Thursday 8 December 2016

FRUIT FORCE

Marie Staunton

Published 24/09/2011 | 05:00

You'll never buy fruit again once you find your perfect tree, says Marie Staunton

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They flower beautifully and provide us with delicious fruit in many shapes and sizes -- and there is always one to suit every garden. We have a couple of grapevines in our polytunnel and, above hen height, they produced a really good amount of grapes. Not quite enough to produce a decent bottle of wine -- or indeed an indecent one -- but next year, I have high hopes for our vines.

Sometimes, people are frightened of growing fruiting trees because they think it involves far too much hard work, but they are a great provider with little or no intervention from us.

A prime example is the crab apple. I barely notice it's there until its branches arch over with the sheer weight of the crop and then, of course, it's crab-apple jelly time. Malus 'Golden Hornet' is a lovely one to try.

The only dilemma you might have is what fruit tree to grow and where. It will thrive in a sunny situation -- it won't thank you for shade. The sun not only improves the productivity of the tree but it also has an effect on the flavour and colour of the ripening fruits, so don't stick fruit trees in a dark corner.

If you are planning to put in a couple of fruiting trees and have limited space, then consider cordons, as these require only limited space -- around 75cm between trees.

This is a single trunk with fruiting spurs along its length, grown at a slight angle against a nice sunny wall. Apples, plums and pears are grown very successfully in this way.

It is advisable to grow a few different apple cultivars -- different types of apple trees that flower around the same time to ensure cross-pollination.

Alternatively, if your neighbour's garden is within bee-flying distance and they have apple trees that flower at the same time as yours, then bingo! The bees will carry the pollen from tree to tree, ensuring pollination and a nice crop of fruit.

Espalier is another fancy name for training a fruit tree up against a wall in a tiered manner, usually around three tiers. This takes a bit of work but looks really impressive flanking a sunny wall.

As a student, I worked in Malahide Castle in Dublin. In the walled garden, where the more tender fruit trees were originally grown up against the wall, there were little openings akin to a small fireplace at intervals along the length of the wall.

These were used to house small fires which warmed the wall, keeping the tender plants safe from frost -- simple but effective. They knew a thing or two about growing their own in those days.

If you are planting apple trees as cordons, then you will need to run three wires along the wall horizontally -- it's always best to do this job before you plant the tree.

Attach a cane to the wire for each tree at a slight angle and then prune the cordon back to roughly half, or to a strong bud facing along the line of the cane.

Next summer, you will tie the tree to the cane and, come the winter, reduce the length of the main stem again by half.

Then it's time to start encouraging fruiting spurs which will come from the side stems, so just prune them back to three buds. That's all done in the first year to give the tree the best start.

Once you get to grips with what the fruiting spurs look like, the rest is a doddle.

If space is not an issue, then go for a standard tree, which is the type we are used to seeing in orchards. You really can't go too far wrong with a Cox's Orange Pippin; the flavour is beautiful and they smell gorgeous.

We have a good mixture of dessert and eaters in our garden and the taste and smell of the apples is totally different from shop-bought ones.

A lot of tender fruiting plants and trees can be grown in containers in courtyard or patio gardens and the added advantage is that they can be moved to a more sheltered position if the weather gets really bad in the winter.

I don't know about you, but every time I plant a tree the wind whips up. The tree will be blown around the place and could be uprooted, so stick a stake in at the time of planting and save yourself a lot of trouble.

The best time to plant trees, be it fruiting or ornamental, is usually between November and March, and although you might be a little chilly, the tree will be grand with plenty of seasonal rain to keep it happy.

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