One of the most effective ways of growing fruit trees is as hedges or screens and this provides an added bonus of creating garden rooms or fences, writes Peter Cundall
Branch out with a fruitful hedge.
Sometimes there’s not enough space for fruit trees, especially where gardens are small. We can help solve this problem by growing a surprisingly wide range of fruit trees in containers.
Citruses, especially small-growing varieties such as Meyer lemons, or apple, pear or peach-nectarine trees grafted on to dwarfing stock make ideal tub plants. They are perfect for growing on sunny decks, balconies, patios and even on paths or steps.
Some of the most effective ways of growing fruit trees is as hedges or screens. A huge range of fruit trees can be close-planted and then kept clipped and trained to grow flat against supporting frames.
In the 1950s I started gardening in Tasmania and occasionally came across an unusual, but highly attractive, dense hedge. From early to mid-winter, large numbers of egg-sized green fruit would mature and fall to the ground, where they remained until they rotted.
One day, out of curiosity, I picked up one and tasted it. The greenish-coloured pulp was deliciously, sweet. It was my first experience of a pineapple guava, yet this fruit was mostly wasted in those days because the plants, then called Feijoa sellowiana, were grown primarily as ornamentals and most people rarely bothered to sample the fruit.
One of the most attractive consisted of 10 plants and with regular clipping in late winter grew no higher than 1.5m. On breezy days the plants – now called Acca sellowiana – became even more attractive as the dark green, glossy leaves were blown upwards to reveal silvery-grey
Citruses, especially small-growing varieties such as Meyer lemons, or apple, pear or peach-nectarine trees grafted on to dwarfing stock make ideal tub plants
undersides. Even the slightest gust caused the entire hedge to briefly and dramatically change from green to silver.
Crab-apple trees can be trained on wires to grow flat as espaliers. Occasionally they need to be cut back hard to force new growth from below. If long branches are tied down so they are forced to grow horizontal rather than upwards, they not only bear more fruit, but also produce denser foliage.
My own favourite crab-apples for this purpose include Jack Humm, Golden Hornet and Gorgeous, all making excellent screening plants.
They carry masses of very edible, bright scarlet or yellow fruit, some remaining hanging into the middle of winter.
Birds feed off the red fruit but are slower to get stuck into the yellow ones. These trees can easily be kept to a height of less than 2m and each plant has a reach of 4m.
Lemon trees are more expensive but when planted at 3m or 4m intervals they eventually create fantastic hedges. Eureka and the slightly thorny Lisbon can grow up to 5m. Both bear fruit all year round.
A lemon tree hedge in full fruit is an incredible sight – and sometimes very profitable. They need regular summer
watering and feeding. A topdressing of pelletised poultry manure during early spring and again around mid-summer works wonders.
Peach and nectarine trees can be trained to make excellent screens. All branches that cannot be tied in to grow sideways are kept cut off. Consequently the trees continue to grow, but remain flat, especially as loose branches are tied into supporting wires.
Every few years, older branches are cut back hard to encourage the development of replacement, fruit-bearing wood. Light summer pruning after fruiting keeps these trees under good control.
The same method can be used with smaller plum trees such as Golden Drop and Greengage. The great advantage of fanned fruit trees is the ease by which the fruit can be harvested. Applying netting to protect the fruit from birds is also made easier when trees are trained as fans.