Trees do not grow in wriggly tin !

I had a call recently from a customer regarding a tree that did not seem to want to grow, “it just sits there – with its leaves all green but looking bored”.

On my visit a few days later I could see the tree was a couple of years old, planted by the previous owner in a lawn with grass right up to the trunk (not a good start) and the grass, which was rather patchy at best and full of moss, looked  pale and feeble. Further discussion with the client revealed that they had bought the property only six months before and were now looking to develop the garden for fruit and vegetables, some further investigation was needed.

So with spade in hand we dug up the tree carefully, the poor thing had made no progress with new roots to establish itself in the ground, so we dug further.

In an area the size of a normal planting hole (2ft x 2ft) we found 18 bricks some wriggly tin and a layer of compacted clinker, under that a set of footings for what may have been an old ‘outhouse’, by this time the hole had enlarged to 4ft square. The only thing we did not find was any soil of any type for the tree to grow in.

With the best will in the world its not fair to ask a tree to grow in those conditions and I wonder what the original ‘tree planter’ was thinking would happen – or is it just a case of lack of knowledge? Had that person been given the right advice before, would they have done the work to prepare the ground for the tree to prosper.

The remedy for this site came in the form of  large yellow digger and a trailer ,which carted away 15 tons of the old rubble and brickwork,to be replaced by drainage and topsoil. There, in due course we will plant another tree – or two !

Grafting Fruit Trees-whip & tongue.

Grafting a fruit tree is not a difficult task, all you need is a firm steady hand,and a good sharp knife. Rootstocks are available for most types of tree. Scion wood can come from any tree of the same type as the rootstock. (usually !)
The general principle is to make a joint between the scion and rootstock that allows sap to flow between the two ,forming a union that will support both for their lifetime.
In practice good carpentry skills work better than green fingers, cleanliness is essential.
The picture below shows the items required, note; the knife has only one bevelled side. I have video footage of the process but it does not show the detail a macro lens can.

The ‘scion’ is a ripe piece of wood taken from last years growth, usually found in the top of the tree. It needs to be firm with little or no pith.
A cut needs to be made cleanly through the scion at a long angle to create an open face 30-40mm long (1.1/4 inch).
In this face make a second cut approximately 1/3 rd down and 6mm into the wood. At all times use a slicing motion, make the knife do the work, if you push it, that is where the damage will occur to your finger! The scion can then be trimmed to length – keeping approx 3 buds.
At all times make sure the cuts are flat and straight as this is the start of the bond between the scion and rootstock,gaps will not callous (or heal ) and the tree will fail.

In the above picture of the scion face you can clearly see the pale or white ring just inside the green ring of the bark, this is the cambium layer which you have to line up with the same in the rootstock.

The cut face to the rootstock is created in exactly the same way – but it is made very slightly larger than that of the scion, you need to be able to see an edge, or line, around the scion, this is to allow the ‘callous’ to form over the wound -reaching the scion, which it joins to, without this edge the callous will grow under the scion and throw it off.

Rootstock showing the ‘tongue’

Now that you have the two ‘halves’ of the new tree it is time to join them together, place the scion-face to face-with the rootstock and lever it up slightly, whilst keeping contact pressure on both, this will open up the tongue on the weaker scion allowing you to push the two together and slide them down into position.

Above you can see the thin line around the scion, this is an essential requirement for the union.

One other factor is to make sure there is a ‘church window’ on the back of the graft-see picture- this will give long term stability to the graft as it heals.

All that is left is to tie the scion to the rootstock, we use degradable rubber strips which fall off after 6 months or so. Other possibilities are polythene strips or self sticking tape. A tight joint is needed to hold the scion in place for 6-8 weeks. Waxing the whole with hot melted paraffin wax is our normal procedure to seal it all in, if you do not have this available then use vaseline on the cut surfaces.
Callous will form quite quickly above 10c-15c. and a union should be formed within 4-6 weeks. Leave the tie / rubber in place until late summer unless it restricts the stem.
Protect the graft with a bamboo cane also to prevent accidental breakage.

This last picture show a graft one year later. the joint can still be clearly seen but has healed well,it will become invisible (mostly) after a few years.

I will add the video to this post later this week but I’m not sure if it will help !
Please – if the above descriptions do not work for you – let me know so I can adjust / re write to clarify.

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.


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.