Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Category Archives: The natural environment

A tree for blackbirds

At this time of year, blackbirds need an extra source of food. MALUS ROBUSTA is a beautiful wild apple tree, with red berries during the winter months. It is a wonderful tree for the garden. Malus Everest or Malus Royalty are particularly liked by honey bees in the early spring: they are blossom-heavy trees which need special recognition as part of the green movement in our locality. Take a look at our main website for contact details and further information.

Malus robusta

Malus robusta, photo courtesy of MPaola Andreoni/

Why we should care for trees and their surroundings

Trees all over the globe are the homes of many creatures, which breathe the same air and drink the same water as humans do. All those creatures communicate not only with others of the same species, but with all that lives and surrounds them. Just because we as humans have voices, it does not give us the right to dominate life in all its forms on the planet. Instead we will all be better off respecting each other and trying to understand what makes other creatures tick. For that reason I believe that Schumacher was right when he said “small is beautiful”. Globalization is based on the principle of domination and commercial control for self enrichment.

It is for that reason I believe there is much more we can do close to our homes, to ensure our children will find a world worth living in and giving them the chance to admire all that is alive around them. Only then can we agree with Louis Armstrong when he published his song called “What a wonderful world”.

Cherry blossom, photo Mathias Liebing/

Cherry blossom, photo courtesy of Mathias Liebing/

The goodies in your garden

Earwig, lacewing, ladybird, the goodies on your fruit trees

Earwig, lacewing, ladybird, the goodies on your fruit trees. Photos courtesy of (from left) Tom Sinon, Andy McDowall, Ravichri, all from

While we are all enjoying the wonderful spell of warm dry weather, do make time to visit your trees and see if all is well with them. There are baddies around which will be harming your trees especially now! Look after the real friends of your fruit trees which are trying to do their best to produce crops you will enjoy.

At this time of the year there are many visitors in and around your fruit trees. Some are good, others are harmful. The fruit trees defenders, to keep the baddies in check, are the ladybirds, the earwigs and the lacewings. These friends will do their best to stop greenfly of all sorts from gaining the upper hand and ruining the leaf surface. Damage to leaves makes it more difficult for trees to make their various foods. Encourage the lacewings, ladybirds and earwigs by providing them with homes to live in and do not kill them off with harsh chemical sprays. There are plenty of sprays which can be used in the gardens and small orchards, based on organic principles, which will do this job very well.

Talking about providing homes for beneficial insects and various other living creatures, do spare a thought to the small birds in and around your garden. These have insect-based diets and get rid of many aphids and caterpillars. The large family of blue tits and long tail tits are just a few birds of them. Make sure you have nest boxes at the right places for them to make their homes in your garden. One final point: when your fruit trees are in blossom, do not spray them with anything. Wait until the blossom is over. That’s the time to visit your trees weekly and monitor what is going on. If the leaves are curling or showing signs of drought, be ready to water your trees and take action. If too many aphids are curling up the leaves and therefore harming your trees drastically, reduce their numbers.

Shelterbelts and fruit trees

Fruit trees perform best if wind speeds have been slowed down. A gentle reduction of wind speed is more effective than a more solid windbreak, and this can be achieved by wind breaks of medium density. For example, birches and alders are more suitable windbreaks for orchards when compared with closely planted Leylandii or Douglas fir windbreaks.

Pollinating insects are more frequent visitors in well protected orchards, particularly when temperatures are low during blossom time the. Strong drying winds and salt laden winds are often the cause of low fruit set and poor fruit growth. Also it has been established that fruit trees form fruit buds more easily if the area where the fruit trees are planted has the benefit of increased temperatures as a result of the wind reduction effect. Again, the best way to achieve this is by a row of birch trees, planted at the edge of the orchard.

Fruit size will also improve, as long as sufficient soil moisture is available.

The distance over which a wind break is still fully effective is approximately 6 times the height of the wind break. The strongest effect will be found in the area of 4 times the height of the windbreak.

Read more about wind breaks.


Orchard windbreak, photo courtesy of Leslie Seaton/

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.

We Did It!

An inspiring project, the Hanwell and Norwood Green Orchard Trail, a community project to plant and care for a trail of native fruit trees around Hanwell Meadows in West London, for autumn foraging and for wildlife. Forty trees successfully planted! Follow this link for more information on the remarkable Hanwell and Norwood Green Orchard Trail.

Hanwell and Norwood Green Orchard Trail

Fourty patches of grass and other vegetation cleared, holes dug, stakes driven in, bonemeal added, watering tube installed, tree planted, watered, tied on, reviewed, numbered, approved and applauded, all in one day.

Our huge thanks to everyone who made history on this cold Saturday February 7th, 2015. 26 volunteers braved the chilly breeze, the occasional drizzle and occasional sunshine.

View original post

Trees as long-range weather forecasters?

DSCN0367-2000At this time of year we are busy lifting trees and despatching them to their purchasers, and so we regularly inspect the roots of hundreds of two to three-year old trees. From the appearance of the roots, we can judge the period of dormancy of the trees, and so, on the website, this season we recommend planting from December to April.

This is later than normal. In fact, the usual dormancy period is from November to March. But the winter of 2013-2014 wasn’t particularly cold, neither were spring and summer 2014. So why is the dormancy period later this year, and how can we tell?

I should start with a bit of background information on how the roots work. The feeding roots – tiny and delicate capillary roots invisible to the naked eye – operate from April to September. Then they begin to shut down, and the tree stores resources in the trunk and main root stems. At a certain stage, usually in mid January, white roots begin to emerge from the main root stems. These are not functional as roots, but just serve to establish the initial structure from which the feeding roots will develop. This year, today, 2 February 2015, not one of the trees has begun to develop these white roots. What is the reason for this?

It’s as if the trees know that there is no point in developing their root system yet, because the weather is going to be colder than usual over the next couple of months. How do the trees know this? Perhaps they have a sensitivity to certain meteorological parameters that enable them to time the moment at they begin preparing for the end of dormancy.

And so, on the basis of my observations, I would venture to say that it will be a long, cold winter, or at least longer and colder than usual. And whatever happens, whether right or wrong, I am convinced that the world of plants still holds a lot of mysteries that still awaits scientific explanation.

(In the photo below, we partially lifted a young tree to show the brown roots. We couldn’t find any white roots at all!)


A fruity detective story

The story begins with a letter.

“Hello Dan. Three years ago I bought from you 2 plum trees (1 Czar and 1 Marjories Seedling) and 1 apple tree (Bountiful) and now they have grown into sturdy trees. The Czar and Bountiful produced prolifically last year and the Marjorie Seedling less so, but this year it appeared that all three would produce magnificent crops (despite the best efforts of wood pigeons to strip the plum trees of their leaves). However, two weeks ago or so I noticed some brown patches on my Czar plums which have further developed and spread, and I am 99% certain that the tree is suffering from brown rot. Worse I am pretty certain that it has also spread to the other two trees, although it is in a less advanced state.

“I have removed the fruit concerned and I have sought information on the internet for a cure. However, all the advice is that, because this is a fungus, no cure is available. I understand that I may have to accept that I will lose this year’s crop and my main concern now is how to prevent a recurrence of the problem next year, if indeed prevention is possible. Any advice you have on what I can do in this respect would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for any help you can provide. Yours sincerely, B.G.”


I of course remembered the trees that we had supplied, and the location, and so I wasn’t sure about the inception of brown rot. This is what I wrote back:
“Hello B. Usually brown rot only occurs on fruit which is nearly ripe to eat. I am therefore not at all sure it is indeed brown rot. In order to be more positive, please send me some pictures attached to your next email. I will need a picture of the tree as a whole, a close up picture of the leaves and another picture of the worst affected fruits on the tree.”


Here are the photos that Mr. B.G. provided:

011 Apple-1200

012 Apple-1200

013 Apple-1200

014 Apple-1200

015 Apple-1200


And here are the photos of the Marjorie Seedling:

008 M S-1200

009 M S-1200

010 M S-1200
The photos clarified the situation, and I was able to write back to Mr. B.G. immediately.
“Thank you for the pictures. Yes I do know what has happened. But first the good news!

There is nothing wrong currently with your tree; good dark green foliage and good sized leaf.

The bad news is the fruit which has been totally destroyed. The cause is the spores of the fungus ‘Brown Rot’. Earlier in the season you must have had a hailstorm. The pit marks on the fruit are visible on your photos. Wounds in plum fruits do not heal. Brown Rot fungus spores are in the air, throughout the growing season. After the hail the fruit got infected with these spores and I am afraid destroyed your crop. The points you should consider are the following;

1) Look out for a stump or old plum tree in your area, which could be the source of infection. Destroy that tree.

2) Thin your fruit to 2 per cluster as a standard procedure by the middle of June in any year. Space these doubles 6 inches apart. Brown rot fungus thrives in clusters of fruit.

3) If hail occurs again next year, spray without delay with Systhane fungicide. Once the spores get in the wounds it is too late. You can purchase Systhane from Amazon for little money!

4) Do remove all affected fruits as soon as possible from your garden. The fungus will overwinter on the fallen fruits and be ready to infect next year’s crop.

5) Water the soil under your tree during dry hot periods. If the soil dries out and then rain follows, the fruit will split and as a result, create enormous points of entry for brown rot spores.

6) Spray your fruit trees before leaf fall in November with Bordeaux mixture. This will safe guard the tree against silver leaf and bacterial canker infections.”


So, all clear. The hunt is on for the rotting plum tree stump that caused it all!

Making a wildflower meadow

The wildflower meadow that you can see in the photos was initiated in 2000. We sowed grass and a perennial wild flower mix. Soil should not be fertilized, and it should be of poor vigour. Otherwise, grasses will grow too strongly.

Wildflower meadow, detail

Wildflower meadow, detail

Mow in mid-late August; leave the grass there for a few days to allow flower seeds to drop. Then remove the hay.
Repeat every year, sowing new varieties as desired.
It is a good idea to keep a diary of your meadow, recording what you have sown and what has grown. Often what is planted or sown doesn’t appear the next season, but only after a couple of years. Sometimes it appears, but in a different place with respect to where it was sown. The balance of grasses and flowers varies from year to year, affected by climate and presumably by various other factors.
By way of example, the following lists illustrate the development of our wildflower meadow in Suffolk.

Click on the thumbnail below to watch the video of this wildflower meadow:

Planted in June 2001: grass seed and wildflower seed mix.
Wildflower species planted:
Small daffodils
Grape hyacinths
Blue anenomes

Sown July 2002:
Birds nest orchid

Observed in 2002:
Lots of grasses
Red clover
Pink clover
White clover
Dog daisies
Field buttercups
Creeping buttercups
White campion
Common vetch
Tiny field vetch
Black medick
Birds foot trefoil
Geranium (small flowers)
Scarlet pimpernel
Hedge woundwort
Common broomrape
Plantain (two species)
Scentless mayweed
Pineapple weed
Common catsear
Bristly Oxtongue

Wildflower meadow, many different grasses

Wildflower meadow, many different grasses

Planted in 2003/2004:
Red campion
Meadow sweet

Observed in 2003:
Toadflax (gone 2009)
Ragged robin

Observed in 2004:
Lots of cowslips (planted and from seed)
Yellow bedstraw

Planted in 2005:
Yellow rattle

Observed in 2005:
Lots of cowslips
Lots of dandelions
Yellow bedstraw



Observed in 2007:
Lots of cowslips
Yellow bedstraw
Ragged robin
Several scabious
Lots of bugle

Observed in 2008:
Lots of cowslips
One good ragged robin
White bee orchid (not in wildflower meadow itself, but on a bank about 20 yards away)
A large clump of yellow rattle (not where sown in 2005)
Two clumps yellow bedstraw
One white bedstraw

Sown in 2008:
White bee orchid between birch and prunus serrula
More bee orchid seeds and yellow rattle

Observed in 2009:
Hundreds of cowslips.
Grass less vigorous
Lots of yellow rattle
The white bee orchid flowered again
Two bee orchids in the meadow
Four yellow bedstraw, one white

Observed in 2010:
As in 2009, but no bee orchids on the bank, and one on the field
More dog daisies and bedstraw (one white)
One Pyramid orchid

Pyramid orchid

Pyramid orchid

Planted in 2010:
Ragged robin

Observed in 2011:
Long drought in spring, meadow poor. No orchids at all. Nothing of the things planted last year. Yellow rattle not good. Many geraniums.

Yellow rattle

Yellow rattle

Observed in 2012:
Much better, lots of rain in spring/early summer. FLowers all very good including rattle but no orchids. One weedy ragged robin, 4 bee orchids. Grass very lush. Geraniums look good. Lots of broomrape.

Burrow of a small animal, used by bumble bees

Burrow of a small animal, used by bumble bees

Wildflower meadow, dog daisies

Wildflower meadow, dog daisies

Wildflower meadow path, mown for access purposes

Wildflower meadow path, mown for access purposes

Wildflower meadow, more dog daisies

Wildflower meadow, more dog daisies

Video: A wild flower meadow

In this video, Dan and Henrietta Neuteboom describe the benefits of a wild flower meadow for fruit trees or an orchard.  Wild flowers attract a large number of insects for many months of the year, above all bees, which ensure good pollination. And a wild flower meadow is very beautiful in itself. Click to watch.

Good pollination for many fruit crops is vital for regular cropping. The problem is that most fruit crops flower early in the growing season, when it still can be very cold and wet. These are not the climatic conditions favourable to many pollinating insects. For good cross pollination we therefore have to rely on insects such as the bumble bee, when the weather is too cold for the honey bee.

A bumble bee in a wild flower meadow

A bumble bee in a wild flower meadow

It is for this reason that creating areas of wild flowers is vital. Particular attention must be given to the choice of various flowering species. There has to be a regular food supply, in the form of flowering plants throughout the growing season. That means from March to some time in September. In our experience, a combination of annual single blooms and regularly flowering shrubs is the best way to provide adequate food for the pollinating insects. Another point is that it is better to have lots of flowers of a relatively small number species such as dog daisies, primroses, lavender and clover, rather than a more extensive range with just a few flowers on each shrub or annually flowering plants. However overall, the most important requirement is to provide enough flowers on plants and shrubs which are able to supply nectar and pollen during the full length of the growing season, so badly needed for the insects’ survival during the winter months.

Click here to read more about wild flower meadows and fruit growing.