Her Outdoors: Time to plant a fruit tree

Jane Merrick

Every allotment needs fruit  bushes and trees. Compared to vegetables, fruit is fairly low maintenance – once you sort out the pruning, nourishing with well-rotted manure and netting your harvest to keep the birds off.

I got my first allotment nearly four years ago – actually, about a week before I gave birth to my daughter. Not exactly brilliant timing. But as I’d been on waiting lists in various sites for nearly a decade, I didn’t want to turn it down. I was actually sharing a plot with a friend, who had had the plot for some years and was going away on a sabbatical. She had already some well-established fruit bushes: a prolific blackberry bush that we made endless pies, ice cream and juice out of; a redcurrant dripping with jewel-like fruit in summer; gooseberries and some raspberries. I was limited to what I could plant, because I was only sharing the plot.

Then, last April, I had an email from my local site where I’d put my name down five years previously – so long, in fact, that I’d forgotten about it. The excitement of having my very own plot for the first time, after what was now 13 years on various waiting lists in London, was not even dimmed by the discovery, on the same day, that I’d had my bike stolen. Because it was April, and the growing season well under way, there was no opportunity to plant bare root fruit trees – you can only do this in late autumn to late winter (you can plant fruit trees bought in pots any time of year, but they’re much more expensive).

Shown around the site, I had a choice of three plots – one large one that was completely overgrown, but had a rangy, well-established grapevine (not yet in leaf) in a corner, or one of two smaller, but neater, plots. Guess which one I went for? Yes, the unkempt one with the grapevine. I forged ahead with growing vegetables and decided to leave fruit until the second season – apart from a strawberry bed I discovered underneath the weeds, a couple of neglected gooseberry bushes, and the grapes, of which more in a later post.

So, this winter has been all about planning, buying and planting fruit trees. The list is: Raspberry ‘Malling Minerva’, ‘Glen Fyne’ and ‘Tadmor’; Apricot ‘Flavorcot’; Peach ‘Avalon Pride’; Redcurrant ‘Rovada’ and Blackcurrent ‘Big Ben’, all from DT Brown; and a Quince ‘Meeches Prolific’; Apple ‘Early Victoria’, ‘Bountiful’, ‘Adams Pearmain’ and ‘Tom Putt’ from Ashridge Nurseries. I’ve bought a lot, but given that some will take a few years to bear fruit – the apple trees are only maidens, for example – while others will give me a harvest this year – the raspberries and blackcurrants, hopefully – it is time to get a serious fruit plot established.

The apples will be trained into low-growing ’step-over’ forms, about 2ft high. The raspberries have their own patch at the end in a shady spot. I’m going to train the peach and the apricot into fans, while the redcurrant and blackcurrant will grow as bushes nearby. And finally the quince, which has, I believe, the most beautiful blossom of any fruit tree, has been planted centre-stage next to the seating area I’m planning.

By some miracle – and perhaps because our allotment site is on a hill – we haven’t suffered much flooding. The soil was cold and damp but not water-logged, which is not good for starting off bare root trees. You have to dig a hole wider and deeper than the root ball, and if you are planting apples, quinces or any other tree that’s been grafted onto a different rootstock, the graft bud must be above the surface. Smother the roots with luxuriant compost or well-rotted manure. Here is our quince going in:

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Quince 'Meeches Prolific' being planted

Once in place, it needs a stake – a cane like this is fine but with strong winds it’s a good idea to put the cane at a diagonal to the trunk to stop the tree rocking in the soil. Tie it well and cover the root ball with soil – remembering to keep the graft bud above the soil level. Here is Girl Outdoors giving the tree a good watering:

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Once the tree is planted, water it well

Once the water has soaked in, stamp the soil around the trunk down, and water again to ensure no holes that could on a freezing night turn into frost pockets.

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Little feet are perfect for stamping down the soil

My quince is not in flower yet, of course, but here is a picture of the blossom come mid-spring –  it is delicate and sits on the branch like an exquisite fine bone china teacup perched on a saucer.

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A flower of Quince 'Meeches Prolific pic: Ashridge Nurseries

And here is a quince from a Meeches Prolific ready to harvest. The tree will not be trained but be kept in an open goblet shape. The fruit is high in pectin so is perfect for making quince jelly or membrillo, a quince paste that is delicious with cheese.

Meeches Prolific Quince Her Outdoors: Time to plant a fruit tree

A quince from Meeches Prolific pic: Ashridge Nurseries

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