Growing Fruit Trees at Home
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Moving into your own home is an expensive affair. The stamp duty land tax, the mortgage, the white goods all add up. But there are some unique benefits to owning your own home; painting the walls the colour of your choice, buying high quality versions of the aforementioned white goods (finally a silent washing machine!) and being able to grow fruit trees in your garden. As well as being a lot of fun, a tastefully landscaped garden can add value to your property.
The previous owners of the barn had little interest in the garden, so when we moved in we were faced with a blank slate. Literally. A blank slate of grass, thick with thatch and full of bugs and grubs.
I knew that I wanted to grow some veggies, have some flower beds, a little bit of lawn for the kids to play on, and I also knew I wanted to plant some fruit trees, some asparagus, and one day maybe get some chickens.
After a bit of googling, and a search of some forums to get some recommendations for fruit trees, I went to the Thompson & Morgan website and ordered myself the following fruit trees:
- Cox’s Orange Pippin Apple
- Braeburn Apple (these two apples pollinate each other)
- Victoria plum
- Oullins Gage
- Sunburst Cherry
- Flavorcot Apricot
- Lord Napier Nectarine
Tree stakes and ties I ordered with the fruit trees (these were on special offer for 1.99 a pair when bought fruit trees), and some rootgrow (micorrhizal fungi) to help with the rooting of the young fruit trees.
The apricot and nectarine I planned to train as fans against the sunny fences, while the rest of the fruit trees would be grown out in the open; the apples would be trained as bushes, and the plums and cherry as pyramids, which makes them easier to nervous from birds.
First I went to amazon and bought myself some vine eyes and 1.25mm steel wire and to provide the structure to which the fans would be trained. For fans you need your first wire 12″ off the ground, and then wires every 6″. Once these are in place you can plant your tree. assuming you have a standard fence or wall to attach them to, 100mm (4″) vine eyes like this are perfect:
and some 1.25mm gauge steel wire like this:
All of the fruit trees listed below were bought as bare root trees, delivered from late November to early December. Bare root trees are cheaper, easier to transport, but are only available in the winter (when the trees are dormant). If you buy fruit trees outside of the dormant season (in leaf) they will come in a pot.
Cox is my favourite eating apple. The perfect balance of sharp and sweet. Perhaps a little less robust than other fruit trees and susceptible to disease, but the most important attribute when growing, is whether I want to eat it. With Cox, the answer is very definitely yes! This Apple is on an M9 dwarfing rootstock
Another favourite apple of mine, this strain is from New Zealand. More disease resistant than Cox, and more vigorous. Also on M9 dwarfing rootstock
There’s nothing like picking plums fresh from the tree and eating them when they’re still warm. The victoria plum is hardy, abundant and very tasty, perfect for crumbles, jams and tarts. St. Julien A semi dwarfing rootstock.
Greengage chutney, greengage jam, fresh greengages, yum! This one’s actually a yellow gage, full name Reine Claude Ouillins Gage. St. Julien A semi-dwarfing rootstock.
I love cherries, they are delicious, but oh so very expensive. How nice it would be to be able to grow bunches of your own in the back garden. The two PST popular cherries were Stella and Sunburst. I went with Sunburst. This one is on a Gisela 5 rootstock (dwarfing) which means no cherry picker required.
For growing against a west-facing fence which gets the evening sun. This gnarly looking tree looked older than its 1 years suggested.
For growing against a south-west fence as a fan, similar to a peach, and on a semi dwarfing rootstock.
Digging your holes
Fruit trees for the domestic garden are grafted to semi-dwarfing rootstocks, which makes them less vigorous and perfect for smaller spaces, or getting more fruit and less wood.
To give them the best chance of getting off to a good start, they are going to need the following;
- a good size hole with good soil inside
- a clear space above – so they are not competing with weeds or grass
- rootgrow to help get the roots established
Before you dig anything, or even order your trees, put some canes in the lawn or the position you think you might want to plant your trees. Better to change the location before the trees are in place, as they will be there for decades to come.
Once you are happy, on a bright, fresh winter day where the ground is workable, dig out the grass to 90cm (3ft) diameter around your bamboo tree marker.
Now dig a more specific hole 2 spade wide and 1 spade deep, or however deep you need to bury the roots. Plant the tree as deep as it originally sat at the nursery. Use a metre rule or a bamboo cane to check the level of planting.
If your garden is heavy clay as mine is in parts, you will need to dig the heavy stuff out, or as a minimum mix it with something more friable; Topsoil, with some well-rotted compost, leaf mould and a bit of grit mixed in should do just fine.
Once you have dug your hole, you need to hammer in your tree stake. If, like mine, your garden used to be a car park, you may need a stout fork, pick axe or screw auger to help you get down a bit further. Bury the tree stake at least 2 ft in the ground. Use a lump hammer or sledge to knock the stake in. If you cannot get any lower due to a layer of rock or hardcore, consider driving in your stake at an angle of 45 degrees, with the top of the stake facing the prevailing wind direction (south-west for us).
Stake in, it’s time to plant the tree. Lay your metre rule across the top of the planting hole, so you can check planting depth. Hold the tree in one hand and sprinkle rootgrow around the roots and into the base of the planting hole. Start placing handfuls of your planting mix into the hole filling space around the roots, occasionally lifting the tree slightly and then lowering it, to help the soil get in around the roots.
Gently press soil into the spaces with your fingers, to remove air gaps. Fill gradually checking the planting level is correct. The graft union should be 4-6″ above the soil level. Fill in the rest of the hole, press down lightly with your hand to remove any air pockets (with heavy clay it is very hard to do this without crushing the tree roots).
Finally tie the tree to the stake. Mulch the 90cm circle around the tree with 3″ of green compost. I used spent mushroom compost from local landscaper Stuart Shackell at Shurdington Nurseries, but home made compost or compost made from recycled food waste is an excellent mulch too.
All of the trees provided are doing well, apart from the nectarine which never really got going. I told Thompson & Morgan, sent them photos of my trees, and they duly refunded me the cost of the Lord Napier Nectarine.
I have to say Thompson & Morgan customer services have been excellent. I had a query about planting trees, and which rootstocks were best, and T&M customer services arranged for their tree nurseryman to call me, which he did. I then had a 20 minute conversation with a very knowledgable gentleman who gave me advice on tree planting and how to get them off to the best start.
next time Pruning
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Also published on Medium.