Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Tag Archives: fruit tree advice

Video: How to obtain a soil analysis for fruit trees

If you are moving to a new garden, you will be faced with the question of whether the soil is suitable for growing good fruit trees. To find out the answer, a soil analysis is crucial. It is not expensive, and a soil analysis kit is available from the Royal Horticultural Society soil analysis lab at Wisley. The soil analysis procedure is not complicated: you send them an email, they will send you some containers in which to put some soil and ask you what you are thinking of growing, and within a fortnight, they will let you know whether the site is suitable in terms of fruit tree soil requirements. As trees are comparatively expensive, they can be thought of as a long-term investment, and so they deserve an initial examination of what will become their new home. One of the most important factors revealed by a soil analysis is the pH of the soil. Different plants have different preferences: for example, azaleas and rhododendrons prefer acid soils, with a pH of 4 or 5 (7 is neutral). Apple trees on the other hand prefer slightly acidic or neutral soils, so pH 6 to 7. When you receive the soil analysis report from the RHS, it will show the pH and it will also inform you of the soil’s suitability for what you want to grow and on amending new garden soil if necessary. The analysis will also tell you the type of soil, clay, loam, sand, or a mixture. It will give you the percentages of three substances that are very important for fruit trees, magnesium, potash and phosphate. The recommendations on fruit tree soil preparation are clear and straightforward, and if you follow their advice, the trees will do well. So if you are moving to a new house with a new garden, a soil analysis will help you enjoy tasty fruit that you have grown yourself. The RHS website is

Video: Making a fruit tree – whip & tongue grafting, tools and technique

Nurseryman William Seabrook demonstrates the tools and techniques involved in whip & tongue grafting, which is a method of uniting a scion of the desired variety to the rootstock. To make the graft, the right tools are essential: sealing tape, secateurs, a specialist sharp knife, the wax, and the large cutter used to prepare the rootstock. William Seabrook demonstrates how to cut the scion, with double cuts – a first diagonal cut and a second tongue cut – in both scion and rootstock, which interlock so that the vascular cambium along the cut surfaces is as great as possible, for optimum cambial contact. The diagonal cut in the scion is made so that the bud ends up directly over the cut of the stock. This helps keep the tree straight. The graft is secured using sealing tape tied tightly, and then the cut surfaces are coated in grafting wax to keep air, rain and infection out. Click to watch.

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

Top ten fruit tree tips for September

1. Start preparing the ground where you are intending to plant your new orchard, cordons, fans or espalier-trained fruit trees. Check the pH of the soil which needs to be between 6.3 and 6.8. If the pH of the soil is below 6.3, apply some lime and work into the soil.
2. Make sure the site and position is right; not in a frost pocket or on the northerly and shady sites of buildings, walls or hedges.
3. Apply plenty of well-rotted farmyard manure and work into the soil up to a depth of 15 inches.
4. Remove and kill perennial weeds such as bramble, stinging nettle and couch grass.
5. Eliminate wasps nests and remove rotting fruits, which will hide the wasps, from the orchard floor.
6. Remove any rotting or damaged fruits from the trees. Pick the fruit that is ready to eat. Do not store early-maturing fruits such as Discovery and Grenadier apples. Fruit for storage needs to be slightly immature. Fruit that is too ripe will not store.
7. Finish the summer pruning programmes as mentioned in the August tips.
8. Check the storage space for your fruit; it needs to be clean, cool and free from vermin such as flies and mice.
9. Check that the thermometer in the store is in good working order.
10. Start discussing which varieties would be suitable for your location with a knowledgeable and experienced fruit specialist. All types of fruit are site sensitive!

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

A good crop on a well-tended apple tree

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.

Top ten fruit growing tips for August

1) Keep watering your fruit trees, particularly if they are carrying a crop .

2) Look at the trunk of the trees to ensure that the bark is not damaged by lawn mowers or strimmers.

3) Mice are increasing in numbers, particularly around fruit trees. Keep the area around the trunk, grass and weed-free, as this is the sort of shelter that mice like.

4) Fruits which will store, after harvesting, for a later date; raspberries, black currants, red currants, blue berries and gooseberries freeze beautifully, without loss of quality. Check to make sure you have enough space in your freezer.

5) Keep a diary of your growing experiences, particularly if something went wrong during the growing season.

6) All fruits are ripening off later this year, due to the cold slow start in March/April time. Do not pick too early, otherwise the fruit will shrivel and will lack flavour.

7) Carry out summer pruning where necessary. Plums, cherries, green gages, peaches, nectarines and apricots must not be pruned after the end of August in order to avoid infections of various tree diseases. Apples and pears can be pruned at any time during the winter months

8) August is an ideal month to improve drainage in areas where you intend to plant trees, and loosen the soil to a two-spade depth. This is particularly true if a hard layer of soil is found within the first 60 cm of the soil profile.

9) Let us know, as your tree supplier, if you intend to plant certain specific varieties of fruit. The more unusual varieties sell out quickly. We will have good quantities of standard varieties. However, we recommend contacting us right away in order to organize your new area of fruit trees. Click here for further information on our orchard packs.

10) Label your anti bird nets. This makes it is easier to use the right nets in the right place next season.

Top ten fruit growing tips for July

Bumble bee

Bumble bee

1. It is very important for the health and welfare of bees to grow the right type of flowering plants favoured by bees for pollen and honey gathering, throughout the summer months. I t doesn’t need to be complicated. At this time of the year Angelica and red clover are definite favourites. Bumble bees are always on the look out for disused mice tracks in the soil. That’s where it likes to build its nest for the queen.

2. Red currants, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries are now beginning to ripen. Late-picked gooseberries are sweeter than the ones picked in June.

3. Support heavily cropping branches of plums, apples and pears. However, overcropping will greatly reduce next year’s crop. To reduce the threat of the silver leaf fungus entering via broken branches of too heavy-cropping plum trees , drastically reduce the number of fruits now and space the fruits 6 inches apart, leaving the best sized fruits.

4. Space the apples six inches apart, after the middle of July.

5. Check weeds around trees and bushes. Tie in the newly-forming shoots of loganberries, blackberries and tayberries.

6. Tie in the replacement shoots of peaches. Check the fruit cage for holes in the netting. Birds are good at finding the holes and eating your cherries, redcurrants, blueberries and raspberries.

7. Check tree ties. Too many trees are severely damaged due to ingrowing ties.

8. Place the pheromone traps to reduce the damage caused by caterpillars of the codling moth and plum sawfly now.

9. All fruits need a steady supply of moisture. Check the soil. If too dry, apply water at 10 day intervals.

10. If apple and pear shoots are growing too strongly, remove the growing tips of the new growth. Carry out summer pruning where trees are becoming too dense and light is excluded.

Click here for more growing tips

Fruit tree maintenance, seasonal tips, early June 2013

Fruit set

Fruit set

Because the season is approximately 3 weeks later then normal, there are various points which are of importance now.

In general trees which are 4 years or older have shown a good deal of blossom. If this is not the case then bullfinches may have been at work in February. Or if there are plenty of pigeons around, these birds can strip the majority of the early developing leaf as well as the developing blossom.
If fruitset looks good then wait until early July before thinning the fruit. This is to ensure that the natural thinning has finished before you start thinning yourself. Thinning is important, because if the trees are having to mature too many fruits, then blossom next season will be sparse and very weak.

Planning a new orchard

Well-rotted manure

Well-rotted manure. Photo courtesy The Word Factory Ltd/

To create a successful multi fruit orchard, it is very important to carry out the various soil preparations during this time of the year. The winter months, the correct time to plant fruit trees, are often not good for soil preparation, as the soil is already too cold and handles badly. The quality of the soil in the planting hole will determine how quickly and how well the newly-planted tree settles down in its new home.

The rootstocks that you will be using depends on the space available for planting fruit trees. Dwarf rootstocks are recommended when limited space is available. If a good deal of space is available, then the trees would do best if planted on semi-vigorous stock such as MM106, Quince A and St Julien A. These trees need to be planted approximately 3.5 to 4 metres apart. The exact number of trees needed also depends on the proximity of other large trees, such as hedgerow trees, oak, ash and sycamore. Fruit trees do badly when planted on the live roots of other trees. Follow this link to find out more about tree size and rootstocks.

I think that it is a good idea to set out the orchard at this time of year, initially using 6-foot tall bamboo canes. This way you can mark the planting spots of your new trees, in relation to hedgerows, buildings etc.; it gives you an idea of how the new multi-fruit orchard will look. Variety choices can only be made once you have decided which type of fruit you want to plant. Follow this link to view a list of fruit tree varieties.

The ideal pH of the soil is 6.3 to 6.8. Outside those limits, nutritional deficiencies will occur when the trees get older. Fruit trees love well-rotted good organic stable manure, provided straw is used as a base material and not sawdust or wood chips. The more manure you can work into the ground during the summer months, the better the trees will perform in years to come.

How to prune a fruit tree

In the video below, Dan Neuteboom provides an overview of pruning theory and practice. Apologies for the not optimal sound quality, there was quite a breeze blowing in Suffolk, mid January 2013.