Where to Position Your Fruit Trees and Its Effect On Their Success
Whether you are considering planting new fruit or simply wish to improve what is already there, the main points that will have to be considered are as follows:
If a garden is exposed to the elements, a number of things can be expected to happen; and most of them to the detriment of a fruit crop.
The first problem that is likely to arise is in the spring when the wind is cold and from the north or east. This will have a chilling effect and will discourage pollinating insects from venturing out to do their work Even if they perform, fertilisation is usually poor when the temperature is low.
If conditions are especially bad, the wind could even be below freezing point, thus creating a wind frost. This doesn’t have any harmful effect in the winter when the trees and bushes are dormant, but it can be fatal to blossom in the spring.
During the summer, a windy site is going to be harder to spray effectively than a sheltered one. Not only will the material give poor coverage, but it will also tend to drift onto plants that it might not be wise or convenient to treat. The main victims of this are vegetables that are perhaps ready for eating. A spray that requires a period of, say, a week between its use and when a treated crop is safe to eat can play havoc with the catering if it is allowed to drift.
Later on, the real menace of autumn gales can make a nasty mess of apples andin particular. Even if the fruit is not actually blown off the trees, it will very probably be damaged by being rubbed and bruised against twigs.
Another factor to bear in mind is the slope, if any, of the land; much will depend on its direction and severity. For example, if it is steep and faces north, it will be exposed to cold winds in the spring, thus lessening the chances of successful pollination and fertilisation. At the same time, the whole season will be cooler and, therefore, later
The strength of the wind, however, is usually less important from that quarter for it is those that come from the opposite direction which are the really strong and damaging ones. In March and September, around the equinoxes, are the times when we are most likely to get a south-westerly gale. In March
these can ruin the pollination and fertilisation of early-flowering trees and in September those carrying fruit can be devastated.
However, a hill can also be a distinct advantage; the most obvious instance is that a south-facing slope warms up quickly in the spring and gives earlier crops. Not only do the sun’s rays strike it more directly, but it is sheltered from any cold northerly winds. This can be of particular benefit when growing.
Much less obvious, but far more important, is the fact that a sloping site will be less likely to be damaged by spring frosts, in susceptible areas. Cold air behaves rather like water and is able to flow downhill if conditions are right. On a sloping site the cold air can move downwards to lower ground and is, therefore, much less likely to cause damage to the blossom.
It isn’t always as simple as that though, because, if your garden is at the bottom of a hill or in a valley, it is probably in a frost pocket and, as such, is very susceptible to damage in the spring. In these circumstances, there is some benefit in putting up a wall, fence or hedge along the uphill boundary. This will have the effect of damming the cold air as it flows downhill which may, if the frost is only light, prevent the blossom being frosted.
The same precaution can be taken in a garden that is half-way up a hill, but here it is more important to let cold air flow out at the lowest point rather than prevent it coming in at the top. This is best done by ensuring that there is no solid barrier stretching along the entire lower boundary. If there is, it will hold back the cold air and create its own frost pocket.
In such a situation, try to organise a break or two in the barrier so that the cold air can flow downwards into someone else’s garden!
Turning to shade, this may not at first appear to be much of a problem and, indeed, it may be that any tall trees are providing shelter from strong winds. However, if they are too close and too tall, they will draw up any trees and bushes, and most other plants, come to that, growing in their shade. Another disadvantage is that neither the fruit nor the shoots will receive enough sun to ripen them properly. This leads to poor fruit quality and fewer fruit buds for the following year. A gardener with this kind of problem would do well to consider an alternative to fruit; certainly dessert varieties would fail to thrive as the sun is needed to create the sugar and bring out the flavour.
Although this may appear to be a formidable list of problems inin a particular garden, it must be remembered that most of them can be overcome relatively easily. Even those that are unalterable will seldom rule out fruit completely. It will merely mean that a bit more thought and preparation has to go into the planning stage.
Although there is really very little that one can do to alter the basic characteristics of the site that a garden occupies, there are a number of ways in which we can make it more suitable for. Obviously one cannot change a slope or the direction
in which it faces, but damage from winds can be greatly reduced by planting a good hedge on the windward side of the plot. Be careful here, though, that you don’t simply create a frost pocket and make matters worse than they already are.
Curing a frost pocket is not always possible, but the simple act of creating a gap in a hedge or fence at the bottom of , as already mentioned, is often enough to allow cold air to escape. This is sometimes unpopular but usually effective. So you see, there is nearly always something that can be done to improve the situation.
The fact of whether a site is in the town or country will have little effect. The general feeling has always been that the country is a good place to grow fruit in, but this is purely traditional and there is no logical or horticultural reason for it. In fact, towns and cities have two big advantages over the country in this respect. The first is that they are often a degree or two warmer and are thus less susceptible to spring frosts. The other is that there are nearly always otherclose at hand to aid with crosspollination.
Something that we have hardly touched on yet is the material in which all trees, bushes, canes etc. are expected to grow: the soil. This is obviously of great importance, but the tolerance of fruit plants of most kinds to widely differing soil conditions is remarkable. Perfectly acceptable crops are produced on apparently unsuitable soils.
The chief considerations are that the soil must be of sufficient depth for the plants to form effective root systems and that it must be well drained. If it is shallow (that is, less than about 2ft (60cm) deep for trees), and/or poorly drained, the soil will need attention before you attempt to grow fruit in it.
Fortunately, the depth can be increased and theimproved at a stroke’ by double digging it and incorporating plenty of bulky organic matter at the same time; this is most conveniently available in the form of well-rotted . Double digging the site and working the compost into both the lower and upper spits will greatly improve the depth, drainage and fertility of all soils, but especially the bad ones.
Only in very rare instances will it be necessary to contemplate the laying of land drains and, as there will probably be other things wrong with the site if the drainage is as bad as that, we come back to the question of whether it’s worth growing fruit in that particular soil at all. Why not use pots or some other containers?
The ideal soil is a reasonably heavy, well drained, at least 2ft (60cm) deep and with a pH of 6-7 that is slightly acid.
Heavy clays and light sands will need plenty of bulky organic matter dug into them, but will usually be perfectly satisfactory if this is done.
Strongly acid (peaty) soils should be limed before planting and annually after that to reduce the.
Soils overlying chalk and limestone might be too alkaline for some fruits (for exampleand strawberries). They can normally be brought down to a suitable pH reading by working into the planting positions and applying sequestrene to the plants in the early spring in the worst cases. The trouble with these soils is that some of the trace elements, principally iron and manganese, are made unavailable to the plants in the alkaline conditions; the plants thus exhibit deficiency symptoms. These usually show up as a patterned paling, or even browning, of some or all of the leaves.
The first aid treatment is a dose of foliar feed (aspray applied to the leaves) containing all the trace elements. Liquid seaweed extract is probably the best. This, though, will only bring about a short-term cure, if it is able to do even that. The soil will still need to be acidified to correct the situation.
If anyone ever tells you that the soil in a new garden you have just moved into is completely unsuitable for fruit, treat the advice with caution. It usually means that they have been unable to grow fruit themselves; and this is a very different matter. As we have seen, most soils, however unpromising they may appear to be, can be improved beyond all recognition by double digging and working in plenty of bulky organic matter before the fruit is planted.