Sunday, 7 February 2016



The dormant season from November till the end of March is the time when we prune our fruit trees and bushes. I often choose a frosty day or when the ground is covered with snow when I can’t get on with other work. However leave plum trees till summer otherwise there is a risk of silver leaf infection from airborne spores entering the cut surfaces.
The pruning of apples, pears, outdoor peaches and cherries has changed over the years as new dwarfing rootstocks are found, and demand to grow small trees increases as space gets restricted. So now as well as standard trees for the large garden, we can have half standard and commercial spindle bush training allowing all picking to be carried out from the ground. For the smaller garden we now get cordons, fan trained trees, upright columner forms and stepover trees only growing a couple of feet tall, (as long as you summer prune them.)
Anna picking bramble Helen
The principles involved in pruning all of these different forms is very similar. We aim to control the balance between strong growth and fruiting, and opening up centres to allow light in for ripening the fruit. Old wood that has fruited for five or more years also needs removing periodically to be replaced by some young shoots that will grow in its place for the next five years.
Autumn Bliss raspberries
However cordons, fan shapes and stepovers all fruit on a system of spurs created by cutting growth shoots to a few inches long in late summer to ripen up the shoots, then cutting them back further in winter to form fruiting spurs.
However in the early years after planting we prune to establish the shape intended for the tree as bush, fan, stepover and oblique cordon all need treated differently.
Brambles (blackberries) and raspberries are similar to prune. Summer fruiting types, fruit on shoots grown the previous year, so we remove the old shoots that fruited last year right down to the crowns at ground level, and tie in new shoots. Autumn fruited rasps and the new primocane brambles such as Reuben have all their growth removed in winter as they will fruit on shoots produced in the same year. Reuben had a bad year with me in 2015 as the young shoots flowered in November, far too late for fruiting. Hope it does better this year.
Blackcurrants fruit best on young shoots formed the previous year so we prune to remove some old wood to encourage a supply of new shoots every year.
Apple Fiesta
Red and white currants are similar but the young shoots form spurs so we retain them for several years. Try and establish an open centred framework of about nine main shoots, replacing a few of these each year as new young shoots grow from the base of the bush. All sideshoots are cut back to their main shoot to form spurs in winter.
Gooseberries are usually grown as a bush on a central leg about a foot tall. There are usually plenty of young shoots grown every year and fruiting is usually heavy so the main aim of winter pruning is to remove those branches too close to the ground to prevent fruit getting soil splashes, and keeping the centres open to make picking easier. Gooseberries like red and white currants can also be trained as cordons on walls and fences where space is limited. 
Figs up north are best grown in a sheltered spot against a warm south facing wall and planted in a prepared pit lined with slabs to restrict growth and encourage fruiting. Initial pruning is carried out to create a fan shape against
Chinese witch hazel
the wall. Subsequent pruning removes shoots growing away from the wall, keeping the centre open and reducing any long vigorous shoots. Summer prune young shoots by tipping them back to several leaves to encourage fruit bud formation.

Wee jobs to do this week
The weather has been so wet this year that outdoor gardening activity has been greatly curtailed, but it has also been very mild and this has brought forward the flowering of the early bulbs, so whenever the sun shines wander outside and just enjoy those snowdrop and aconites. Its been a good year for the Chinese witch Hazel, Hamamelis molis and Mahonia Charity, both looking great while the sun shines. Daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and many other dwarf bulbs are all well advanced and even my rhubarb crowns are all swollen up ready to start growing after this wet but mild winter.


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