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Archive for the ‘FRUIT’ Category

After attending another session on Grafting Techniques, not the ‘hard work’ graft, but the ‘joining of two pieces of wood to create a new tree’ graft, I have decided to write a blog about it. The process has always intrigued me and after my first attempts at grafting last year, when all four miraculously took, I developed the grafting bug. At first the process seems complicated, but it soon falls into place once you start practicing the cuts and understand the science a bit. So, in an attempt to hopefully demystify grafting I am going to take you through the steps.

There are different types of grafting techniques but here I am just going to cover the crudely named ‘whip and tongue’ technique as this seems to be the most popular for fruit tree grafts. To create a graft you need two pieces of plant tissue that are related, ideally in the same genus or at least family group; a rootstock [which determines the tree’s size] and a scion [which determines the fruit variety].

Scions are taken from trees in the dormant season around December up to February. Select one-year-old wood, ideally pencil-thick, and cut to around 10 to 15cm long with four to six buds visible. Put these in a plastic bag, roll up and sneak them into the bottom of your fridge for safe keeping. The grafting procedure is then carried out towards the end of February until the end of March, just as the sap starts to rise.

The rootstock is a little more complicated. It is important to select the right rootstock for the space you have available for the tree to grow…and there are many to choose from. Frank Matthews has a good guide to the different rootstocks; MM106 and M26 semi dwarfing rootstocks tend to be the most popular for apples in gardens. Rootstocks will need to be bought in and can be purchased online via Blackmoor or Ashridge Nurseries.

The science behind grafting is fascinating and for those of you who have done the RHS General memories of plant biology will come flooding back. It all comes down to the cambium tissue that lies just beneath the bark and its ability to actively divide and reproduce cells [also called meristematic]. When two separate [but related] pieces of plant tissue are joined together, it is the matching up of the cambiums on the scion and rootstock to “intimately contact” each other that will make the union successful; as the two separate cambiums will fuse together.

Locating the cambium is relatively easy as we know it is just under the surface of the bark. We just need to make sure that the cut on each piece of wood is similar in width and length. Ideally choose a rootstock that has the same size girth as the scion. However, you may have thin scions that are impossible to match up in girth size to a rootstock; this always seems to happen to me. As long as you make sure one side of the cambium [on the scion and rootstock] is matched up and in “intimate contact” the union process will still occur.

Tools. A good grafting knife that is clean and sharp is essential and a sharpening stone to keep it that way would be useful. You will also need secateurs, elastic rubber to bind the two stems together and some grafting tape [some people use heated wax] to wrap around the secured join to protect from infection and lock in moisture. See Blackmoor for supplies. Oh, and a first aid kit would be wise.

So for the cuts. Starting with the scion… the aim is to make a smooth diagonal cut from one side of the stem right through to the other. Practice this as much as you can until you are happy with the cut [see my practice cuts below]. The tutor of the grafting course at Reaseheath, Harry Delaney, advises keeping your elbows tight to your side to help keep control of your knife and cuts. Some prefer to make cuts away from the body but Harry teaches cutting towards…hence the tight elbows…and the first aid kit.

Once you are happy with your practice cuts on your scion you need to make sure that a bud is present on the back of the cut side as in my practice cut below [see top diagram too].


Next, make a small, straight notch in the wood [in image scion is on the left, rootstock on the right]. This will slot into another notch that you will make on the rootstock and will form the union [helping to keep the pieces together].



For the rootstock, cut just above a bud [diagonal cut sloping away from the bud] to leave you with about 15cm for the stem height; you are also aiming for a bud to be present at the back of the cut on this too. You cut the rootstock differently to the scion as you don’t need to cut from one side of the stem through to the other. You just need to take the surface off to reveal the cambium. It is also good practice to measure your cut length on the scion against the rootstock, to get a good match. You are aiming for a little gap or ‘church window’ at the top of the join [left image] as well as the bottom [right image].


Once you are happy with the cut, which should be as smooth and as straight as possible, check that the two pieces of wood fit together with no gaps between the two surfaces. Now line up the cambiums, whether matching to both sides or just one [as in above right image] making sure the notches [graft union] are ‘hooked’ together [see diagram at top] and fasten the elastic tightly around the join and tie. You now need to stretch and mould the grafting tape around the join or dab with melted wax.

That’s it. Label with the variety and rootstock and you are ready to plant up. By April, if the cambium union has worked you should see the buds starting to burst. Very exciting. I shall be holding my breath for my grafts; three Quice ‘Vranja’ on rootstock Quince C [below] and one Apple Norfolk Beefing on M26.

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Here we are hurtling through November, the October blues are over and I have my fairy lights pinned around the outside of my greenhouse. Everything is sparkly again. You would think that as an Autumn baby I would be happy at this time of the year. Instead it’s all gloomy as summer has slipped away at break neck speed and it’s dark outside. Oh, and I always get some weird virus and the snot monster attacks. C’est la vie but at least I know I’m not alone.

So sparkly lights and pots full of winter bedding plants have cheered me up. I still have loads of apples, some are being stored, some are destined for the chickens [yes I have fruit-loving poots too] and some will be used to make even more of River Cottage’s irresistible Bramley Lemon Curd. Fruitshare has been bigger than ever this year, thanks to Twitter and the lovely people out there that have supported it. But there is a long way to go yet before it becomes a truly successful initiative.

The Newsround feature didn’t come off. The move to Salford and a change of heart with the producer meant that the cameras didn’t roll. I was disappointed. I felt awful that I had lined up a small team of willing children and fruit sharing mums to have to call it all off. The idea was to follow a fruit sharing journey, where apples would be collected from the garden of one family and given to another. Then, the fruit seeking family would get stuck in, aprons on, scales out, to transform the free apples into lovely puddings and jams.

Well, as it happened, it was decided that the fruit sharing journey would be recorded anyway! Not quite by a camera crew but by my trusty old camera instead. Kim Carmyllie [Mum, baker of fabulous cakes, Cub leader and IT Manager] was [and is] my Fruitshare star from sunny old Bolton who was still up for doing a fruit sharing rendezvous. I had recently discovered an untouched crop of the most delicious apples too and desperately needed someone to pass them on to!

The meeting took place over half term so I could get the kids to help out. Our first mission was to pick the apples. The tree is in the midst of a construction site for a self-build project [potential client] so the picking became more of an adventure. Mud and diggers everywhere. The son was in his element. After sliding down an embankment of excavated soil…we all fell silent; spell bound. No, not with more construction machinery, we had disturbed a young Roe deer who had been hiding in nearby undergrowth. We watched for a while before it bounded off across the fields. Magic. I have to point out that this plot of land is surrounded by busy roads just on the outskirts of Bury!

On with the apple picking, nettle stinging and embankment sliding we went and filled all our baskets. I am not sure what variety of apple it is but they are good eaters [and cookers as we later found out]. The tree has a beautiful shape and the branches fall all the way down to the ground; I have never seen one like it. The area used to be a small orchard and this is one of two trees that remain. I hope they decide to plant more.

With kids prepped to be on their best behaviour, off to Kim’s kitchen we went with our bounty. You can tell Kim enjoys her baking; a kitchen table full of baking goodies; home-made jams; chutneys; an apple jelly in the making; cupboards crammed with flours, sugars and spices. What would we make? This important decision was left to the kids…apple cake followed by apple and ginger jam. We all got stuck in; weighing, mixing, peeling, beating, pouring, sprinkling and the inevitable spoon licking!


I’m not sure on the exact recipe Kim used but I have located one that is similar here [we didn’t add the toffee]. Once the cakes were poured into their cases the kids piled on an extra ingredient, demerara sugar, to give it a lovely sweet and crunchy crust. We popped them in the oven for around 40 minutes and boy those baking aromas were delicious!

Next, the apple and ginger jam. I have found a recipe, again similar to the one Kim used, on another blog here. Kim used stem ginger though and added in the syrup too. We chopped the apples and put them in a pan with the water and waited… and waited… and waited for them to turn into the pulpy texture we were expecting. The mystery apple seems to hold on to its texture when cooked…so a ‘chunky’ apple and ginger jam it was to be!

We were with Kim for a good few hours and enjoyed every minute; so a big thank you goes out to her 🙂 We even got to take home some jars of jam and one of the apple cakes…both utterly delicious!

The harvest season is practically over, although I know there will still be thousands of trees out there hanging on to their fruits. The Fruitshare website will have some new features added for next year and I’m hoping for bigger and better publicity too. No doubt I will keep you all posted. Thank you again to all those that have supported this very new initiative x

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You may have noticed my persistent Fruitshare.net plugging on Twitter has lapsed for a little while over the past week or so. Proper work [preparing borders for new planting] has been responsible for the mini break. But, despite the Twitter quietness, pretty incredible things have been developing for Fruitshare’s ‘spread the word’ campaign.

It began with an article about Fruitshare in my local newspaper the Bolton News, [thankfully the online version doesn’t have the cheesy photo]. The article miraculously instigated two further publicity leads, a stint on BBC Radio Manchester with Heather Stott and, the cherry on top…an email from CBBC’s Newsround producer to say they’d like to feature Fruitshare! Obviously I said ‘yeah’!

I’m now in the process of gathering some ideas… potential gardens, Fruitsharers and Fruitseekers that would be up for a bit of stardom. I think I have sussed the first two…but just need someone from around Bolton or Manchester, preferably with kids [age 6 to 12], with a bit of a passion for baking [or jam making or whatever] to be our featured Fruitseeker. I shall thus be approaching those already registered on the Fruitshare website to see if I can find that special star…filming will take place over the next couple of weeks.

I’m very much excited about this little bit of national coverage for Fruitshare and keep my fingers crossed that it might just, maybe, possibly lead to a little bit more…I need to keep that publicity ball rolling. This week I will be around in the office a bit more so will continue the Fruitshare.net tweeting. If you happen to spot one, please do continue to retweet…it all really helps.

The number of registrations on the Fruitshare website keep rising, especially on the ‘Fruit Wanted’ list. My next mission is to try and up the numbers on the ‘Fruit Available’ list. Any Fruitseekers reading this, if you know of anyone living nearby that has a fruit tree growing in their garden please let them know about Fruitshare. This poster could be used in local shops or even posted through letterboxes to help spread the word in your area.

I will keep you all posted on how the Newsround feature develops and who will be the Fruitseeker star!

Thanks all and happy fruitsharing x

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Some of you will have already clocked that I have a bit of thing for fruit. It was an unknown variety of strawberry that first made me swoon, an incredibly sweet and juicy one that simple knocks the socks off anyone who tastes them. That was the initial hook which consequently set about a heightened sense of awareness of what fruit, if any, was growing quietly in other people’s gardens …with a relentless desire to have a sneaky little taste.

My eagerness for wanting to find and try fruit was, all of a sudden, completely quenched with the onset of the apple harvest season. I gathered unwanted apples of all shapes and sizes from the gardens I worked on, made enough apple crumbles and apple Dorest cakes to feed the five thousand and had enough surplus apples to keep family and friends extremely happy. It was an overwhelming time and they weren’t even my apple trees.

Borne from this abundant apple frenzy is fruitshare.net. I wanted to find a way of sharing this unwanted garden grown fruit, not just in the area I live but to make it accessible to people across the country. The website was set up and then redeveloped a year later in partnership with another fruit enthusiast, Richard Borrie from orangepippin.com, into a fully working database driven website. We are now in the beginnings of our second harvest season and we are keen to spread the word about the Fruitshare initiative as the more people that know about it the more sharing of the country’s forgotten fruits will take place.

Hence, I am now on a little mission to get as much publicity as I possibly can, and by publicity I mean national… and beyond. I think the idea is a great one, but I am biased I know. What would be really really cool is if all of the grow your own/buy and source local/encourage sustainable food endorsing celebrities/organisations would give Fruitshare a big thumbs up and link up to us from their websites  …but, lets be honest, that would just be dreaming. So, back to reality, a press release is the normal first port of call. Done. This has been sent out to a whole raft of publications from local press [they’re getting a bit fed up of me now I can tell], specialist magazines, national newspapers to BBC Breakfast! If anyone has close friends or relations at any of the major news publications please do get in touch!

You’re probably sensing that I’m not getting very far with the traditional publicising route; well you’d be pretty much spot on. Time is ticking, I don’t have oodles of free time to be chasing illusive ‘contacts’ I’ve been dragging out of the internet, I need a new plan.

Twitter. You’re very likely to be reading this because of Twitter. Fruitshare.net wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Twitter [Richard from Orangepippin contacted me via Twitter]. My other half rolls his eyes every time I mention Twitter…like many other other halves I am sure. People love Twitter, people hate Twitter. Twitter has had bad press, has been blamed for the recent youth riots, but, it was also the cause for the mass community clean ups that followed. It has a good side and bad side; I want to bring out its great side.

With Twitter on my mind I have devised a new little plan, just to see how far I can publicise Fruitshare by just tweeting. As Fruitshare’s website is purely in existence today due to Twitter what better way to see the initiative evolve into an international phenomenon [there’s no harm in thinking BIG!].

So here’s the plan. If you think the Fruitshare idea is a great one and would like to get involved by spreading the word just simply retweet my tweets about Fruitshare. My mission is to tweet appropriate publications/media/organisations details of and a link to the Fruitshare site plus a link to this blog in the hope that they will give coverage to the scheme.

That’s it. Not rocket science I know. It may be a complete belly flop from which I’ll need to pick myself up and put my thinking cap on again. But, I’m up for giving it a go as I really would like to see people making the most out of the nation’s forgotten garden fruits. Please help by spreading the word. Thank you x

 

UPDATE 12/09/11

It is day 6 of the Fruitshare campaign and so far the blog stats have rocketed, the retweets have been immense and the lists on the fruitshare.net site are getting longer! Support and feedback has been really positive and I thank everyone who has spread the word so far.

One other idea I’ve come up with to help promote the Fruitshare initiative is a little A4 poster that can be downloaded from here, printed out and pinned to notice boards up and down the country [and beyond] in offices, cafes and shops. I’m demanding I know. I am duly printing them off myself and will be loading up the other half with them [who’s still rolling his eyes at me] to put up around his workplace. I shall go and hassle all the shop owners, with big smiles.

I am still persisting with the Twitter campaign, although I do sense most are now fully informed with the whole Fruitshare thing…I apologies for my one track mind and repetitiveness. It shall all be over with the end of the harvests! My mission is still to get some national media coverage [I’m afraid I’m still thinking BIG]; and would love anyone to contact me for the official Fruitshare press release [mentioned earlier], for a chat about the project or any other ideas on how to spread the Fruitshare word. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m a bit passionate about the whole affair and will even share my precious, maturing sloe gin with anyone who can steal me that national slot for Fruitshare!

Thank you everyone, happy Fruitsharing x

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This month’s entry is not a rehash of the BL Magazine column but my chipping away at making the future more fruity!

The term ‘self-sustainability’ has been around for rather a long time and while I suspect many of us continue to aspire to be modern day Tom and Barbaras, the world we live in is still heavily reliant on mass production. We horde to the supermarket temples in our millions every week for the convenience shop, as well as the BOGOF bargains. I too am guilty. But, how do we really change our comfortable habits and move, en masse, to a more self-sustainable way of life? Our lifestyles will have to re-evolve at some point, not necessarily by converting our back gardens into mini productive farms like Tom and Barbara, but by finding simple ways of transforming our own outdoor spaces into more imaginative and resourceful places.

The article in  The Telegraph [07/03/11] regarding Prince Charles’ endorsement of how growing organic fruit and veg can save the world is not far from my harpings on about the benefits of growing and sharing fruit. ‘Gardener’s are key to saving the environment’ [he says] and even the smallest plot can ‘make a difference by sucking up carbon, providing food and creating habitat’. Gardeners are doing a very splendid job, they have been for a while, especially those who are wholeheartedly organic and have embraced growing-their-own. The problem is how do we get the busy non-gardeners to embrace this more sustainable grow-your-own activity?


Why do we need to change? The constant barrage of news articles on issues that are detrimental to our existence remind us on a daily basis. Here I mean issues like genetically modified crops; imported food and the associated food miles; depleting resources [like oil and peat products]; intensive farming regimes; and then there’s the big one…climate change; to even obesity and the nation’s unhealthy obsession with cheap and processed foods. Throw in the current economic downturn, rising living costs and the consequent penny pinching… it’s all very depressing.

Our gardens are hugely important spaces, yet a majority simply have no time for them. Front gardens are paved over for our precious cars, borders are left for weeds to flourish and larger areas are grassed for the apparent ease of maintenance; then the Flymos are dusted off for a quick skid over once a month. Then there are the bare-soil gardens with borders completely void of anything remotely green and lush. All this seems shamefully wasteful.

Maybe one answer to getting everyone involved in self-sustainability is to look back at the 1950’s ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. With food supplies in short supply, people had no choice but to transform and cultivate their gardens into tiny productive plots. Roses were uprooted and our gardens became the trading life force of our communities; eggs, cabbages, potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes and whatever other home grown produce was bartered amongst neighbours. This was the ultimate in local food sustainability.

A more realistic approach for the non-gardening sustainable wannabes with little time would be… to grow fruit! You may laugh, guffaw and roll your eyes but it all makes sense. Fruit is very easy to grow, easier than growing, tending and protecting delicate vegetable seedlings, easier than maintaining a lawn [the proper way and not the aforementioned Flymo regime way]. Fruit is tough and comes in a range of very tolerant forms like perennials, canes, shrubs, climbers and trees. It is also very easy to add a few strawberry plants to a perennial border; replace an overgrown shrub with some raspberry canes; dig out the dead cordylines and plant a robust fruit tree or two instead; or brighten up a dreary corner with some bold leafy rhubarb.

Fruit is also very expensive to buy in the supermarkets…and the varieties grown for mass consumption are usually tasteless…and more often than not flown in from Europe or America. Growing fruit in your own back garden will save you money, will taste so much better and will generally produce such an abundance that you won’t have to worry about getting your five-a-day. The only downside is that buying fruit specimens will be more than the cost of a packet of seeds, but it is a one off purchase that will last many, many years [my father-in-law has a 40-year-old rhubarb that is still growing strong].

Fruit is also beautiful, can be very structural and is beneficial to insects by providing an abundant and rich source of nectar. Growing fruit puts us back in tune with our seasons, is brilliant for our children [they will gobble up a plate of fruit while turning their noses up at veg!] and is packed full of super healthy vitamins. Ok, growing fruit won’t make you entirely self-sufficient, but it’s a huge step in the right direction…and you never know where it will take you.

Prince Charles is right to say that the smallest of plot can ‘make a difference by sucking up carbon, providing food and creating habitat’… but to have significant impact we all need to get on-board and have a go at growing our own. For those of us that already do this, brilliant, a golden star all round [sorry influence of the five-year-old!]; the next challenge is to convert the masses!

Thankfully there are many out there that are trying to persuade more people to embrace a more sustainable life. Startuk.org [set up by The Prince’s Charities]; the Slow Food movement; Soil Association to smaller initiatives like incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk and fruitshare.net are all trying to chip away at re-evolving the way we live.

To most the idea of being self-sustainable will be either a dream or an impossibility. But by taking a small step and simply growing more fruit in our gardens we are setting into motion a whole list of benefits that will help us to live a more sustainable life. We will re-connect with how and where our food comes from, grow to appreciate the seasons, eat and share more super fruits, educate our children, acquire new skills, refine our tastes for fresher and better food, reduce fruit miles, saves those pennies, we could even start bartering with our neighbours! We just need to find more ways to tantalise, persuade and nudge the non-gardeners to give it a go.

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A completely re-hashed version of February’s ‘Planning a Border’ article for BL Magazine.

February is a great month. It’s the shortest, evenings are getting noticeably lighter and those cheery little spring bulbs are blooming their socks off. I am always, always taken over by a giddy eagerness to get outside and get to grips with my borders at this time of year. I had planned to get out at the weekend…but the god’s found out… and it rained constantly. Next weekend I plan to stay in and work [I’m hoping reverse psychology might make things turn out nicer].

I have to admit that with my own garden I happen to be a bit sentimental, not with ornaments but with plants. I’m a stickler for perennials [not just fruit] and will purchase specimens in a heart beat. I just can’t help myself. In fact I’ve recently ordered a couple of the new Verbascum ‘Blue Lagoon’…and yet have no idea where they will go! This is a problem and I know I’m not alone in this random plant hoarding. If I had a bigger garden with a designated nursery bed this type of impulse buying could be justifiable…but I haven’t. The result of this type of plant purchasing inevitably creates a border of chaotic clutter and never usually fills you with that content sense of planting equilibrium. ‘I’ll pop that in there’ and ‘Oooo, that’ll squeeze in here’…are just not best practice and should be avoided.

When creating a planting scheme for a client, on the other hand, my approach and method of selection is entirely different. It is focused [thankfully], logical and completely detached from any hint of sentimentality. A brief is always developed which in turn gives direction and a theme for the planting scheme evolves…which is hugely important to help keep us on the straight and narrow. This time I am going to apply the same focus and tackle two chaotic borders in my back garden…although I suspect I may have a problem with the ‘detached’ bit.

Imaginatively I shall call them ‘left’ border and ‘right’ border. The left border has always been my refuge for ‘nursing’ specimens that have been bought on impulse and desperately need planting. Last year I decided that I would start to incorporate some fruit here and added an ‘Ebony’ black currant bush. I’d like to add more fruit, maybe replacing a rather mature cordyline with a more productive ‘James Grieve’ apple tree or maybe a plum, but I’m not sure I can be that ruthless. The harsh frosts have taken their toll on the cordyline for the second year now…so I’m secretly hoping it may have snuffed it. I would also love to add some strawberries too, but, as the cats use the border as their litter, I think maybe not.

[I don’t seem to take many pictures of the border, this image only shows it in the background behind the terracotta pot, you can make out the mature cordyline.]

Other structure in this border includes a Taxus baccata Fastigiata [bought at just a foot in height and now about 6 foot], a rampant bamboo and a well-behaved one, a metal obelisk with Rosa Albertine and Clematis macropetala ‘Maidwell Hall’, a box ball and…a tree fern. I suppose now would be the moment that I come clean and own up to how the garden first developed. The other half and I fell in love with Cornwall and all the sub-tropical gardens there, in particular Lamorran. We bought our house in Bolton in 1999 and we wed in St Mawes two years later. Subsequently, every trip down there resulted in the inevitable squeeze of a prized tropical specimen into the car to take home to create our own little Lamorran back in the North. The large Agave americana was the most challenging I have to say. Consequently, there are many plants here that I have a certain attachment to and despite my evolving garden style to more productive/naturalistic planting I cannot get rid of these tropical remnants. So they’re staying.

The rampant bamboo, however, can come out, the other can be split and any perennials that don’t fit the new brief can be re-located to borders at Lady of the Vale. White phlox [from Gresgarth gardens in Caton, Lancs]; Cornus canadensis [which took me an eternity to source]; and a tall white anenome [given to me by a customer who is no longer with us] will be staying too.

The new brief then…additional fruit… with a mixed perennial and grass planting scheme. I have always wanted to do the all white border for myself and given the white colour scheme of the plants that HAVE to stay…I think this may be the occasion to go for it. I did plant some Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ in this border in the autumn [well around Christmas if I’m honest] which may just have to stay there for now and replaced with ‘Everest’ for next year.

The size of the border is about 5m in length and 2 to 3m in depth. At the moment there is a very narrow gravel ‘path’ towards the back of the border. It was originally put in to allow us [and the children] to walk close to the bamboo, re-creating the ‘bamboo walks’ of the grander gardens in Cornwall [and the opportunity to drench the other half by shaking the canes]. In reality the path soon becomes overgrown and the temptation to walk down it is lost. I think it’s time to reclaim this space and increase the precious planting square footage.

The soil on this side of the garden is lovely, light and loamy, yet the right side really holds the moisture, is much heavier and despite adding lots of garden compost and manure is still very characteristic of clay. The back also faces North, slightly NNW to be precise. The border is however in the sunniest spot and can get rather dry in the two to three weeks of beautiful, hot, dry weather we seem to get around May! We do tend to get lots of rain here. I think it’s to do with living at the foot of the West Pennines, the weather comes straight in from the Irish Sea and tends to accumulate and huddle around these hills. [It is surprising how much better the weather can be by just travelling down to South Manchester!] With all this moisture, Slugs and snails are a major problem here so any new plant introductions will have to be robust [I have enough hostas for the little critters to be getting on with as it is].

The next step is to start that plant list, do a bit of research and make a proper plan. At least now I have set out my intentions [publicly], admitted that the plant hoarding technique is not at all good and have put into motion yet another project to add to my to-do list! And I haven’t even started on the right border…which is driving me insane as my lovely [and she truly is] neighbour replaced the fence panels in late summer last year… with brown plastic ones. Now that all the leafy foliage has withered and crumbled away these glossy, unnatural panels gleam with intensity. They niggle me constantly and as soon as funds allow I shall be purchasing many bundles of timber slatts to begin the long task of making them disappear! I just need a long dry spell so I can put all my eagerness to good use. I shall report back in the near future to let you know how it all goes.

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Adapted from January article for BL Magazine.

Gardens in January are generally stark and skeletal. Not exactly conjuring up an idyllic scene I know. Seeing borders stripped back to frameworks and trees unclothed is rather useful though, especially when it comes to pruning fruit trees! Yes, we’re back to the ‘grow more fruit’ mission with this month’s nitty gritty guide to pruning apple and pear trees. Before you hastily navigate away, hang on, my mission is to explain this complicated process in simple and logical steps [ok I’ll be honest, with a few technical terms thrown in].

First of all, it’s good to know that pruning can be done in late summer, usually in August, and in late winter, ideally January. Summer-pruning is primarily concerned with cutting back the current season’s leafy growth and is mainly done on the restricted/trained trees like espaliers. Winter pruning is primarily for standard tree forms.

In my mind, pruning is really about getting to know the character of your tree. Once you are familiar with how old it is [a rough idea is fine], how it grows [big standard, bush or trained tree] and how it performs [in terms of fruiting*] you are on your way to understanding the pruning approach your tree needs. All you need now are a handful of plant science facts, a modest amount of confidence and the right tools. 

Start by staring at your tree. Keep staring. Look at the main trunk and follow the branches, see how they form, work your way to the tips. Can you make out the new, fresh growth from last season? Can you work back to the trunk identifying each year’s growth? Can you make out the shorter, stubby, wrinkly-looking twigs? These are referred to as ‘spurs’[see picture below], magical little stems that carry the fruit. It is these fruiting spurs that we are trying to encourage by the way we prune. After gazing longingly up at your tree you may feel confused and walk away unsure. But don’t give up! Keep looking. Keep going back. If you have an older tree you will probably find it harder seeing these growth sections than if you have a younger specimen. Nip down to a local nursery and take a long look at some younger fruit trees. It may help you see the differences more easily.

Now for the science, ‘Apical Dominance’ [keep reading, it’s just about hormones] is when a single, vertical stem grows stronger and more dominant than all other stems. Plant hormones [technically known as auxins] dictate the way a tree grows, flowers and fruits and it is a high concentration of these hormones at the tip of a stem [called the ‘terminal bud’] that causes this apical dominance. The problem with this type of growth is that it is purely vegetative, which isn’t very good if we want more fruit. By reducing the apical shoot [pruning out the ‘terminal bud’], the hormones will be reduced, encouraging axillary buds [this is the name given to buds that develop into side branches] to grow instead.

It is also useful to know that horizontal branches have less concentration of these hormones, making these perfect candidates for producing fruit…so don’t prune these out [unless damaged or crossing others]! Some fruit tree training techniques make the most of this by actually tying young branches down to mature horizontally. Clever.

One final bit of essential knowledge is… the harder you prune back, the more vigorous the new growth will be [it’s to do with the root/canopy ratio and the amount of energy produced]. With this in mind, cut any stronger growing stems by no more than a third, while weaker growing stems can be cut back much harder [say two thirds or to just a couple of buds]. It is also for this reason that any major pruning of older fruit trees should be done cautiously, little by little over a few years to ensure you keep a root/canopy balance. 

Right. You should know the character of your tree, you have a number of essential facts to hand…where do you start? A good pruning saw, loppers and secateurs are handy. Then, start with the three ‘D’s’ – take out all the Damaged, Diseased and Dead branches. Next, look for branches that are crossing and rubbing together. Aim for an open-centred framework as this will reduce the chances of developing scab [a fungal disease] by allowing air to circulate more easily.

If your tree is old and needs a lot of pruning work, you may just start with taking out the three ‘D’s’ one year, crossing and rubbing branches the next, branches growing across the centre the following. For younger and trained [espalier or fan shaped] trees you may only need to keep an eye on branches growing in the wrong direction and cutting back new shoots to 2 to 3 buds [in August] to encourage the growth of side branches and fruiting spurs.

All this may seem daunting and if you are still frightened about pruning your fruit tree there are some very useful video clips on youtube.com and on Landscapejuice.com. Or, for another confidence boost, fruit pruning workshops are brilliant, check with your nearest horticultural college.

* It is useful to be aware that there are two types of fruit-bearing forms. Tip bearers and Spur bearers. Tip bearing varieties tend to fruit at the tips of the branches and will therefore require lighter pruning. Spur bearers [which tend to be the most common form] will bear fruit along the short stubby spurs along the side branches. Some varieties however do bear fruit on the tips and the side spurs! To identify which type your tree is you will need to look carefully for the short stubs and decide where they mainly grow.

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