Your guide to the dos and do nots for the season ahead.
Words & Photos Rachel Vogan
At the moment, most deciduous fruiting plants are sound asleep having a well-earned rest after the growing season. Now the ground is cold, it is the right time to be thinking about planting new deciduous fruit trees, such as apples, plums, peaches and pears. Commercial nurseries dig up these – and nut trees – over winter, while they are in their dormant growth phase.
Before planting any fruits, evergreen or otherwise, ensure you have the right place to plant whatever you choose to grow.
Right fruit, right place
Most fruit trees live in the ground for decades, therefore careful positioning is vital to ensure they have the room to grow to their full capacity. The essential basic requirements are full sun, protection from strong winds (none find it easy to hold on to fruit in gale force winds!) and moisture-retentive, nutrient-rich soil. Rainfall alone is not enough to establish fruit trees; a reliable source of moisture for the first couple of seasons is required.
If your soil is lacking in substance, improve it by adding compost, manure and/or possibly grit or sand, if drainage is poor. Otherwise, consider growing fruit trees in large tubs or wine barrels – in which case, dwarf hybrids are the best ones to plant.
Some trees, such as feijoas and olives, will cope in shallow soils, whereas larger nut, pip and stone fruit trees prefer deeper soils.
To prune or not to prune?
There is a common myth that all deciduous fruit trees need to be pruned in winter – this is not the case. Once established, fruit trees need shaping only every other year, depending on the type of tree. Do the homework on what your tree requires before you head outside with the pruning saw or secateurs. Poor pruning can remove all the fruiting wood for next season’s crops, which is heartbreaking, so arm yourself with knowledge before you make the first cut.
Winter is a brilliant time to get on top of numerous fungal and disease problems. Spraying at this time of year helps break the spore cycle of many fungal and disease issues that can overwinter in the ground, fallen leaves, old fruit and in the bark of trees. Winter oil and copper-based sprays are widely used, and both require a series of sprays to be effective. Follow the instructions carefully, especially when a second or third application is required– schedule yourself a reminder!