Nursery notes – February 15th

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As I write this, dawn is breaking across the marshes, shining silver in glistening reflections from the recent heavy rains. It looks as though we will get some sunshine today –  bright and cheerful for a change and a real harbinger of spring just around the corner we can all look forward to.

The recent weather has held up many jobs on the nursery and I’m sure its the same for you in your gardens. One we all need to catch up with soon is protecting peaches and nectarines with a copper spray to help prevent peach leaf curl, which can distort the young leaves and turn them a red colour. Prevention is always best in gardening and if you do not like to spray then using a lean to cover as a roof to keep the rain off the branches will also help. A cover will also give the blossom some protection against any late frosts, do remember to leave the ends open during the day so that bees can get in to pollinate the blossom. You will also need to hand tickle the flowers as they open every few days with a small brush or rabbits tail to ensure the crop ‘sets’.

Apricot
 trees
 do not get peach leaf curl but they will still benefit from a cover to protect the blossom and offer some extra help with pollination if there are not many bees about.
There are some new varieties of peach coming out which are resistant to peach leaf curl. One we released last year ‘Frost’, is thoroughly tried and tested, and well worth considering if you are looking to buy this season.

Pruning of the pip fruits should be finished or nearly finished and if you have any apples or pears still to do then best to get them done soonest. It is too early to prune any stone fruits such as plums yet,so it will be best to wait another few weeks for these.

Feeding fruit. Top dressing fruit trees now with a mulch and some slow release fertiliser will allow the rain to take this into the soil over the next few weeks. This will boost the trees just when they need it after a long cold winter.

Planting bare root fruit trees and soft fruit such as currants or Raspberries is ideal now as the soil will soon start to warm up, giving the plants an excellent start to the year.We suggest incorporating a mycorrhizal fungi such as ‘Tree Boost’, too, which will set them up well. Check any recently planted trees and their ties to ensure they are still firmly in the ground if you have had any strong winds recently.But take special care if the soil is still waterlogged.

Remember, our advice is free – if you need help just call – mail or tweet !

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A quick guide to fruit tree rootstocks

Rootstocks and their effects on tree size.

Apple rootstocks

Nearly all commercial apple trees are grafted or budded onto rootstocks, which determine the size of the eventual tree. Knowing which rootstock is needed, and matching it to the soil and the size you want, enable a tree to be productive and healthy.

Most of the important rootstocks for apples were derived from material collected by East Malling Research Station, UK, in the early 1900s. Researchers collected and characterised the stocks developed by growers during the preceding centuries in Europe. Each one was given a number, preceded by M.

In 1917 The Malling Research Station joined forces with the John Innes Institute at Merton to breed some aphid-resistant rootstocks: the MM101-115 series.

A later development has been the cleaning up of some of these stocks (in conjunction with the Long Ashton research station) to produce virus-free stocks. These are prefixed by the letters EMLA (East Malling – Long Ashton).

In the notes below, M denotes a Malling rootstock, MM denotes a Malling-Merton hybrid.

M27 – Very small indeed, around half the size of M9. Tree needs full support. Fruit size reduced slightly. Moribund in wet soils. Very little pruning is required once the tree is full size (around 5ft/1.5m high; producing perhaps 20 apples a year). It’s OK in pots.

M9 – The best known dwarfing rootstock. It is a cross between a French tree, “Jaune de Metz”, and the “Paradise” apple of ancient Persia. It is known as the “Paradise” stock of Europe. It fruits when very young, is fairly hardy, tolerant of wet but not drought, and compatible with all apple scions. It has to be staked strongly, its roots are slightly brittle, and it is about 8-9ft/2.4-2.7m tall at maturity on an ideal soil.

M26 – A cross of M9 and M16. Used in irrigated orchards on well-drained solis. Fruits early in its life, needs permanent staking, hardy. Susceptible to crown rot and fireblight. M26 is not so good in wet, clay soils where it is rather moribund. Produces burr knots – the beginnings of little aerial roots – which attract pests and which can compromise the tree. These can be sliced off carefully in the garden situation. Planting deeper (so less rootstock is exposed) helps solve the problem commercially. Reaches about 8-10ft/2.4-3m if unpruned. OK in pots.

MM106 – A hydbid of Northern Spy (English dessert apple) and English Broadleaf. Well anchored, fruits early in its life, few suckers, fruit matures late, trees have a long season, OK in pots with less vigorous varieties. Susceptible to crown and root rot. Recommended as a substitute for M26 in wet, cold soil as a little more vigorous. Semidwarf. 9-11ft/2.7-3.3m high. Resistant to woolly aphid.

MM111 – Northern Spy hybrid. About 75% of full size; too large for small gardens. Prone to burr knots. 10-12ft/3-3.6m. Semi-dwarfing or half-standard. Resistant to woolly aphid.

M2 – Very similar in size and vigour to MM111. Not quite so vigorous as M25.

M25 – Full size tree; avoid unless you have a large space in which to grow it. Very vigorous; typically 12-15ft high; can be bigger depending on variety; large, heavy, spreading tree.

SEEDLING TREES – OWN ROOTS

Trees grown from pips are usually M111 size or larger and extremely hardy. Some decorative crabs on their own roots are about the size of MM106 but others (especially native English green-fruited crabs) are enormous.

Cherry rootstocks

Colt – Semi vigorous – 13-16ft/4-5m. Fully compatible with all varieties, Considered very productive until the arrival of Gisela; still good for bush and half-standard cherries on thin soils.

Gisela 5. – Dwarf, 40% of height of Colt. Ideal for commercial orchards, gardens and patio pots.The best garden choice for Cherry Trees.

Pear rootstocks

Compatibility – it should be noted that there are many incompatible varieties when grafted onto Quince (especially Quince C). In these instances a suitable interstock should be used such as Beurre Hardy or Doyenne du Comice. The latter will also impart some resistance to Fireblight.

Pyrus communis (Seedling pear) – Very vigorous. More suitable for half standard and especially standard trees.

Quince ‘A’ – Semi Dwarf. The ideal rootstock for bush trees.

Quince ‘C’ – Dwarf and slightly earlier into cropping.

Pyrodwarf – Limited availability as yet  but this one is proving more compatible with Perry pears and others

Rootstocks for Plums, Gages, Damsons & Mirabelles

Brompton – Vigorous, very suitable for standards, does not sucker and fully compatible with all varieties unlike its predecessors such as Myrobalan.

St. Julien ‘A’ – Semi vigorous. This is fully compatible with all plums, damsons, gages, peaches, nectarines and apricots and many ornamental prunus species. Good yield influence. Not suitable for poorly drained soils.

Pixy – Dwarf and ideal for size containment in the garden. On very strong soils it still has commercial use for strong growing, shy cropping varieties such as Marjories, Avalon and Excalibur. Not recommended for Victoria.

Japanese Plums

This is the time of year for Japanese plums, small round dark red ones, larger yellow ones (also round), some are maroon, but the best one to date is this new one ;’Ozark Premier’ wow it is huge,as big as a nectarine. The skin yesterday was red fading up to golden yellow at the neck yet today it was an amber red colour.

Flesh colour -pale straw yellow , firm yet meaty with a buttery texture and juicy to the dribble down the chin point ……..

Peaches & May

May is the best month for pruning peach and nectarine trees. This post is for bush trees,( yes they are hardy enough in most parts of the UK), fan trained trees can also be pruned now, the principles are the same except the tree is flat ! I will post separately on Fan training.

Trees that were planted early in the Autumn will by now be growing strongly and it should be obvious where most pruning cuts need to be. There is one overriding rule to remember when pruning peach and nectarine trees in May – Fruit is ONLY borne on the second year wood, consequently you need to be able to replace this each year with fresh, strong shoots that will carry the following years fruit.

Shoot tips- are they growing strongly ? Those that are, leave well alone .

Weak, spindly shoots need to be taken off completely.

Those with ‘blind wood’ (a length of wood behind a shoot with buds which have not opened or grown) need pruning back to just above the second strong side shoot.

By doing this you will also have now taken out any wood that has die back on it, leaving you with healthy vigorous shoots that will be ready to carry next years crop.

The bush tree pruning is now nearly complete – simple really, one other consideration is the access for picking fruits in the centre of the bush at harvest, remember that the light and sun will need to ripen the fruits and the picker will need to get into the centre to collect the fruit so leave space for both by thinning out any overcrowding branches that cross into the centre of the tree.

Thinning the fruits is a two pronged affair, the first few will be taken off by pruning as above, also check for twins, these will need to be singled out or neither will ripen properly, then check that all the remaining fruits are at least 4″apart.

Second thinning is done after the fruit reach thumbnail size, there may by now have been a small , natural drop, but you need to go over the tree thinning to 8″ – or a hand span apart.

Trees that are not growing vigorously will need looking at to assess the reason, are you feeding? with what , and how often do you feed your tree ? Peaches are very heavy feeders and can look chlorotic and pale if left alone. Consider foliar feeding with Seasol seaweed or a liquid feed to the roots as a temporary measure, then get some slow release pellets onto the soil as soon as you can and water them in well.

Have I explained this in a way you can get to grips with ? Let me know so I can edit if needed.

A Fig Tree for every garden.

Ancient fig trees are majestic things, wild snaking branches head off in all directions, dropping down to add more roots then racing off again. Young fig trees are just as impressive in the crop they can (and should) give you. The tree below is 7 years since planting and will average 30-40 fruit, not a huge quantity, but the quality, is the thing.

The total height and spread is around 6 ft (2m) and this picture is taken in early summer, just before it was pruned to let the sun get at the figs.As you can see it is in the open with only a hedge 40 ft away for protection. The roots are not restricted as the soil conditions are solid, brick making clay !

The real trick in getting figs to ripen in the UK  is pruning, feeding and watering (is that 3 tricks ?). I am constantly answering the question; “my fig tree has loads of fruit and they all drop off”, with another question; “do you ever feed or water it ?” -the answer is always “no”. Fig trees in the wild will grow in the most appalling conditions, in rocks, on the sides of mountains, but they are designed to do this with huge root systems to seek out food and water. In a garden environment more care is needed if you wish to savour the rewards and have a tree that is only 8ft tall.

Plant your tree carefully, as you would any other, with the exception that it likes to be 2″ deeper than it was in the pot when planted. In clay soil give it a good 3ft square hole to live in with good free draining loam to put roots into. In good fertile garden soil some root restriction will be needed, use paving slabs as walls, packing them tight together and leave 2-3 ” of slab above the soil to stop the roots walking out, pack the base with broken bricks and fill with your fertile, loamy soil.

The tree shown above had rooted into the top of the brick wall and grown over the greenhouse on the far side, to root yet again, continuing on into the kitchen garden beyond. A case for some selective pruning.

Fig trees in the UK will only produce one crop per year in a garden, those fruit that succeed are the embryo figs on the tips of last summers growth. None of the small figs you see at leaf fall are going to develop into the luscious syrupy things you are looking for. At the end of Autumn it is best to remove any fruit bigger then a small pea by shaking the branches.

Pruning is the best aid to getting a crop to ripen properly. You need to create a framework of short branches not unlike spurs on which the fruit can ripen. Sunshine is needed in the middle of the tree to ripen the growing wood and fruit, fig trees have a canopy of huge leaves which will shade out everything.

In the first 2-3 years from planting you need to establish the tree shape as an open goblet or fan, creating a scaffold of branches quite low to the ground. Following on from this you need to start the year with some tip pruning, remove only the outermost growing point leaving behind it the hidden embryo leaf and fruit buds. as the buds grow in spring allow the branch to produce 4- 5 leaves, this can be more or less depending on the speed of growth, then pinch the tip out again. This will stop the fig producing extension growth for a short while, most years this can be done up to twice before the tree stops growing in August. This sounds too simple but in practice it is best kept that way.

Feeding is easiest if done as a combined mulch in early spring,this will keep moisture in at the same time. Be prepared to add some chicken manure if needed or even a liquid feed in the early years and definitely always foliar feed with seaweed every 2-3 weeks, with figs this makes a huge difference, increasing the leaf size by up to 50% – which means bigger, better and juicier Figs.

Water is essential to growing figs , keep it plentiful from May through early summer.Regular weekly drowning is better that a dribble. Figs contain a large amount of water when ripe, high levels of potassium and fibre too.Insufficient water will lead to dry,wooly fruits that most likely will drop prematurely.

Medlar & Quince

A interesting piece on BBC Countryfile promoting Medlars and the ‘Jelly’, so I guessed now is a good time for a brief pointer towards a few of the different cultivars (of which there are quite a few).

Most Medlars are grafted onto Quince A rootstock ,which produces a tree of 10-12 ft in 10 yrs ( depending on soil type). The habit of a Medlar tree is erratic in branching and fascinating to see as a mature specimen,branches head off in all directions adding to the architectural shape.They do not suffer from diseases and have splendid autumn foliage.

Breda Giant- Larger more spreading habit,good sized fruits

Royal- Some say the fruits of this one can be eaten fresh, be brave !

Nottingham- Smaller tree with a semi weeping habit.

Stoneless- Compact and very prolific.

Quinces;

A graceful tree with attractive long lasting fruits ,aromatic and versatile in the kitchen.The only disease problem may be Quince leaf blight, a fungal infection like black spot, copper or bordeaux spray will control this quite easily but do clear up any dropped leaves.

Aromatnya- Smaller fruits, round very productive from a young age.

Champion- Pear shaped fruit, heavy crops,pink when cooked. Particularly good in the North.

Lescovacz ( Siberian Gold)- Very large fruit,pink when cooked. Prefers a pollinator.

Meeches Prolific- Highly recommended for flavour,pear shaped,early season.

Portugal- Smaller, pear shaped fruit, requires a sheltered spot.

Vranja- Well known as a standard amongst ‘Quinces’

Reas Mammoth- Large velvety leaves with roundish  fruit . A commercial orchard variety from New York.

Isfahan- Ancient and revered , from the city of the same name.


Bad ideas for this weekend

I had a phone call today from  a customer ,who with saw and secateurs at the ready, was under the impression that this was a wise day to start pruning the fruit trees in his garden.I suggested a few frivolous reasons as to why this may be a daft idea,unperturbed, the client wished to continue so I had to explain more emphatically that pruning now will do no good at all and may cause damage by letting in the “Big Freeze’ (or normal cold ) thus causing the demise of said trees.Suitably re-educated and promising  to spend the remainder of the day sharpening the tools and preparing some disinfectant to use with them for when the warm spell returns (any remaining time before dark would be used to actually read up on how to do the job).