How can I increase my fruit production?
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