Plant now and she’ll be apples
THE fact that winter has now officially arrived is really a cause for celebration for keen gardeners. Our relatively low Tasmanian winter temperatures, especially at night, can be a huge advantage for growing deciduous fruit trees.
June is a perfect time to buy and plant new ones.
If short on garden space we can plant trees that are grafted on to dwarfing stock so they always remain relatively small, yet still produce excellent yields of fresh fruit.
Some people are put off from growing a backyard orchard because they suspect the trees may be too much trouble to maintain.
In fact, most common deciduous fruit trees are easily pruned and if grown organically are rarely sprayed.
Easiest of all are plum trees, which grow happily in most soils.
Once established you can virtually forget about them, apart from occasional light pruning and harvesting the fruit.
Most are suitable for typical backyards and can be trained as fans on fences or wires.
All produce attractive spring blossoms if planted with a suitable mate and most carry outstanding crops, year after year.
European plums such as Greengage and Golden Gage pollinate each other.
By using space- saving fans or espaliers, a big range of fruit trees can fit comfortably into small gardens.
Peach and nectarine trees rarely grow too large and are easily kept under control by summer pruning after harvesting.
Most are self- fertile, which means they don’t need another tree for pollination.
Excess fruit can be bottled, or cooked and frozen for long keeping.
Apples and pears can also be espaliered against fences, trellises or walls.
When grafted on to dwarfing stock they mature as 2m high, free- standing trees, even suitable for a front lawn. We have a lovely Mutsu and a Granny Smith tree, both of which take up little space but fruit well into early winter.
Other apples such as Gravenstein, Cox’s Orange Pippin and Jonagold provide non- stop supplies from early January to autumn.
Most pears need pollination from another variety for decent yields.
They are vigorous but can be kept under control if trained as espaliers. This means regularly pinching- out and stopping all active tips during the growing season.
Fortunately, like apples, they are available as multi- grafts which always worked with mutual cross- pollinating varieties.
It is important to select the best trees available at garden centres, which are not necessarily the biggest plants displayed.
Re- sellers are reluctant to prune large trees because they look impressive and sell faster.
However, if the roots have been heavily reduced, usually to take up less room during transportation, over- large trees will either fail to grow or even die during the first season.
This is why it is necessary to prune the branches of lanky trees back hard before planting to help restore balance.
Remember all deciduous trees are best planted bare- rooted in winter.
If bought in containers, shake off all potting mix and get them into moist ground as a
Most common deciduous fruit trees are easily pruned and if grown organically are rarely sprayed
matter of urgency, even if only to cover the roots until properly planted.
Most deciduous fruit trees will be there for a long time so must be planted with great care.
New, young trees could be under stress during the first couple of growing seasons, especially during long periods without rain.
Later, after forming deep, penetrating roots they become relatively independent.
Always dig planting holes fairly wide so all the bare roots can be spread as widely as possible.
Old, well- rotted cow or sheep manure, with generous amounts of compost or coco- peat should be mixed into soil stockpiles before backfilling.
This organic matter acts like a sponge, absorbing and retaining enough moisture to help carry the trees through any hot dry periods in summer.
Above all, make sure all deciduous fruit trees are securely supported, preferably using wooden stakes.
Two stakes are better than one when driven in on either side of newly planted trees with plastic tree ties stretched between the two.
After backfilling, slow- acting fertilisers such as blood and bone can be generously sprinkled over root- zones and then covered with a thick layer of weed- suppressing straw. They’ll never look back.