Caring for Fruit Trees and Bushes After Planting

Soil Management

Although this may sound rather frightening and technical to new gardeners, it is really just a term that covers all the various things that we do to the soil in our gardens to make it easier to cultivate and, therefore, better for growing plants in.

We have already come across some of the jobs that have to be carried out in connection with growing fruit, but a rudimentary knowledge of the whys and wherefores helps one to understand the purpose of a particular task.

The basic way of tilling the soil is digging; this has many purposes. First, it increases the depth of soil to which roots can easily penetrate. It breaks up the ground so that air can reach down to the roots and surplus water can drain away. Both these features are important if the trees and bushes are to flourish.

Next, digging is the simplest and quickest means at our disposal for incorporating bulky organic matter into the ground. Organic matter is an essential part of all soils.

Those are the main reasons for digging as far as fruit growing is concerned. You can either ‘single dig’ or ‘double dig’.

Double digging is the best way of breaking up the soil to a good depth — about 2ft (60cm) — and should always be carried out before planting any fruit crop, even strawberries. Once plants are in place, double digging does more harm than good by disturbing and breaking the roots. Double digging involves digging the top spit (layer) with a spade and the bottom spit usually with a fork.

Single digging is what might be called ‘ordinary’ digging. It extends to one spade’s depth and is the routine cultivation that we use to correct soil compaction and to destroy weeds,

For cultivating the soil near to growing fruit plants, the safest tool to use is a hoe. This will move the soil to a maximum depth of about 6in (15cm), but normally only an inch or so. Hoeing is the usual non-chemical method of controlling weeds amongst plants, but it is also useful for breaking up a surface crust which may form after prolonged and heavy rain.

 

Manures and Fertilisers

Once the trees etc. are in position, the main task is to maintain the level of plant nutrients in the soil. To do this, we apply fertilisers.

Under normal conditions, an annual dressing of a general and balanced granular fertiliser, such as the time-honoured and excellent ‘Growmore’, is all that is needed. It must be applied at such a time in the winter or early spring as will allow it to dissolve and seep down into the main root zone before growth starts. In practical terms, this means soon after Christmas for large trees (those that require a ladder), early February for medium-sized trees this (those only needing a pair of steps) and early March for more or less everything else.

Strawberries are the exception. If one were to feed them solely in the spring, it would lead to an explosion of growth and leaves like rhubarb at the expense of fruit. The best time to feed them is in July after fruiting. This will build them up for the winter and the following year’s crop.

All fertilisers must be applied to the whole root zone of the plant in question, not just the ground in its immediate vicinity. You can ensure this by treating the ground covered by the spread of the branches. They must be applied exactly as directed and, most importantly, evenly. The idea amongst some gardeners that it’s sufficient simply to throw a handful at the base of the trunk and hope for the best is a complete waste of time and fertilizer. It may also be extremely damaging because it applies a far greater than recommended amount of fertiliser to a very small area, which can easily scorch nearby roots.

Occasionally, trees and bushes will take a knock in the winter and be rather sluggish to start growing in the spring; this is especially so with those that have only just been planted. If this happens, or if the early foliage is a poor colour, a seaweed extract should be applied as a foliar feed. Spray it on two or three times at fortnightly intervals as soon as you suspect trouble, or even just as an insurance. The results are often spectacular. This is just the same treatment that is recommended for mineral deficiencies.

Another practice that is closely related to feeding plants is the one of mulching the ground beneath them with some form of bulky organic matter. The term ‘mulching’ simply means that a layer of the material, up to about 4-6in (10-15cm) thick, is spread on the ground.

The main reason for mulching is that it conserves moisture in the upper soil, where the main feeding roots are, by preventing its evaporation. This is especially valuable in areas of low rainfall or where the soil is light or sandy.

A mulch is also a good way of keeping weeds down by smothering out the seedlings before they reach the surface. It won’t, though, have much effect on perennial weeds like docks, thistles and ground elder. These should always be killed before mulching or they will benefit from it as much as the crop.

A mulch also adds valuable organic matter to the ground and it is the only completely harmless way of doing this after the trees etc. have been planted. The worms and other creatures in the soil draw it down. It also supplies a limited amount of plant foods.

The material most commonly used for mulching, and as good as any, is well-rotted garden compost. Farmyard manure is equally good but, contrary to popular belief, is seldom better or richer in plant foods. Possibly the smell and origin of manure make one think that it has to be superior.

The greate rthe area that can be mulched around a tree, bush or canes, the better. With young trees and bushes, though, the mulch should be pulled an inch or so away from the base because mice like to nest in it and feed on the tender bark at the base of the trunk or shoots if given a chance.

An important point to remember about mulching is that it should be applied in March or April when the soil is still thoroughly moist but has begun to warm up a bit. If application is delayed, it could have the effect of preventing rain from penetrating into an already drying soil. If too early, it can keep the soil cold for longer. This isn’t particularly important, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

 

Watering

This is normally thought of as something only applicable to flowers and vegetables, but, because fruit plants carry a crop in just the same way as vegetables, water is equally vital to them.

Merton Worcester Apple TreeFruit trees and bushes are obviously at a distinct advantage over smaller plants because their roots are able to penetrate deeper into the ground and further away in search of water. However, this will only happen if the ground is sufficiently broken up and is not itself waterlogged; hence the need for the deep cultivations before planting.

The crucial time of year when water is required by all fruits is during the growing season from about April to September. However, in the vast majority of gardens, even those in dry areas, there is enough water in the ground to make the irrigation of fruit trees unnecessary; that is except in their first few years when the root system is still shallow and developing.

For bush and cane fruits, the situation is rather different as their root systems are considerably smaller and shallower than those of trees.

Black currants are especially susceptible to water shortage. They need a great deal of water if they are to carry good crops and grow vigorously at the same time.

Raspberries are also thirsty plants. Not only do they have to support the fruit, but they produce all the replacement canes as well. As if this were not enough, their root systems are unusually shallow.

Strawberries need plenty of water as well. They have comparatively small root systems, but they carry fantastic crops in comparison to the weight of the rest of the plant.

It would be rewarding for the ordinary gardener to be able to calculate when and how much water should be applied to a particular crop, but this is really expecting too much, A good habit to get into, though, is to judge the need for watering fruit by observing other plants. When, for example, herbaceous plants begin to wilt and show signs of distress, you can be sure that the fruit is also beginning to suffer and that it is time to water. You must avoid waiting until it’s too late before doing anything. Once the leaves and shoots begin to droop and the fruit starts to drop off, you have had it.

Equally important is that, when watering, you should give plenty and that, like the fertilizer, water is applied to the full root zone.

As with watering other plants, aim to give about an inch (2.5cm) at a time; much less than this is pointless because it will be gone before it has had time to soak down to the roots and benefit the plants. One way of estimating the amount you have given when using a sprinkler (the only sensible way), is to place empty tins or jars all over the area being watered and to keep the sprinkler going until there’s about an inch (2.5cm) in the bottom of each.

A more accurate and sophisticated way is to buy a metering device that meters out mains water by quantity, so, knowing what area your sprinkler covers, you can calculate how many gallons will be needed for an inch over the whole area. Hozelock have an enormous range of watering gadgets.

One final point on soil management — it is the soil that is entirely responsible for sustaining the fruit plants; they rely on it for nutrients and for water If it is looked after, plants will be healthy and crops large. If it is neglected, the whole operation will be a waste of time and land.

14. May 2011 by admin
Categories: Compost and Manures, Fertilizers, Fruit Gardening, Fruit Trees, Garden Care | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Caring for Fruit Trees and Bushes After Planting

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