We are all familiar with the ‘eat 5 pieces of fruit and/or veg a day’ rule. Fruit and vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals; they provide dietary fibre and promote a much healthier lifestyle. When it comes to your garden, have you ever thought about planting fruit trees/plants? Not only would they provide sustenance, they could also add character and visual appeal to your outdoor space.
In the UK we see a mix of weathers, from humid and hot to wet summers, mild springs to snow in April! Don’t let this put you off planting fruit trees, as the changing climates can actually benefit the yield resulting in a more concentrated flavour. Many fruit trees evolved in cooler climates, so most species will survive our winters. If anything, fruit may be sparse or not fully ripened in the summer months if they are only exposed to minimal amounts of sunlight.
Choosing the right tree
The most common fruit tree grown in the UK is the apple tree. Whilst there are many varieties to choose from, why not try something different and opt for Pear, Fig, Cherry or Quince trees? All are suitable for the UK, and all are readily available. Different fruits will ripen at different times of the year. Those that flourish in the early part of the year will produce fruit that tends not to store well; fruit that ripens at the end of year is more suitable for storing.
Ask the experts
Visit your nearest garden centre or a professional tree surgeon, which should have experts available to advise you on the best species of fruit tree to grow in your area, taking into consideration the weather and soil conditions. They will be able to provide advice on the expected growth, the time of year you can expect fruits and provide you with information on planting and aftercare.
There are a few basic guidelines to follow when planting fruit trees:
Plant your tree in a sunny sheltered position that has good quality and well drained soil. This is to give your fruit the best chance of ripening. Make sure that your chosen location will accommodate the tree now and in the future.
When planting the tree dig a hole that is approximately a third wider than the roots of the tree, and hammer in a stake so as not to damage the tree roots when planting it. Gently spread the roots in the hole to encourage growth and attach the tree securely to the stake, taking care not to damage the stem.
Once the tree is in-situ water it thoroughly, and keep doing this for the first 12 months until the tree becomes established. It is advisable to purchase a nutrient supplement from a garden centre to aid healthy growth in the early months. Check the stem and ensure that the stake fastenings aren’t cutting into it as it grows, loosen them if necessary. The stakes can be removed after 2 years.
Ideally, fruit trees should be pruned when they are dormant in the winter months. To prune your trees you will need a sharp set of secateurs, and possibly a pruning saw if the tree is of a decent size. The aim of pruning in the early years is to shape the tree, whilst removing weak, dead, diseased and damaged branches.
After the first years growth shorten each main branch by one third, this will encourage the development of new branches and spurs. Any younger shoots should be left alone in the first year, so that fruit buds can develop ready for the second year. Keep to this rule unless the new shoots are resulting in overcrowding or crossing over one another.
Spurs on the underside of branches can be removed as the developing fruit will not ripen enough due to poor amounts of sunlight.
With the exception of over vigorous trees, you should only need to prune once a year, if your tree grows excessively you may need to consider summer pruning, ideally between mid-August to mid-September.