Gardening: Tis the season... to plant fruit trees

With Jo McGarry of Caragh Nurseries

Gardening: Tis the season... to plant fruit trees

Pear trees

When choosing fruit trees to plant in your garden, there are a few things you may want to consider; the type of fruit you want and what you want to do with it; the amount of shade the tree will provide; what wildlife it may bring to your garden; how fast-growing it is and whether it gives year-round interest.

Apple trees, Malus Domestica, are a popular choice and there’s a range of both dessert and cooking varieties to choose from. Some will require you to plant more than one tree so that they can cross-pollinate, but if you’re short on space, there are plenty of self-fertile varieties, like Malus Cox’s Self-Fertile that don’t need another tree.

Crab apples like Malus Rudolph produce a good crop and will attract wildlife to your garden. The leaves provide a source of food for caterpillars and the flowers attract insects. Birds and mammals, including blackbirds, thrushes, voles, foxes and badgers, eat the fruit.

Once you have chosen a fruit tree, it is important to consider the best time of year to plant.

The right moment to plant in this time period will depend on the weather and soil conditions. Generally, this is between December and March, but container-grown plants can be planted at any time of the year, provided the soil is not frozen, waterlogged or extremely dry.

When choosing a location for planting, it is important to think about the amount of sunlight the tree will receive; how exposed the area is; the soil type and how dry or wet it is; and the size and shape of the tree when it is fully grown. For example, crab apple trees are adaptable but do best in full sun and well-drained soil.

Feeding fruit trees promotes healthy growth, giving the plant all the nutrients it needs to produce the best possible crop. Mulching helps conserve moisture in summer and prevents weeds from growing. Feed in late winter or early spring, in preparation for the growing season. Apply mulch in mid-to-late spring and autumn.

Newly-planted fruit trees should be mulched annually for the first three or four years with bulky organic matter to conserve moisture and reduce competition from weeds and grass.

However, mulches contain very few nutrients compared to fertilisers, so are not an alternative but complimentary.

Pruning

The first step to pruning an apple tree is to cut off any sucker growth. These branches are usually easy to spot, as they are the branches that grow straight up in the air. Cut all of them off at the base. New sucker shoots grow each year, so it’s important to prune them because they can take energy away from apple production.

The next step is removing any dead or diseased branches. Overall tree health is very important to both the longevity of the tree and fruit production. If you notice any diseased branches on your tree, make sure you discard them after you prune them.

After this is done, it is time to look at the tree and shape it. Imagine the tree in the summertime - you want good airflow between all of the branches, and you want sunlight to be able to get into the tree. Think of how you will be harvesting your fruit, and prune accordingly.

A tree that is too tall may be difficult to pick from. A tree that is too wide may interfere with other plants in your garden. Also, keep in mind that a young tree you may have recently planted will require less pruning than an older fruit tree in your garden.

Like all plants, fruit trees can be susceptible to blight, insects and other common problems. Keep one step ahead of disease and pests by preventing them in the first place and acting quickly to identify and treat anything that’s causing trouble.

Growing fruit trees for that first homegrown harvest does take a little patience, but they are well worth the effort. A great harvest doesn’t happen overnight, but fruit trees are one of the most rewarding plants a gardener can grow - and let’s face it, who doesn’t love delicious homegrown fruit?

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