Growing your own fruit is hugely rewarding, and best of all it doesn’t require much work – you can plant a tree and let it get on with it! Pick your favourite fruit, and with a little care and patience you’ll have a bumper harvest.
What Fruit to Grow?
There was a time when it was rare to find a garden without at least an apple tree in it, if not a pear, a plum and maybe a cherry too. As space becomes a hot commodity and gardens get smaller though, fruit trees are becoming more of a rarity. If you have the space, grow as many fruit trees as you can. You don’t need to have a huge standard tree casting shade over the whole garden though, and it doesn’t have to be an apple tree.
Many fruit trees now come in cordon varieties, meaning the fruit grows from the main stem, making the whole plant very small. Cherries come in bush varieties, meaning they are easy to net and protect the valuable fruit from greedy birds.
Why not consider one of the more unusual fruits – damson or greengage perhaps, quince or fig? Netctarines and peaches can be espaliered against a sunny wall with great success. Whatever you choose to grow, make sure it’s something you enjoy eating!
Choosing Variety and Rootstock
Once you’ve decided on what type of fruit you want to grow, you need to go a step further and pick a variety, which is where things start to get a bit more complicated. You’ll hear the phrase ‘rootstock’ mentioned – this is because most fruit trees can’t be grown successfully from seed, they have to be grafted. The good fruiting tree is grafted onto the healthy rooting tree, known as the ‘rootstock’.
When considering variety, you’ll need to keep in mind things like how large the tree will grow, and whether it is self-fertile, or needs another tree to pollinate it. If you need another tree for pollination, then you’ll need to find out the best type of tree to get for that, to ensure it blossoms at the right time etc.
It’s always a good idea to buy from a local nursery, as they will have a selection of trees that are suited to your area’s climate and soil type. A good nursery will have their trees well-labelled, with all the information you need on size, pollination etc, as well as the taste and storing properties of the fruit itself.
When to Buy and Plant
Container-grown fruit trees can be bought at any time of the year, and can be kept in a container as long as it is large enough. If you intend to plant the tree in your garden though, it is best to get it as a bare-root. In this case, you will need to wait until the tree is dormant, late autumn to early winter, to buy and plant your tree.
Soak the roots well before planting, and make sure you pick a day when it’s not too cold – do not try to plant your fruit tree in frosty ground! If the tree arrives during a particularly cold snap, put it into some moist soil until the weather improves.
Dig a hole that’s a third wider than the tree’s roots, and about double the depth of the roots. Add some organic matter into the bottom of the hole so that it’s the right depth. Place the tree in the hole, along with a stake to add stability to the young tree. Putting the stake in now will ensure you don’t damage the tree’s roots by hammering it in after.
Fill in the hole with good quality soil, making sure you heel it down firmly. Ensure the level of soil around the tree comes to the right height – you should be able to see where the earth has come to previously. Too high or low and the tree can suffer.
After Care for Fruit Trees
Mulch around the base of the tree to help prevent weed growth and keep moisture in. Water the tree in very dry periods.
Apply a grease band to the tree every October to stop wingless female moths getting up into the tree and laying their eggs. You can buy sticky paper that you tie on, or a glue-like substance that you brush onto the tree – it should be applied at about 45cm above soil level. If you have a stake supporting the tree you will need to apply a band to the stake as well.
Prune in late winter or early spring, reducing new growth by about a third and making sure the centre of the tree is open and allows air to circulate. Make sure no branches cross over each other.
All project content written and produced by Mike Edwards