From the bottom up: Fruit for all

Diacono’s choice: training and pruning

Words & Pictures: Mark Diacono

Having chosen your fruit tree (as outlined in immaculate detail in my last bulletin here) then the next thing to do is to make sure that it will suit your garden. Most of us do not have large fields and orchards any longer: we live in small gardens so our fruit trees need to give as much as possible in a small space. Fortunately there are a couple of ways in which this can be done.

Rootstocks

Most fruit trees are grown by grafting a branch of the variety you want onto a different set of roots. This is done for many reasons, notably that the rootstock determines the size of the tree. There are many dozens of rootstocks available. For apples the most common are: M27 for a dwarfing tree, M106 for a medium sized tree and M25 for a full standard tree.

Pears are usually grafted onto ‘Quince A’ (semi-vigorous, 4-6m height) or ‘Quince C’ (semi-dwarfing, 2.5-5m height) rootstocks.

There are many other options too, so talk to your nursery to find the one that suits your location and needs best. Or contact me direct and I will happily satisfy your every urge.

Planting

Both apples and pears like a good, sheltered, sunny location, with a fertile, well drained soil. Apples can live with things slightly less perfect, but pears can struggle if they don’t have a good site.

In whatever way you’re growing your tree, dig a good-sized hole that will easily accommodate the roots, back fill and mulch around the base to keep weeds down. Water in well and water during extended dry periods for the first couple of years. A top dressing of well-rotted manure every spring helps promote growth and fruiting. If your tree is on a dwarfing rootstock, you can grow it in a large container but you must keep on top of feeding and watering.

Training

There are a number of different ways to train a fruit tree, here is a quick guide. If you cannot be bothered to read then if you go to our YouTube channel you will see me doing an uncanny impersonation of each tree. The films are just under the picture to the left of this article as well.

  • Espalier: A tree that’s trained with a single vertical trunk and two or more horizontal laterals – almost always using wire support, often against a wall.
  • Stepover: A short, trained T-shaped tree grown rarely higher than 60cm tall. In essence, a single tiered espalier.
  • Cordon: A tree or bush trained as a single stem against a wall and/or wire support. Can be either vertical or angled. You can also have ‘U’ cordons (and, indeed if you are feeling flash Double ‘U’ cordons). The more tree you have the more fruit, this is a good way of increasing yield without taking up too much space.
  • Fans: A tree or bush trained with branches radiating into a semi-circle from a short trunk. You can order trained trees here. Go on, it’ll be fun.

Pruning

Freestanding apple and pear trees are pruned in winter; trained trees pruned in late summer/early winter (see the film).

When pruning, remove any diseased, dead and damaged wood first, then any branches congesting the centre if you’re growing your tree as a bush.

Most apples and pears are spur-bearers, developing fruit in clusters on short stubby branches known as spurs. A few varieties (eg Irish Flower and Cornish Gilliflower apples, and Jargonelle and Josephine de Malines pears) bear fruit on the end of branches rather than on spurs. These tip bearers are pruned by taking out a quarter of the oldest branches every year, so that the tree has a completely new set of fruiting branches every four years.

Whatever their form or wherever fruit is borne, pruning is surprisingly simple, but easiest to grasp when shown rather than read.

Mark will happily sell you any of these varieties – and many more from under the counter of his handsome shop.