At this time of year (late May), you often see ants climbing up a fruit tree. They are there because they are looking after their herds of aphis. The aphids produce a sweet liquid that the ants collect and use as a foodstuff. So if you see ants going up your fruit tree, from the ground into the branches and then onto the leaves, you know that you have aphids. How can you get rid of the aphids on your apple tree? This depends. You may have enough ladybirds, hoverflies and lacewings to control the aphids naturally, and if the infection is not too bad, they will remove most of the aphids and the tree won’t suffer. However, if you find leaves completely folded up, there are too many aphids and it will be very difficult to do something about it. One way of controlling aphis attack is to spray the tree with a soapy liquid, with ordinary washing up liquid at the same concentration that you use to wash the dishes. However, this will not solve the situation when it has reached the stage at which the leaves are curled up. Another possibility is to use an organic spray called pyrethrum. This will be partially effective. The overall message is to make sure that the amount of aphis in your tree does not get too excessive, and take into consideration whether there is sufficient presence of predators to keep the aphis population under control.
Narration: Dan Neuteboom
Camera: John Paddy
Dan shows us a morello cherry tree that has been planted on the north side of a building in a garden orchard. The fruit set is very good. In fact the morello cherry is the only fruit tree that does very well on the north side of a building. The morello sets best on one-year-old wood. Last year, Dan cut back the one-year-old wood to shorter lengths, from which this year new branches have grown, on which the fruit has now set. This tree has been trained in a fan shape, but the really important thing in ensuring good cropping is to cut it back in November.
Narration by Dan Neuteboom, camera John Paddy
We are not the only ones who like the fruit that we grow in our garden orchard. Birds, wasps and other things also like to enjoy the fruit. Wasps can be a real problem, particularly with plums and cherries. At garden centres they sell various types of trap, or you can use a simple home-made device. Just take a large jam jar, fill it half-full with a very sweet sugar solution in water, make a hole in the lid and place it near or in the fruit trees. The wasp will enjoy the sugar for the rest of its life. An easy solution of how to catch wasps in the garden.
In a previous video we saw a freshly-planted tree. This tree was tied out last year, and you can see the amount of regrowth that has taken place. The tree has set a lot of fruit, and so Dan has provided support by using strings tied to the top of the stakes and looped around the branches. It is a temporary arrangement that stabilizes the tree. Once the framework is fixed, and the branches hold their position naturally, at the end of the season it is a good idea to remove the strings to ensure that they don’t get enveloped by the growing branches. This tree gives a good idea of the shape that we need: drooping branches, strongly-developed framework branches, well furnished with new wood. With an apple tree it’s important to support branches to prevent breakage.
To watch the video, scroll down and click on the thumbnail. The plum sawfly becomes active in late May and the first week of June, and it stays active right up until we pick the plums. The sawfly itself is quite an attractive flying insect, with reddish head and thorax and a yellowish abdomen, but unfortunately it lays its eggs on the plum flowers, and the young plum sawfly larvae tunnel their way into the plums as they develop. So the net result is that when you are ready to enjoy your plum, you discover that someone else has got there before you. For plum sawfly control, you can use a pheromone trap to attract the plum sawfly. The pheromone mimics the scent of the male sawfly, attracting the female and preventing her from laying her eggs on the plum tree. The plum sawfly pheromone trap show here is triangular in shape, with a sticky cardboard base containing a lure that releases the pheromone gradually. It stays active for about 6 weeks, and then you have to replace the lure. This video was filmed on 28 May, so right at the beginning of the period in which these traps should be placed. Once the sticky board is full of sawflies, just pull it out and replace it. Garden centres sell packs of replacement sticky cards and lures which makes the process cheaper. So if you install a plum sawfly pheromone trap now, and replace it in six weeks time, it will greatly reduce the damage caused to your plums.
Plum sawfly life cycle
The plum sawfly life cycle begins when the female fly lays its eggs on the plum blossom. The larvae burrow into the young plum, which reacts to the attack by exuding a sticky resin – often the only noticeable sign of the presence of the sawfly. The larva eats some of the plum from inside, and the plum may drop to the ground early, or the mature larva may crawl out and drop to the ground. In any case, when in the soil, it forms a cocoon, well disguised by soil particles. It spends the entire winter in the cocoon at a depth of about 5 cm. It pupates at plum blossom time. Another method that can be used to control the plum sawfly is to gently loosen the soil around the base of the tree in late winter and early spring, giving birds the chance to locate the pupae and eat them.
Dan Neuteboom shows us an insect hotel. The problem with the pollination of early-flowering fruit trees, such as cherries, plums, greengages, apricots and peaches, is that often it is so cold, there are hardly any insects around. But when the sun does come out in those early months, it can quickly get very warm and the insects will come out. In this sort of insect hotel, which should be placed facing south, insects like hoverflies and lacewings can spend the winter. These are the insects that can help with pollination after just a few hours of sunshine. Dan shows us an open-centre greengage tree in which there is good air circulation. The basic requirements for good fruit set, in a location where there are other varieties all around, are there. The other important thing is that frost is a real danger with early-flowering fruit. The trees least at risk from spring frosts are apple trees. All the other trees flower earlier. There are various ways of avoiding the risk of frost and stopping the trees from getting hurt by frost. One technique is shown right here: the chickens keep the grass cropped right down, so that the sun can heat up the ground which can then radiate the heat back into the air at night, helping protect the trees from frost. Another useful technique is to use nets, ensuring that air circulation is not obstructed. Mulch also requires care. It is great for late-flowering fruits such as raspberries and apples, but if you put mulch around the trees early in the season, thinking particularly of frost-sensitive trees such as pears, peaches and apricots, you have to bear in mind that the mulch worsens the frost situation because it doesn’t allow the ground to absorb heat from the sun during the day. Lastly, the position of the trees should be considered when planting new trees. If you plant them in a valley where cold air can accumulate, this increases the risk of frost damage. In this case it can be useful to ensure that there is an opening in a hedge so that cold air can flow away.
It is a good idea to delay pruning until you can see the difference between wood bud and fruit bud. In January, the fruit bud is totally closed, and this stage is called the Dormant Stage. Then comes the swelling stage, and at this stage you can already see the way in which fruit bud becomes much larger than wood bud. This is the time at which you can adjust the pruning and ensure that you don’t cut off what will become blossom and thus fruit. After this, fruit bud begins to break – the Breaking Stage – and then it opens, at the Burst Stage, followed by the Green Cluster stage in which the first leaves start to form around the bud. After another week or ten days, according to the weather, the bud reaches the so-called White Bud Stage. This eventually develops to the Fruitlet Stage. Dan shows us a peach tree on which he delayed pruning to ensure that there would be sufficient fruit. This tree is now at the Early Fruit Set Stage.
In the countryside, hedges have a special role, providing protection for birds and small animals such as hedgehogs. They can be thought of as highways for fauna, connecting one coppice to the next. They are therefore important for biodiversity, and for making the countryside attractive not only to humans, but to all forms of life. Dan comments favourably on how his neighbour has planted a new hedge. This video was filmed in April. Preparation for the hedge began earlier: the farmer ploughed a ten-foot strip in February, cultivating it down to a depth of 8-10 inches. He then removed all the grass, and then started to plant the hedge in two rows, with species such as hawthorn, blackthorn, dogwood, maple, and others. He dedicated thought about how these new plants would be able to survive in conditions of drought, and so already by the beginning of March he had placed a protective layer of straw on the ground around the new plants. Each small tree has a guard and a small stake. In short, this is a super job, a great example of how to grow a new hedge in an arable environment, in such a way that it will become established quickly.
Apricot and peach trees flower quite early in the season, even in March or early April. At that time of year there are a lot of night frosts which could cause apricot tree frost damage compromising the crop. Dan presents Carol Wilson, who has constructed a neat solution to the need of protecting apricot tree blossoms when there are night frosts. This specimen is a Golden Glow apricot planted in February 2017, so it is now about two and a half years old. It has been planted against a south-facing wall, and it has been carefully trained, so that all the leaves have excellent exposure to light. When it was planted, Carol ensured that there were no tree roots at the site, and removed all grass in the immediate area. She improved the soil with chicken pellets put into the hole. She made a frame that provides protection from muntjac and roe deer. Putting the frame up also gave Carol the chance to install a rail at the top, a piece of plastic tubing, that holds some garden fleece, hemmed as if it were a curtain. So each night, Carol closes the curtains to provide protection, and it is so easy that she can do it anyway, even if she is not certain whether or not there will be a frost. Dan provides some indications on apricot tree care and how to continue the apricot espalier training pattern. The success of this tree is shown by the abundant fruit already present in the tree’s third year. Dan also comments on apricot pruning – it is important not to cut out the thin wood, because the fruits are found on the one-year-old wood. This also applies to peaches.
Many new houses are being built in the UK, and so there are thousands of new gardens. It is very difficult to know which fruit tree varieties to plant. Here Dan Neuteboom shows us an apple varieties chart that provides some suggestions and that has proved over the years to be fairly accurate. It lists a series of apple varieties, shown according to the period at which their fruit ripens, and then their fruit keeping time, with the months from July right through to March. An important consideration in variety selection is fruit tree pollination – apples do better if they are properly pollinated, and in fact, adequate fruit trees cross-pollination is essential. As a rough fruit tree pollination guide, you should plant any three of the varieties shown if there are no other varieties close at hand. If there are already some apple trees in the vicinity, you can get away with planting two of the varieties on this list. Another important consideration regards blossom and frost-tolerant fruit trees. Everyone loves beautiful blossom, but if you are in a location that is frost-sensitive – and that means frosts in April and May – fruit trees have no problem at withstanding frosts in winter – it is best to choose varieties that are frost-resistant (marked “F” in this diagram). Examples of frost-tolerant fruit tree varieties are Discovery, Red Ellison and Spartan. Another factor is the location in terms of latitude. Some varieties can be planted nationwide, including northern districts. Varieties that do well in the north include Discovery, James Grieve, Worcester Pearmain, Lord Lambourne, Charles Ross and Egremont Russet. Lastly, there is the question of tree health. No-one likes to have to spray trees, and so it is best if this can be done only in the case of urgent need. Some trees by nature have little need for spraying, such as Ashmead Kernel, a compact tree that needs very little treatment, likewise Egremont Russet, Red Ellison and Discovery. In addition to a primary selection of varieties according to location, another very important factor is the soil of the new garden, essential for the success of new trees. This will be the subject of another video.