How can I in­crease my fruit pro­duc­tion?

Amateur Gardening - - Ask Anne! - Sheila An­der­son, Lan­caster

QI’m try­ing to make our gar­den more pro­duc­tive by plant­ing fruit trees and bushes in­stead of purely or­na­men­tals. Last year our young apri­cot tree set fruit, but this year there is none.

Hav­ing started off think­ing we’d share our abun­dance with the birds, they seem to be get­ting it all. Where have I gone wrong?

AI love the idea of for­ag­ing from the gar­den, and adding fruit, herbs and peren­nial veg is a great way to start. Apri­cots are a bit hit and miss be­cause their blos­som comes early and it is eas­ily dam­aged by frost. Th­ese plants are best sited in a shel­tered spot, ide­ally pro­tected by a south or west-fac­ing wall, where sun and still air en­cour­age in­sects for pol­li­na­tion.

New va­ri­eties such as ‘Tom­cot’ and ‘Flavour­cot’ are great for UK gar­dens, with coral-pink blos­som and de­li­cious red-blushed, orange fruits. Th­ese small trees pre­fer a dis­tinct cold win­ter pe­riod so they can go prop­erly dor­mant and then a smooth tran­si­tion into an un­in­ter­rupted spring, so our mar­itime cli­mate does up­set them some­times.

Make sure apri­cots are planted in well-drained soil, con­sider fleec­ing some blos­som when late frosts are forecast and hand pol­li­nate by mov­ing a soft feather duster around the flow­ers. They are self-fer­tile, but some­times set bet­ter when two va­ri­eties are planted. Poor years are of­ten fol­lowed by bumper crops, when you’ll need to thin the fruits.

I started off think­ing that shar­ing with birds might be a vi­able prospect, but what hap­pens is that they dive in just as soft fruits are start­ing to ripen, tar­get­ing the big­gest and best. The up­shot of this is that we are left pick­ing small, un­der­ripe fruits. Cov­er­ing is the best op­tion and is very straight­for­ward.

For thorn­less fruits, horticultural fleece is ad­e­quate. Wait un­til there’s a good set, be­cause you don’t want to ex­clude in­sects, then cover the tar­get plant and se­cure with clothes pegs. Thorns and spines snag on fleece, so col­lect sheets of En­vi­romesh or other fine-mesh net­ting for crops like goose­ber­ries.

Once you’ve had the best of the crop, move the cov­ers on to the next and leave what re­mains for the birds. Ad­mit­tedly, shrouded plants are not par­tic­u­larly el­e­gant, but they don’t all crop at once and the cov­ers are moved from straw­ber­ries, to goose­ber­ries, black­cur­rants, white cur­rants, red­cur­rants, rasp­ber­ries, blue­ber­ries and hy­brid black­ber­ries as the sea­son wears on.

Our apri­cot ‘Flavour­cot’ has only a few fruits this year, but sets a bumper crop roughly ev­ery three years and I can live with that

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