Autumn is the perfect time to plant fruit trees, says Will Clark from Barton Grange Garden Centre
We are well and truly into autumn now, but as all good gardeners know, that doesn’t mark the end of the work – this is the time to really get stuck in!
Autumn is nature’s preferred time for planting – the soil is still warm from the summer and new plantings have time to establish themselves before winter really sets in. It’s true that container growing means gardeners can plant all year round but autumn is still the ideal time.
It’s also the traditional time to plant fruit trees and bushes. I’ve often wondered if this is because people see their neighbours and fellow gardeners harvesting delicious home grown fruit at this time of year and it inspires them to get in on the act! Whatever the reason, demand for fruit trees has grown in recent years, so it’s worth getting in early for the best choice.
Fruit trees raise a few issues for gardeners, one being pollination. Many fruit trees require a second tree to cross pollinate in order to set fruit. Self fertile varieties will pollinate themselves without a partner but if your heart is set on a variety that isn’t self fertile then you may need a second tree. I say may because, in urban areas, there are usually trees close enough to provide pollen. But if you live in a rural location and you want a non self fertile variety, then you’ll need a partner.
Apple and pear trees are grouped into three pollination groups (one, two and three) according to when they flower. If your variety is a group two, choose a second tree from any of the groups. However if your variety is group one, don’t pick a partner in group three as the flowering times are too far apart to pollinate.
Another point of confusion is root stocks. Many fruit trees are not grown on their own roots, but grafted on a special root stock that controls the tree’s vigour and eventual height.
The names of these rootstocks are quite baffling, M27, M26 and M106 for apples, Colt and Pixie for cherries etc. However, growers are now labeling trees low, medium and high vigour, so things are a lot simpler.
When you’re ready to plant your tree, give it a thorough watering in its container first. Plant on a day when it’s not frosty and the soil is not waterlogged.
If possible, choose a sunny, sheltered position for your tree as this will maximise the time your fruit has to ripen. Dig a hole twice the size of the pot and add some good quality compost such as New Horizon Organic and Peat Free. Place the tree, and its stake in the hole so it’s planted to the same level as in the pot, then infill with a compost and soil mix, firm gently and water in thoroughly.
If you have only limited space, you can grow dwarf fruit trees in pots or you can train a tree along a south-facing wall or fence. Using a wall or fence allows for a longer ripening time as the wall will soak up the heat. Make sure the structure is strong enough to support the tree when it’s laden with fruit.
Most fruit trees sold here at Barton Grange are apples and plums, but you certainly shouldn’t disregard the others as many Lancashire gardeners achieve great results with pears, damsons and cherries. Fruit bushes, such as raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, blueberries and gooseberries can also yield a bumper harvest.