Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Monthly Archives: April 2016

Top 10 tips on growing figs in the UK

The best time to plant a fig tree is from November to March.

1) If it is to be trained against a wall, erect a support frame.

2) Prune in April and feed with “Growmore”.

3) Prune back new growth to a 5-leaf length in June.

4) Continue to water weekly. Approx 5 litres/week from May onwards.

5) From November to April, protect new growth against frost with a double layer of garden fleece. This protects the mini pea-size figs.

6) If you like figs annually, then you will have to plant the tree in a container 45 cm in diameter and at least 40 cm in depth, with good drainage holes, covered with broken terra cotta pots. A bigger container results in a bigger tree.

7) Keep the plant free from weeds and particularly grass.

8) Figs will appear at the new growth each year

9) Drought conditions will kill the fig plant! However the more sun the better.

10) Recommended varieties are White Marseilles and Brown Turkey.

fig leaves

Frosts expected in the UK – keep your trees warm

This coming week, sharp ground frost and air frosts have been forecast for the UK. The blossoms of most cherry, plum and greengage are fully out and therefore very vulnerable to being killed off by the cold snap. If you would like a crop on those trees, cover the blossoms with a double layer of garden fleece. Even if you cannot cover up all the flowering branches, try to do some. If a sunny day follows, make sure the bees and various pollinating insects are able to crawl over the blossoms in order to bring about fruit set. Use clothes pegs to fasten the fleece. By 9am undo some clothes pegs thereby creating a gap for the bees to visit the blossoms. Fasten the clothes pegs again by 6pm if another frost is expected.

Photo courtesy of Javcon117/

Photo courtesy of Javcon117/

Pigeon damage

Because of shortage of fresh green growth, pigeons are causing a lot of damage to the developing blossoms of many different fruit trees, but in particular to plums and green gages. This will carry on until more attractive sources of food become available.

Without blossom, there can be no fruit set, and so no fruit! Therefore if damage is only slight, no action needs to be taken. If the cold period continues, pigeons are capable of literally stripping off all the blossom. Black cotton threads, woven through the flowering branches, will usually stop the damage. Just wind it around the tree (slip the spool onto a rod or dowel to make things simpler) so that the threads are about six inches apart. What happens is that the bird flies towards the tree, doesn’t see the thread, touches it with its wing, gets a fright, and flies off. No damage to the bird is done, and it helps save the blossom!

Read more about fruit tree pests and diseases.


Night frosts in the UK

tree cover during frost

We are now entering a week with frequent night frosts. This can be very harmful for fruit trees in the blossom stage. It is very important to cover the blossoms with a double layer of garden fleece or similar, to prevent the blossoms being damaged by the spring frosts in the early hours of the morning. If it is warm during the day, in the sun, give the pollinating insects enough room to visit the blossoms, to ensure a reasonable fruit set. It is all extra work but it does pay off!

Update for the fruit garden – April

Apple blossom

Apple blossom, photo courtesy of Tambako The Jaguar/

1) Check if the flowering fruit trees are well served by pollinators, which need to be in flower at the same time. If this is not the case, hang a water bottle in the flowering branches of the same species but of a different variety, to ensure cross fertilization and good fruit set.
2) Keep 1 square metre totally clear of all weeds and grass around the trunks of the trees.
3) On light sandy soils start watering the trees on a weekly basis.
4) Check that tree ties are not too tight.
5) Deal with fungal wood diseases such as canker, collar rot, bootlace fungus
6) Cut out dead branches and paint the wounds with a sealing compound
7) Mow the grass at a higher setting to start off with
8) Do not let damaging insects get out of control. Keep on the lookout for various types of aphids
9) Cover spring frost sensitive trees with garden fleece
10) Look at your trees at weekly intervals in order to detect possible damage by mice, muntjacks, deer, rabbit and hare.

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

Renovating neglected orchards

Old orchard

An old orchard, photo courtesy of sparkleice/

New owners of a property that includes an old orchard are often faced with this question: is it worth the time and finance to renovate a neglected orchard? Even when taking out of the equation the value of the site related to other considerations such as, for example, house building, careful thought has to be given to the problem before undertaking such a major operation. The chances of success are not always very great. The following questions will have to be asked:

1) Why did the orchard become neglected?
2) Which rootstock was used for the trees?
3) At what distances apart were the trees planted in relation to the rootstock used and the quality of the soil?
4) Is the soil free draining?
5) Are the fruits of the varieties used in demand?
6) What is the rating of the site in relation to the risk of hail?
7) Are the fruits going to be used for processing or the fresh market?
8) Are there any difficult diseases in evidence, such as canker or Armillaria root rot or collar rot?

Often, if fruit trees become neglected, and they are planted in deep free draining soils, the task of renovating the orchard – which includes bringing the trees down to a manageable size – is particularly difficult. The main reason is that one has to deal with the very powerful root systems of healthy trees. Often the root systems are larger than the trees themselves.

Therefore hard pruning is usually not a successful way of dealing with the problem. In short the renovating process will have to be spread out over a period of 3 to 4 years. Even so at the same time one has to do everything possible to keep the trees cropping well. This is of great importance because to control tree size, it is important that a major part of the tree’s energy resources is used in fruit production and not for surplus wood production.

In summary, the questions listed above have to be looked at first of all. Only after having determined the answers can you make a realistic risk assessment. The outcome of the overall risk assessment evaluation will determine if renovating the orchard will be worthwhile.

Read an article on how to look after older trees.