Whether it’s a common variety like apple, plum and pear or a more unusual type such as peach, nectarine or mulberry, a fruit tree is a welcome addition to any garden. Growing a fruit tree is relatively straightforward and simple, if a few basic guidelines are followed.
Where to plant plum trees
Most fruit trees need a position in the garden which has a good amount of sunshine as this will help the tree to grow healthy and bear lots of fruits.
- South or west-facing spots are best for sun-craving trees like fig, apricot, nectarine and peach.
- Choose a location which has well-drained soil and, if possible, is not too exposed to the wind.
- Keep away from places which tend to get a lot of frost.
- Try not to plant in soil which has recently had an old fruit tree removed as this could spread an existing dormant disease.
- Don’t plant near overhanging or larger trees.
Planting distances for fruit trees
- Apple and medlar: 8ft (2.4m) apart and 6ft (1.8m) from fence or building.
- Pear: 12ft (3.6m) apart and 8ft (2.4m) from fence or building.
- Cherry: 15ft (4.5m) apart and 8ft (2.4m) from fence or building.
- Plum, gage, mulberry & cobnut: 12ft (3.6m) apart and 6ft (1.8m) from fence and building.
- Nectarine, peach and apricot: 8ft (2.4m) apart and 6ft (1.8m) from fence or building.
- Kiwi: 6ft (1.8m) apart, trained to a strong fence or building.
- Fig: 10ft (3m) apart, trained to a strong fence or building.
- Grape: 6ft (1.8m) apart, trained to a strong fence or building.
Preparing the soil
Thoroughly dig over the soil, adding bulky compost or organic extra manure. Working in Westland’s Fish, Blood and Bone all-purpose feed also boosts the soil.
Deep and shallow-rooted weeds should be removed with a fork or hoe.
What to do when you receive your fruit tree
Fruit trees usually arrive as bare-rooted plants or as potted plants. Both should be planted as soon as possible after they arrive.
Before planting, remove the packaging and soak the roots in a bucket of water for an hour.
If you can’t plant the tree immediately after receiving it, it’ll be fine for around a week in its packaging when stored in a cool and sheltered place like a shed or garage.
Storing for longer than a week while you wait for good planting conditions is possible. This is called ‘heeling in’ your fruit tree.
- Dig a shallow hole in suitable soil.
- Put the tree on its side, with the roots in the hole.
- Cover the roots with soil, keeping the soil firm and the roots moist.
When to plant bare-root fruit trees
Bare-root fruit trees can be planted in late autumn through to early winter, as well as in early spring.
Don’t plant in frosty conditions.
How to plant bare-root fruit trees
Spread out the root system and dig a planting hole 6inches (15cm) wider than the roots.
- The planting hole should be deep enough to cover the plant to the soil mark that’s already on the stem.
- The knobbly part at the stem base, called the graft union, should be 5-6inches (12-15cm) above the soil after planting.
- Make fork marks in the side of the hole to allow the roots to penetrate.
- Place a tall wooden tree stake firmly into the hole.
- Place the tree in the hole, spread the roots and fill in layers of soil. Firm each layer with your foot until you’ve filled the hole.
- Secure the tree to the stake using tree ties.
- Generously water and add mulch around the tree base, making sure the mulch doesn’t touch the stem.
When to plant potted fruit trees
Potted fruit trees can be planted in the ground all-year-round but avoid deep winter and peak summer times when the soil may be too wet or too dry.
How to plant potted fruit trees
Use the same method for planting as outlined in the bare-root fruit tree instructions above. Before planting, remove any weeds growing on top of the soil and as much as you can from the root ball (the main cluster of roots).
How to feed fruit trees
Until the tree starts to flower, feed with a general-purpose fertiliser that you can add to water.
Once the tree flowers, change this to a potash-rich feed such as a tomato food.
How to water fruit trees
In the first 12 months, water generously and create a small pond around the stem. Let the water soak away, then repeat.
Water the tree twice a day in drought and hot conditions, then just once a day in wet periods.
Thinning fruit trees
Thinning a fruit tree means removing some of the small fruit clusters at an early stage, encouraging bigger and better-quality overall fruits and helping to stop early fruit dropping. Use your fingers or pruners to simply remove excess fruit in early July.
- Apples and pears should be thinned to around two fruits per cluster.
- Plum trees need a lot of thinning, with around three quarters of the early fruit being removed to help the rest reach a superb size and quality.
- Peach, apricot and nectarine fruit trees can be thinned to leaves fruits about 6inches (15cm) apart along the branches.
Pruning fruit trees
Pruning fruit trees by cutting off some of the smaller branches will leave you with equal and evenly-spaced branches on all sides.
Fruit trees need light and air, so don’t worry about removing larger branches too. The tree can look bare after pruning, but that’s normal!
Adding a grease band to a fruit tree
Adding a protective grease band to the trunk and stake of a tree will stop female moths climbing to the branches and producing fruit-eating caterpillars. Place the band about 18inches (45cm) above soil level.