The Fruit Garden – Growing Fruit and Fruit Trees

growing fruit trees

The Fruit Garden

A well-planned fruit garden should be able to provide fresh or stored produce for the family all the year round. Even on a comparatively small plot it is possible to grow a wide range of fruits, particularly if the right rootstock and method of training is chosen for tree fruits.

Unless they are required for purely decorative purposes, there is little point in growing large trees in the kitchen garden. Standard trees on tall stems are difficult to manage, especially at picking time; they also require a lot of room and take much longer to bear fruit. Half-standards and vigorous bush trees have the same disadvantages.

It is wise to grow fruit trees that are trained in an intensive fashion, such as dwarf pyramids, cordons or fans. These will provide as much fruit as their larger counterparts, and they will do so in a much shorter time; they require much less room and the trained shapes can be grown against walls or fences – space that might not otherwise be used. It is also possible to dispense with ladders, long-handled pruners, lance sprayers etc. that goes with large trees.


Tree fruits are usually grafted on to another rootstock. This serves to contain tree size in most cases, and also induces earlier cropping.

Apple rootstocks are usually known by a code. The three most common ones for amateurs are: M9 – the most dwarfing stock and only suitable where the soil is good and fertility will be maintained. Trees on this rootstock need permanent staking.

M26 – the most common rootstock for trained trees. More vigorous than M9, it is suitable for most soils.

MM106 – a semi-dwarfing stock for intensive (trained) trees on poor soils or for bush trees on average soils.

Pear rootstocks are fewer and the two most encountered are: Quince A – the one generally used in gardens. It makes a tree about 3.6m (12ft) in diameter.

Quince C – has a more dwarfing effect but is generally only used on good soils with a vigorous variety.

Plum rootstocks are less confusing. As Brompton and Myrobalan rootstocks are vigorous and will produce fruit trees too large for the kitchen garden, the best for small gardens is St Julian A. This is semi-dwarfing and is especially suited for fan-trained fruit trees.

The same plum rootstocks are used for gages and damsons.


This is an area that frequently fills the beginner to fruit growing with trepidation. Yet confidence is all that’s required, for most systems are based on simple principles.

Although it is mainly tree fruit that is trained in space-saving ways, the same principles can be applied to other fruit, such as gooseberries.

The pruning described below is based on apples, but the method is similar for other fruits.

Dwarf pyramids are upright frees up to 2.1 m (7 ft) high, with branches growing out in successive tiers to form a pyramidal outline.

After planting, cut the leader back to about 50 cm (1-2/3 ft) from the ground, and shorten any sideshoots longer than 15 cm (6 in) to four buds.

In the second winter, reduce the leader by about 20cm (8 in) and cut back laterals to about 20 cm (8 in ). Then in August or September, cut back laterals to four leaves.

When the tree has reached the required height, cut back the leader and long branches at the top of the free by half, in May. Subsequently, cut back new growth from these branches to 12mm (1/2 in) each May.

growing fruit trees Cordons are single-stemmed trees with fruiting spurs. These should be summer pruned. Cut back laterals to four leaves and any sub-laterals to one leaf, in late July. Any secondary shoots growing in that year from laterals that have been pruned, should be shortened again in September or October to one leaf. As the main leader grows, tie it to the wires.

When the tree has filled its allotted space, free it from the wires and lower it a little to give more space. Finally, when the leader has grown as long as required, cut it back in May. In subsequent years, pruning is the same, though if fruiting spurs become overcrowded they can be thinned out a little.

Fans are popular for stone fruits against walls. The method described below is ideal for peaches and cherries.

If a three-year-old tree is bought, it will already have its main framework of branches. Cut these back in the February after planting, to leave about 60 cm (2 ft) of last year’s wood, cutting back to a cluster of three buds.

This will produce shoots that can be tied in.

When the tree has filled its allotted space, concentrate on pruning for fruit. Allow the end bud on each of the leading branches to grow out, and tie it in. Rub out buds that are growing directly towards or away from the wall. Select shoots growing from the top side and the bottom of the main branches, and space these about 10 cm (4 in) apart, rubbing out others or pinching them back to two leaves. Allow the selected shoots to grow to 45 cm (1-1/2 ft) and then pinch them back. Tie these shoots in at the end of the summer to produce fruit the next year.

Each year train a new shoot arising from near the base of these laterals to replace them when they are removed after fruiting.


Most tree fruits require cross-pollination from another cultivar to set a full crop. Some are self-fertile but most benefit from another compatible cultivar in close proximity.

Always choose cultivars with this in mind.

Tree Fruit

Although most fruit is undemanding of time once established, a little extra attention can increase yields. And any effort spent in getting the plants off to a good start will be amply repaid. This is especially so with tree fruits.

All tree fruit should be planted in the dormant season between November and March, preferably before Christmas when the soil is warmer. Plant firmly and ensure that the joint between the stem and the rootstock (easily seen as a knobbly growth) is well above the ground.

Avoid sites that are subject to late spring frosts; if your garden is in a hollow where frost collects, flowers are more likely to be damaged in spring. Sometimes frost is trapped by fences, and lifting the fence a little off the ground may allow frost to escape.


Apples are best grown as cordons, dwarf pyramids or bushes. It is possible to buy these at three or even four years old but they will fruit no sooner than one-year-old (maiden) trees. Maidens are cheaper and provide an opportunity to train the tree from scratch.

Bush trees should be planted 3 – 4.5m (10 – 15 ft) apart, dwarf pyramids in rows 2.1m (7ft) apart with 1m (31/2ft) between frees, and cordons in rows 2.1 m (7 ft) apart with 75 – 90cm (2-1/2 – 3 ft) between trees. Bush and dwarf pyramid trees must be supported with a stout stake, while cordons are trained on wires, planting the trees at an angle of about 45 degrees.

After planting, cut bush trees back to a bud about 50 – 60cm (12/3 – 2ft) from the ground.

The next winter, select four of the current season’s growths and cut back by half to two-thirds, depending on their vigour (the stronger they have grown, the longer they should be left) and position. In subsequent years, shorten the leading shoots back depending on the growth they have made, and shorten sideshoots to four buds. It may also be necessary in later years to remove any crowded, crossing or damaged branches.

Summer pruning is not generally necessary with bush trees, but if the tree makes a lot of growth each year, it is often an advantage to shorten shoots to about 13cm (5 in) in August or September.

Every year, it will pay to mulch the trees with well-rotted manure or corn- but do not let it touch the trunk.

In February, apply sulphate of ammonia at 35g per sq m (1 oz per sq yd) and sulphate of potash at 20g per sq m 2 0z per sq yd).

Every third year also apply super phosphate at 70g per sq m (2 oz per sq yd).

Early cultivars should be eaten straight from the tree, but many late apples will store well into the spring. Use immediately any damaged or diseased fruit and place the remainder in perforated polythene bags, and keep them in a cool, frost-free place.


Both acid or cooking cherries and sweet cherries are best grown as fans, otherwise they make trees too big for the kitchen garden. Acid cherries will thrive even on north-facing walls, but sweet cherries demand warmer conditions and a deep, fertile soil.

Acid cherries are pruned in the same way as peaches, but sweet cherries are bigger trees so must not be encouraged to grow too much. Do not prune the leading shoot, but when it has filled its space, tie it downwards to limit growth, or cut it out to leave a weaker shoot in its place.

As with peaches, shoots growing towards or away from the wall must be rubbed out. Other shoots should be pinched back to five or six leaves. In the autumn, they should be further shortened to three or four buds.

Manure sweet cherries in spring and apply 20g per sq m (1/2oz per sq yd) of sulphate of potash. Every second year add 70g per sq m (2oz per sq yd) of super phosphate Acid cherries should be fed as for plums.

Protect ripening cherries against birds.

Peaches and Nectarines

Although peaches can be grown as bushes in the south, it is best to grow fans, especially if you have a south-facing wall. Nectarines must be grown against walls as they are less hardy. If you buy a three-year-old tree it will already have its main framework of branches.

Plant in the same way as plums.

Little maintenance is needed, just a good mulch of manure.

For good fruit, thin so that they are spaced at about 23cm (9in) intervals. Thin to single fruits in early June, and about a month later to the final spacing.


Pears can be grown in the same shapes as apples – bush, dwarf pyramid and cordon. Plant at the same distances as apples.

Pruning is basically the same as for apples, though it can be a little harder as pears will not make quite so much growth. Summer pruning starts in July.

Feed as for apples.

Early cultivars should be picked when green and hard, while later cultivars should be left on the tree as long as possible. Do not wrap, but place them on shelves or in slatted boxes in a cool, frost-free place.

Plums, Gages and Damsons

These are generally big trees, so it is probably best to grow fan-trained specimens against a wall or fence.

Fan-trained trees require some skill to produce, so it is probably best to buy one already trained; they are usually two or three years old.

Plant 15 – 23cm (6 – 9in) away from the wall, sloping the stem slightly towards it.

In the first spring after planting, little pruning will be necessary, but in the second cut back branches that are to form leaders by about half.

Once established, the leaders should be tied in regularly to the supporting wires to extend the framework. New shoots are also trained in to fill empty spaces, perhaps where old wood has been cut out. When growth starts in spring, remove any shoots growing directly away from or towards the wall. Pinch out the tips of other laterals when they have formed six or seven leaves.

When the crop has been picked, these are then shortened back again by about half. At this time, also remove old, dead or diseased wood and anything that is growing too vigorously from the centre of the fan.

Mulch in spring with manure after applying 20g per sq m (1/2 oz per sq yd) of sulphate of ammonia and the same quantity of sulphate of potash. Every second year apply 70g per sq m (2oz per sq yd) of super phosphates

When the tree is carrying a heavy crop it is important to thin to leave fruits about every 5cm (2 in). This is best done in July.

For eating, pick when fully ripe, but for cooking or bottling they should be slightly under-ripe.

01. October 2010 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Fruit & Veg, Fruit Trees | Tags: , | Comments Off on The Fruit Garden – Growing Fruit and Fruit Trees


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