Autumn is here and with it comes the end of the harvest season for UK fruit trees. The next few months will be the optimum time to plant new fruit trees and add to your collection. The Arb Team are here to guide you through some of the best fruit tree varieties to grow in the UK and how to plant them!
First of all, it's important to think about whether your fruit tree is pot grown or bare root. This can dramatically change when they can be planted. Bare root fruit trees will need their roots soaking a little in water before planting and should only be planted when they are dormant, from November through to the end of February. Pot grown fruit trees are a little more flexible and can be planted any time from September to early May. Either way, always choose a mild day and avoid planting if the ground is frozen or seriously water logged! The planting technique is straight forward but you will need a spade, fork, trowel and stake.
Start by preparing the ground (ideally a few days before the arrival of your tree), turning over and loosening the top soil and working in some well-rotted compost to prepare a meter squared area of soil with extra nutrients. Loosening the soil will also make it easier for the roots to take (a little grit or sharp sand might also help a clay soil offer better drainage and aeration)
Now it's time to dig! Grab a spade and get stuck in! Dig your hole within the meter squared of pre-prepared ground, with plenty of depth for the root and a decent diameter. If you are planting a pot grown fruit tree you may need to be careful when removing it from the pot that you don't break the root ball. If the roots are very tightly coiled it may be helpful to gently tease a few loose but make sure you don't break it up entirely. Place your tree into the hole on top of a bed of fresh compost and fill it in with the top soil!
Take a mental note of where the root ball is within the hole, you will need to drive a stake in and avoid the root ball! A young fruit tree will need support so use a sturdy stake and rubber ties. Give the site of the new tree a good watering! Continue to do so every week if the weather hits a dry spell. Finally, remember to mulch. Mulch is organic matter that should be layered around the tree and will prevent weeds from growing (weeds will pose strong competition for water).
Fun fact: Most fruit trees today are actually made up of two separate parts grafted together. One half is a variety that offers a strong rootstock and the other is from a variety that gives productive fruiting. The process is called grafting and you will see a strange, knotty part just up from the root ball that is known as the Graft Union.
Pick of the Crop...
There are simply hundreds of hardy varieties of apple tree and the main question to ask yourself is; how much space do you have? We can get really technical about the various sizes of root stocks and number of different varieties grafted together but we'll keep it simple... if you have a small garden or patio garden go for a dwarf-bush, spindle-bush or a stepover. If you have a large garden choose a half standard or standard. The Herefordshire Russet would be one of our top recommendations as it's self-fertile and produces a crop a little later in the season so it avoids the frosts!
There are only a few varieties of fig tree that will survive the harsher, British climates but they have a handsome looking leaf shape and offer a delicious and unusual fruit. 'Brown Turkey' and 'Brunswick' are both varieties that have been bred to grow in cooler climates. They still offer an attractive leaf shape but remember that the fruit will never be as sweet as those from the Mediterranean climates. Your fig tree will need some shelter and a sunny part of your garden, they can also create beautiful screening and wall coverage when trained into a fan shape (this also helps the sun get to the leaves and fruit for ripening in the summer months). Another great thing about growing a fig tree is that the crop really comes into its own towards the end of summer and sometimes into late September.
Like the apple tree, pears are another firm favourite that grow well in British gardens. Once again you need to think about how much space you have for your pear tree as traditional pear rootstocks are large and can grow very tall! For smaller gardens some pear varieties have been grated onto a quince rootstock making them far more manageable for the average garden. Our top suggestion for a hardy variety would be to choose a 'Concorde', it is self-fertile and easy to grow.
So, you're ready to go forth and prepare your garden for next summer's fruit crop! Remember to think about the size of your garden, where the sun falls and stick to hardy, UK cultivated varieties!