Planning the Fruit Garden
The fruit garden
Few home gardeners nowadays have space for an orchard. Fruit bushes, and certainly fruit trees, have to be fitted in as best they can, often at the expense of ornamental plants or part of the vegetable plot.
Fortunately, fruit trees can be attractive as well as useful. Trained as cordons, espaliers or fans, they also make effective screens and, to save space, they can be grown in these forms against walls and fences.
Planning a fruit garden
Even a small garden can yield heavy crops of a variety of fruits. But think ahead before you plant, since fruit trees and bushes may be in the ground for from six to 50 years.
Often the choice of what to grow is governed not only by the family’s tastes, but by the amount of space available.
When making your plans, bear in mind the area a tree will occupy at maturity, not at the time of planting. In the early years, grow salad crops between trees and bushes to make the best possible use of the ground.
You will also have to decide, again according to taste and available space, on a balance between soft fruits and top fruits, which include apples, apricots, cherries, peaches and nectarines, pears, and plums and gages.
Soft fruits, produced on bushes, canes or low-growing plants, include black, red and white currants, gooseberries, loganberries and strawberries. They bear crops sooner after planting than top fruits and, generally, give a better return for the area of land that they occupy.
Top fruit trees, however, eventually produce heavy yields in good seasons. If you have a surplus, this can be put in store, or bottled or frozen.
Drawing up a plan
To help decide what fruits to grow, and where best to plant them, draw up a plan in the manner suggested for an overall garden design.
Make a list of fruits in order of preference by your family. Fit these into the plan, estimating how many trees and bushes you need under the reference for each fruit detailed on this site.
Avoid planting fruit trees in the vegetable garden itself, where they will shade other plants and complicate your cropping plans. If soft fruit bushes or canes are to be planted in this area, form a block at one side of the vegetable plot so that they do not interfere with rotation of crops.
Choose a sunny wall or fence for a fan-trained apricot, peach or nectarine. If you have additional wall space, place cordons or espaliers of apples and pears, and cordons of gooseberries and red or white currants, against it. Alternatively, trees and bushes trained to these forms make excellent screens.
Decide on the fruits to grow as feature trees by the lawn or at the back of flower beds. Apples, pears and acid cherries are probably the best for this purpose, though plum on dwarfing stock would be suitable for a large garden.
In all cases choose a self-fertile variety when planting trees in isolation.
Lastly, fit soft fruit bushes, canes and plants into your plan. You will probably find that you do not have room for some of the fruits at the bottom of your list of preferences, but do not be tempted to plant too closely to squeeze them in.
Choose varieties to suit your taste, locality and the site you have chosen.
Do not, for example, choose a ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ apple if you have only a small garden as it grows too vigorously and will occupy too much space. Choose instead, one of the recommended culinary apples and check with the nurseryman that it has been grafted on dwarfing stock.
Buying and planting fruit trees
Plant fruit trees and bushes while they are dormant — from about the end of October or early November to just before growth begins again in March. The earlier they are planted the better.
It is essential that the ground should not be waterlogged or frozen.
When ordering, insist on two or three-year-old trees for bush, cordon and dwarf pyramid forms of apples and pears. Do not buy maidens or one-year-old trees, since you would then have to do the initial shaping, which is best left to a nurseryman.
Obtain espaliers with two tiers, or sets of horizontal branches, and fan trees with four ribs. Buy currant bushes at two or three years’ old and cane fruits at one year old.
Preparing for planting
Prepare the ground according to the individual needs of each type of fruit. Do not take the bushes or trees out of their wrapping if they are delivered at a time when the weather and ground are unsuitable for planting.
Keep them instead in a cool but frost-proof shed or garage.
The day before planting, unpack the trees or bushes and, if the roots are dry, soak them in water for 12-24 hours.
If the ground is suitable but you have not time to plant the trees in their permanent positions, unwrap them and heel them in — that is, lay them close together in a trench, lightly firming soil over their roots.
Place trees at an angle, away from the prevailing wind.
They may be left like this for several weeks.
For bush trees and dwarf pyramids, drive a short stake into the planting hole before putting the tree in position. Tie the tree to the stake with strong string, wrapping sacking round the stem; or use adjustable ties, which can be bought at garden shops.
Before planting a fan-trained tree against a wall or fence, fix horizontal support wires with vine eyes, sold by garden shops. Stretch the wire tightly, preferably with straining bolts.
Plant with the stem about 9in (230 mm) from the wall, leaning the stem slightly towards the wall. This will allow plenty of room for subsequent growth.
Before planting cordons and espaliers against a wall or fence, fix the support wires as for a fan-trained tree but space the lowest 2-½ ft (760 mm) above the ground, with 2 ft (610 mm) intervals between this and subsequent wires.
When growing cordons or espaliers in the open, sink stout posts at 9 ft (2.7 m) intervals to carry the support wires. Treat the posts with wood preservative — or, better still, buy them pressure treated — and sink them at least 2 ft (610 mm) in the ground, leaving 7 ft (2.1m) above ground.
Brace each post with a 7 ft length of wood, setting it at an angle with about 2 ft in the ground. Use straining bolts to make the wire taut, and adjust these later if necessary.
Erect similar supports for raspberries, but the posts need be only 5-1/ 2 ft (1.7 m) above the ground for most varieties, and 6-7 ft (2 m) for vigorous varieties, such as ‘Mailing Jewel’.
Set the bottom wire 2-½ ft (760 mm) above the ground, with the middle and top wires at 18in (455 mm) intervals.
Before planting, use a pair of secateurs to cut back damaged roots to the undamaged part and shorten long roots.
Hold the tree upright on the planting site with its roots spread out on the ground. This will indicate the size of the hole needed. Dig the hole deeply enough for the tree to be planted at its previous depth, as indicated by the soil mark on the stem.
Fork the soil at the bottom to improve drainage, adding well-rotted compost if the soil is poor. For bush and pyramid trees, drive in the stake.
Stand the tree about 4in (100 mm) from the stake — or 9in (230 mm) from the wall — spread out the roots and sift in fine soil. Shake the stem vigorously up and down to ensure that soil settles between the roots. Firm the soil carefully with your feet.
Plant cordons with the stems leaning towards the north, if possible, so that they receive maximum light. Allow 8 ft (2.5 m) between the base of the last cordon in a row and the end of the wires or wall.
With all forms of tree, ensure that the union between the stock and scion is at least 4in (100 mm) above soil level after planting; otherwise the scion may form its own roots.
This union shows as a knob-like projection.
Fruit bushes are planted in much the same way, except that a supporting stake is unnecessary. Plant them at the same depth as they were in the nursery, as shown by the soil mark on the stem.
The roots of trees and bushes are often disturbed by frost in the winter after planting. Check every week or so and firm any cracked ground with your feet.
Water the ground copiously during dry spells throughout the year after planting.