Picking fresh fruit from your own garden is the very epitome of country living but, like most glorious garden bounties, fruit trees require year-round care and attention in order to keep them at their very best.
Pests and diseases can all ruin your eagerly anticipated harvest, so it’s important to stay on top of them year-round and nip any potential problems in the bud (sorry, I couldn’t resist!)
So, whether you’re planting a new young cherry tree or caring for a mature apple tree, here’s our season-by-season guide to caring for your fruit trees and ensuring a bumper harvest all round!
Good spring maintenance of fruit trees ensures that you start the growing season strongly and will reap the rewards later in the year.
Fruit trees are usually pretty self-sufficient and should only require regular fertiliser if they grow in poor quality soil. Need a quick way to tell if your tree needs a helping hand? If the previous year’s growth was less than 15 inches apply fertiliser; if it was more, don’t worry so much.
If you do need to apply fertiliser, aim to do it just before the buds and leaves really start to emerge. Starting about one foot from the tree’s trunk, spread the fertiliser in a ring extending one foot beyond the tree canopy. Rake the fertiliser into the soil thoroughly and water generously.
Spring is also the best time to get a head start on pests and potential diseases. Rake up and remove fallen leaves and other debris around your tree’s base and consider spraying a dormant oil to kill any overwintering bugs and their eggs.
As the warm weather increases, your tree will break from dormancy and begin to grow - hurrah! However, any weeds around the base of your tree will start to do the same - boo! Weeds compete with your tree for water and nutrients from the soil so be sure to clear weeds as they emerge to give your fruit tree the upper hand.
A 1-2 inch layer of mulch will help to decrease weed growth and reduce moisture loss from the soil. Be sure to keep the mulch at least 5 inches from your tree’s trunk to prevent the bark from rotting.
Whilst most pruning is done in winter whilst your tree is dormant, new spring growth will make it clear which branches are productive and which are dead. Go ahead and remove any dead branches but prune sparingly and only in dry weather.
Hot, dry weather brings with it the need to water your fruit trees. Daily water isn’t necessary; instead, aim for a generous weekly watering. During wetter weeks you can skip watering.
If it’s particularly hot, you might need to consider white washing the trunks of young trees to protect them from sunburn. To make a whitewash for your tree mix equal parts white latex paint and water.
Keep on top of any fallen or rotting fruit as removing it quickly reduces the risk of attracting pests. Also continue to remove weeds from around the base of your fruit tree. The more nutrients your tree can draw from the soil the better its growth will be.
Speaking of growth, if your tree has gone a bit wild-looking with all of the care and attention it’s been receiving, now’s the time for a little gentle pruning to remove excessive suckers and rubbing branches.
By the end of summer your fruits should be sizing up nicely. Keep a close eye, checking it for signs of disease and pests; it’s easier to control problems as they’re getting started than after lots of damage has been caused.
If your tree is in good health, it’s likely that it will produce more fruit than it can support. Some fruits it will shed naturally, but it’s a good idea to remove some fruits from branches that look in danger of breaking. Start with those with any signs of rotting or insect infestation.
Remove rotting windfall fruits regularly - as well as helping with disease prevention, this also helps to ensure your garden doesn’t becomes haven for rats and mice on the lookout for a quick and easy meal.
You should also remove all rotting fruit from the branches of your tree. Not only are they an eyesore, but they will encourage pests and the spread of disease.
Most fruit trees are deciduous and begin to drop their leaves in autumn. Rake up fallen leaves and broken twigs regularly as they could be harbouring insect pests. Regular maintenance and weeding around the base of your tree will also help to remove hiding places for insects that might be looking for a place to hibernate as it grows cooler.
Towards the end of autumn it’s a good idea to stop watering your trees and using any fertilisers, even if they haven’t quite lost all their leaves yet. This helps to smooth the transition into the dormant winter stage. Over fertilised trees may continue to grow into the winter and any fresh growth will likely be damaged by the cold.
This is also a great time to give the ground around your tree a quick rake to expose any grubs and insect eggs. These will be quickly gobbled up by local birds.
After shedding their leaves for the winter, your fruit trees will become dormant - but this is no time to neglect them. Pull on your wellies, coat, mittens and hat: it’s time to give your tree a winter health check!
Start by looking the tree over for any unusual growths, bumps, discolouration and cracks in the bark that are weeping sticky fluid.
Prune back diseased, dying or dead branches early in the season to give your tree time to heal before the spring rains arrive. Don’t forget to clean your tools regularly if you’re working with an area of diseased wood; bacteria is easily spread between trees and branches via your tools and clothing.
It there frost on the way? Consider adding a layer of mulch around the roots of young trees to protect them from the cold. A good 2-4inch layer will also slow down the growth of new weeds and lock in moisture to the ground below.
Heavy snowfall can break cold, brittle branches so use a broom to gently brush away the snow or shake it off carefully. No accidents, please!
Whatever the time of year, there are no excuses for sitting idle; your fruit trees may require plenty of care, but in return they promise a plentiful supply of delicious home-grown fruit year after year. Sounds like a fair trade to us!