties do better when pollination is performed with the help of bumble bees.

Finally greenfly, also known as aphids, can do real damage right at the start of the season. Go to your garden centre and select an effective product, organic or otherwise, to stop greenfly ruining your crop prospects.

Morello cherry

Morello cherry, photo courtesy of Rod Waddington/

Here are our top ten tips on growing cherries in the garden and making sure that you, and not the birds, can enjoy them:

1) To make netting a success. it is far simpler to train your cherry tree along a wall or a fence, rather than a free-standing tree.

2) Cover your cherry tree with green shade netting from early April, before blossoming starts and leave it in position until you have picked your crop in June/July.

3) Don’t let aphids ruin your young shoots. Cut out any curled up shoots and put them in the non recycling bin. Encourage ladybirds, lacewings and earwigs, which are effective predators of the aphids. As a last resort, spray with an approved anti-aphids mixture, obtainable from your garden centre.

4) To stop the fruit from splitting, water the trees weekly with 5 to 10 litres of water each week from May until you have harvested your crop.

5) To avoid fungal diseases always prune your cherry trees as soon as you have picked your crop. Never prune during the winter months!

6) Depending on the rootstock used, give your trees sufficient space. Not too close.

7) Only plant self-fertile varieties. We will advise you. Place your order early.

8) Pick the crop when ready to eat. Cherries do not ripen off the trees.

9) Handle the fruit gently; pick the fruit with the stalk and the cherries will keep for 10 days in good condition at the bottom of the fridge, if you don’t want to eat them all in one go.

10) If you go on holiday ask your best friend to pick the cherries for you. Do not let them rot on the tree. Feed your tree with organic manure each year.

Read more about growing cherries here.

Fruit tree advice for an old plum tree

IMG_2934-1200A reader writes: “We moved house in August last year, a beautiful garden with a plum tree which gave us lots of plums. It’s very old I think! I’m wondering how to prune, some of the branches are just snapping off! I need to ruin it I think! Can you help and give me some advice?”

Dan Neuteboom of Suffolk Fruit & Trees provides some answers:

Old plum trees very easily fall prey to two specific diseases; Bacterial Canker, and Silver Leaf.
Therefore, special attention needs to be given to the following points:

1) only carry out pruning operations when the tree is in FULL LEAF stage
2) reduce the weight of the total number of branches. Remove those which are old and broken and leave the well-illuminated branches
3) remove the too-dominant near-vertical branches
4) always immediately seal the wounds with Arbrex, obtainable from garden centres.
5) do not let the tree cope with droughty conditions during the summer months – ensure it gets enough water
6) do not over-crop the tree. Thin the fruitlets during June and July.

An old plum tree

An old plum tree

Restoring a problematic apple tree to health

We received an enquiry from a reader who has an apple tree with a double trunk. This is how she described the problem.

Apple tree requiring treatment

“I inherited a badly pruned apple tree that has been left with two equal large trunks. I have reduced its size over a four year period, but now I am stuck with one trunk that has only two fruiting branches above ladder height. I would like to remove that trunk and would be left with a more graceful single trunk with multiple fruiting branches. Would it be so detrimental to remove the less producing trunk which be probably reducing its size by 4-45%?”


Dan Neuteboom’s first answer:

1) Remove the second trunk. Timing is important! Remove it during the 2nd or 3rd week of August and not before.
2) Seal the wound with Arbrex or Heal and Seal , obtainable on line or from a good garden centre.
3) The trunk which is left with the good branches should not be pruned in winter 2017. The tree will then be resettled.

The owner provided further information:

“I would like to ask your father for further clarification. The tree and the others have experienced the stress of reduction of size (no more than a third each year for four years) plus a recent drought and one season of a severe infestation of tent caterpillars. This tree is unfortunately placed in front of my house, so the appearance is a priority with this specific tree.

“Second, I need to be able to prune these trees myself, and am trying to take this tree permanently lower over all by about 12-18 inches. I could reach the top then with less risk that I will fall off the ladder. Another reason the tree is oddly shaped is because the deer raid this tree from both levels.

“Your suggestions make good sense to me, but I would like to ask if because the tree has been stressed four years in a row, would it be less traumatic if I took off only part of the selected trunk, plus one top branch of the preferred trunk this year, and then remove the full selected trunk (as instructed by your father) one year later?” This possible gentler approach is shown in the diagram below.


Dan Neuteboom replies:

Certainly the gentler approach is fine. However now I have seen the state of the tree, I am quite sure the tree is suffering of malnutrition! Ideally it would need, on a 2 square metre area around the trunk, the application of quality manure, ideally organic chicken manure (such as Super Dug), dried and stabilized. This will feed the tree over a 6-month period. Secondly WATER on a weekly basis as soon as rain fall is lacking. Extra feeding without watering is useless!! Finally the lower part of the trunk looks in a poor state. The vascular system has been damaged. To help the tree to overcome this problem, it will need to make new cambium cells in the outer layers of the trunk. Wrapping the lower part of the trunk with a wide enough black plastic “waste bag” will do the trick.



Which are the best fruit trees for the UK?

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

Which type of tree fruit carries the least risk and is successful on most soils in the UK? Undoubtedly this is apple. Choice of variety is important, as normally it is colder in the north of England. Temperature during blossom time is of great importance in order to secure a good fruit set. Also in the northerly counties the type of pollinator will have to be chosen carefully. If you would like to plant some fruit trees, in any particular area of the UK, then we are happy to advise which varieties are most suitable.

A second question of importance is this; which type of fruit is more able to cope with areas of high rain fall? Plums and pears, provided the soil is not too acid, usually do well in the higher rainfall areas. Pears in particular are very sensitive to droughty conditions and thin soils. Cherries love deep soils. Greengages need the right companion in order to crop well. Cherries and greengages are more suited to central and southern counties. This does not apply to Morello cherries as these trees flower later.

What about peaches, nectarines and apricots? These fruits have a much higher demand of warmth and hours of sunshine during the growing season. However, if grown on the right rootstock and placed against a wall facing south, with sufficient t.l.c. and regular watering during dry and warm periods, during the summer months, the net result often is excellent. Click here to see a list of varieties with links for further information.

Frame for fleece on an espalier tree

A reflection on flood conditions in the UK

We have heard and seen so much about the dreadful floods all over the country. Nothing is worse than having your house and home standing in water, due to rivers bursting their banks, due to vast amounts of unprecedented volumes of rain. This made me think how people had to cope in Holland with rising water levels of the North Sea after violent storms from the north-west, some 800 years ago. Their main concern and top priority was to safeguard the home and the shed for the domestic animals, a few cows, pigs and chickens. These small farm steads were situated as totally isolated buildings in the middle of lots of low-lying surrounding fields. The surrounding fields were mainly grassland for their cattle. What they did was to build terps (artificial mound), by hand and a wheelbarrow. They built their home on top of this mound. Obviously in most cases today this is not possible due to a host of environmental regulations. However it is still possible, under similar threatening conditions, to surround your home and garden, with the aid of a JCB, with a dike, wide enough and high enough, to keep the water out. The surrounding dike can be stabilized further by planting fruit trees on the top of the dike and a mixed hedge at the bottom. These will help keep the soil together. Cover the soil with deep-rooting grass to anchor the soil all over the area. Keep some sheep to utilize the grass and there is your personalized flood defense.


A quick method of finding out whether the soil is suitable for fruit trees

We are now at the time of year most suitable for planting trees, because they are dormant. If they are planted between now and the end of March, they have time to settle down in their new home so that they are ready to grow new feeding roots when the temperature starts going up with the arrival of spring.

We often receive questions about whether the soil is suitable or unsuitable for planting fruit trees. The most important thing is not to plant in soil subject to waterlogging, because standing water is highly detrimental to trees. To be sure, dig a planting hole right away to a depth of about 8-10 inches. Wait for 24 hours. If the hole does not fill up with water in this time, you can go ahead and plant the tree – or you can order the trees that you want and plant them when they arrive. Take a look at our Tree Varieties page.

Always make sure that crumbly soil is put on top of the roots, not big lumps of clay! If necessary, you can use John Innes soil-based compost number 3.
It is essential to use a rabbit guard to prevent animal damage to the trunks of the trees.

These are the main factors to bear in mind. And if the hole that you have dug has filled with water, don’t despair, there is a method! Just send us a message describing your situation and the trees that you would like, and we’ll provide the solution according to your site.

Watch a video on how to plant a fruit tree.

Fruit trees for planting along a wall or fence

Would you like a fruit tree, or a few trees, for training along a wall or a solid fence? This is of course possible, and we can provide the advice needed to ensure that they do well. More information on our Fruit tree varieties page.

Fruit trees are site-specific, and a wall or fence can considerably modify the micro-climate for the fruit tree.

A fence or wall is the classic position for a trained fruit tree. See our web page on tree training for further details.

Once we have received your no-obligation request, we will provide recommendations on suitability of tree varieties according to your location by email. For any general requests, please feel free to contact us by e-mail or using the Contact form on this page.

Fan-shaped tree

Now is the time to plant fruit trees

While it has been a very wet time everywhere in the UK, we getting closer to the time when it will become drier and colder. It may sound unbelievable, however that is still the best time to plant fruit trees. Once we arrive into April the trees will wake up from their winter sleep. Energy will then be needed to bring about the life changes and stages of tree development such as bud burst, young leaf growth and blossom.

It is therefore of great importance that fruit trees have been planted before the dormancy period has come to the end by the end of March.

Fruit trees are site sensitive. To secure availability of the right type of fruit trees for your allotment, garden or any fence or wall you would like to use for a trained type of fruit tree, now is the time to contact us and let us know what you would like to achieve. After all there is nothing better and tastier that growing your own fruit and vegetables. You can trust your own fruit to be free from chemicals, pesticides and fungicides. Plant a few trees and you will also provide an important message for children, that fruit does not grow in supermarkets.

Fruit almost ready for harvest

Fruit almost ready for harvest