The trees are a mixture of dwarfing (smaller) trees and standard (larger) trees. Now they are planted, a regular care programme is required in order to keep the trees healthy and productive.
Newly planted trees must be staked, tied, protected from pests, and well mulched. Stakes are essential throughout the entire life of the dwarfing trees. The roots of these trees are brittle and will not hold the tree upright with even a moderate crop.
Stakes are useful in the first few years of the half standards and standards, as they ensure the trees don’t blow over whilst the roots are establishing. After around three or four years the roots will be strong enough to hold the tree upright.
Trees must be staked no higher than 3 feet to allow for the uppermost part of the tree to sway in the wind, encouraging the tree to put out strong roots.
The most common problems to watch out for with stakes and ties are:
Trees can rub on the stakes causing a wound where disease may enter. This can be prevented by removing the part of the stake above the tie.
Ties can strangle the trees. Ties must be checked and loosened on a regular basis as the girth of the tree increases.
The trees in the Peace Orchard are protected from rabbits with spiral guards. These are plastic tubes that will expand with the tree as it thickens up.
Spiral guards need checking on a regular basis for the following:
Shoots arising from the trunk in the spiral guard must be pruned off.
Debris and leaf litter must be cleared out on a regular basis to prevent any rotting of the trunk.
Sometimes ants will make homes in the guards. Guards must be checked and ants removed if found.
Guards can become brittle and break at times, making them unfit for purpose. Brittle guards must be replaced.
Rabbit/chicken netting can be more effective than spiral guards. A 60cm length can be loosely wrapped around the trunk, allowing for expansion. The advantage of wire over spiral guards is that any debris or growth can be easily spotted and it allows for better air flow. They must however be checked on a regular basis to ensure they are not strangling the tree.
All newly planted trees must be mulched. This reduces competition in the root zone, allowing the trees to get all the water and nutrients they need.
The best mulch is ‘Ramial Chipped Wood’. This is wood chip from small diameter hardwoods (up to 7cm). This serves many purposes:
- Reduces competition for water and nutrients by smothering grasses and weeds
- Keeps the soil moist by reducing evaporation
- Breaks down to a rich compost which feeds the soil
- Stimulates vital beneficial fungal growth (mycelium) that extend the tree’s root system.
Ramial Chipped Wood
Other useful mulches are well rotted farm yard manure, straw, compost and leaf litter.
You can even grow your own mulch right next to your trees! Comfrey (Symphytum) can be grown around the drip line of the trees. Comfrey has a deep tap root that will mine minerals from the sub soil. It can be cut down two or three times during the growing season and laid in the root zone. It will feed vital minerals and nutrients to the tree.
Comfrey makes a good ‘chop and drop’ mulch
It is important that any mulch applied does not build up around the base of the tree, which can cause it to rot. To avoid this, make a mulch donut i.e. leave a hole in the middle near the tree’s base.
Mulch can be applied on an annual or bi-annual basis, depending on how quickly it breaks down.
Formative pruning is the most important pruning stage to carry out. Done correctly, this will help to develop a well-balanced, strong open framework of branches that will stay with the tree throughout its entire life.
A strong open framework will allow for good sunlight penetration, good air flow and be strong enough to carry the heavy load of fruit in years to come.
Good sunlight penetration allows fruit to ripen well, creating better flavoured fruit and for better storage. It will also encourage flower bud formation, which leads to good fruiting.
Good air circulation is essential for reducing the possibility of stagnant humid air which favours fungal infections such as scab.
When to prune
It is vital to understand that winter pruning promotes growth, and summer pruning restricts growth.
New growth will arise wherever a pruning cut is made. When trees are young, growth should be promoted, so prune in the winter.
The trees in the Coventry Peace Orchard are on a range of different rootstocks. Some will make large trees, known as ‘standards’, others will make medium sized trees, known as ‘half-standards’ and others will make small trees, known as ‘bushes’.
Further information: ‘How to Prune an Apple Tree’ by Chloe Ward.
Most trees will grow some fruit in their first few years. This fruit should be removed, allowing the tree to concentrate its energies into growing a strong framework of branches.