Growing and pruning soft fruit bushes and fruit trees – 20thFebruary 2016

pruning-sketchGrowing and pruning fruit bushes and trees was the fascinating subject of last week’s training session at Marlpit and we were fortunate to be instructed by the excellent Jon Darby of Easton and Otley College. Mahesh provided detailed notes and Amy made us a lovely lunch so I found the morning to be very interesting and enjoyable.

First up, apple and pear trees: how to plant them and about pollinators. Non self-pollinating ones need another variety nearby and so, when buying these trees, we should look at the number on the label. This is between 1 and 7 so, for example, if we buy a tree with a 5 on the label then we should also get one with a 4, 5 or 6, to ensure they flower at the same time. Orchards put in crab apples which have lots of blossom. Tips included spraying flowers with water before a frost which reduces damage. Apple and pear trees are now ‘budded’ onto rootstock and later Jon showed me how to do this. I have an ancient apple tree in my garden so I’m going to have a go.

Next we heard about stonefruit trees: peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums and damsons. Plums and damsons grow well around Norwich and I’ve seen peaches and apricots on the allotments but these do better when sheltered, against a wall, or even in a polytunnel. Sloes and damsons can be grown from suckers. We had a demonstration of how to plant a four-foot plum tree, the right level in the soil, correct staking (drive it in between the roots when you can see them!), tying a support, and heeling in. A good mulch around the tree, but not against the bark, will keep the soil at a more constant temperature. Not difficult things on the face of it, but when you have a live tree that has cost you maybe £15, it’s worth taking great care when planting and after planting to give it the best start in life and ensure a good crop for years.

We moved on to pruning which is essential to maintain good cropping fruit trees and bushes but can sometimes seem a bit daunting. Jon showed us various tools he uses (all available in GO2 Bluebell and Marlpit): secateurs, loppers, pruning saws and shears, which to use when and how to keep them sharp. One myth busted is not to cut the stem at an angle, but across it, and to cut above an outward facing bud. Soft fruit bushes and apples and pears are pruned between December and February, while plum, greengage and nectarines should be pruned in spring and summer to avoid the dreaded silverleaf disease. Summer-fruiting raspberry is pruned after fruiting to allow the new growth and autumn-fruiting (which most of us in GO2 Bluebell have) is pruned to 10 cm above the ground. Pruning gooseberry bushes can be pruned in two ways, the easiest being by removing old branches and allowing new healthy growth. Fruit bushes should be cup-shaped with room for air to circulate.

Marlpit Community Garden has many fruit bushes so we went round pruning them and discussing their care. More details are in the notes. It is a pity that only only six of us attended this extremely useful morning. These monthly training courses (which are also open to the public) offer much more than the title suggests and I really hope more GO2 growers will enrol. GO2 Bluebell is having a skill-sharing session on pruning on Sunday 28 February at 11 – 12 to which everyone is welcome.

Christine Wilson