1) Inspect smaller fruit trees and remove lower sideshoots and suckers (vigorous, unproductive shoots).
2) Cut away old and congested branches and shoots and clear away the cut branches.
Small Varieties for Small Gardens
Low-growing fruit tree cultivars are best for most domestic gardens. With a crown not exceeding 2.5m in diameter, and a stem height of about 60cm, apples and pears sold as spindlebushes are easy to look after and to harvest. Half or full standards, on the other hand, have stem heights of 1-2m and mighty 10-12m wide crowns that would burst the boundaries of many gardens.
There are small cultivars of sour ( Prunus cerasus) and sweet cherry trees ( Prunus avium), plums ( Prunus domestica) and damsons ( Prunus damascena) with a stem height of 60cm and a 3m wide crown. The crowns of apricot ( Prunus armeniaca) and peach trees ( Prunus persica) usually measure about 5m across. They prefer warmer spots, but both can be trained as an espalier against a sheltered house wall.
Fruit trees are available as bare-root, root-ball or container-grown plants. Bare-root and root-ball trees are best planted in the cooler months of spring or autumn, while container-grown plants can be planted out all year round as long as the ground is not frozen.
Whatever the root type, soak the roots in a bucket of water while you prepare the hole. It should be about 1m wide and 60cm deep so that there is plenty of room for the roots.
Trim the roots of bare-root trees a little before planting. Always plant the tree so that the grafting site, which is visible as a thickening in the trunk, remains above ground. Tread down the soil around the trunk to firm it and tie the tree to a stake so that it will withstand strong winds.
Pruning Fruit Trees
Immediately after planting, remove competing branches, leaving only the central branch and a maximum of four strong leader branches.
Over the next few years, prune formatively so that the numerous shoots coming from the leader branches do not get in each other’s way and are not too congested. This will also shape the crown nicely.
In subsequent years, pruning keeps the crown in shape for a good yield and thins out branches that are too congested. Remove any stray shoots sprouting from the base of the trunk together with any long ‘water’ shoots on the branches that take nutrients from the tree without producing any fruit.
If necessary, prune large branches right back to the trunk. To ensure that the crown gets sufficient light, regularly cut away congested growth that prevents stronger branches from developing.
Cut old fruit branches back to the point where young shoots are growing, which will in turn set fruit.
Help with Aphids
Creating a circular bed around a young fruit tree promotes healthy growth.
– Remove weeds, grass or other plant matter from an area measuring about 1.5m across around the tree.
– Mulch the bed with compost in autumn, then sow nasturtiums ( Tropaeolum majus) in spring to provide shade for the soil and prevent it from drying out. Nasturtiums are a magnet for blackfly so will help keep the tree free of this pest.
– Put up nesting boxes to attract blue tits. The birds feed on insects living in the branches. Alternatively, hang a clay plant pot upside down in the branches and fill it with straw to attract earwigs, which prey on aphids.