The satisfaction of growing, harvesting and tasting your own fresh fruit is one of the great pleasures of gardening. Try tree fruits (top fruits) which include apples, peaches and figs. The term top fruit embraces both pome fruits (those containing a core with pips, such as apples, pears and medlars) and stone fruits (those containing stones, such as cherries, peaches and plums), as well as a few other fruits including mulberries.
Once the first frost arrives and leaves fall from the trees; bare-rooted trees can be lifted from the nursery fields. Reduced light levels and cooler temperatures mean deciduous plants begin to shut down and become dormant. This is a perfect time to buy fruit trees in a bare-rooted state and take advantage of the fact that they are less expensive to purchase than pot grown plants.
If space is at a premium try training apples or pears espaliered or two tiered against a wall or fence. Or fan train a cherry or peach in the same way. If your not sure about training fruit yourself buy one already container grown. For small gardens some fruit trees can be bought on a dwarf rootstock either bare-rooted or container grown.
Love Plants 5 favourite top fruit.
Apple ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ – the most famous cooking apple of them all, a variety that produces large fruits with a sharp acidic flavour; ideal for making delicious pies and crumbles. Apple ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ are triploids but will set a partial crop themselves. For heavier cropping they are best grown with another apple tree, if you only have room for one tree ensure a neighbour has a tree close by that flowers at the same time and can act as a suitable pollinator. This variety has good disease resistance to scab and mildew. Pick the fruit from October for immediate use or lay the fruits in a cool dry place for winter storage; they will store for up to three months.
Apple ‘James Grieve’ – is a dual-purpose variety that is picked early-mid September. At this stage it is too sharp for eating and can be used for cooking (it keeps it’s shape when cooked). After a few weeks the flavour sweetens and becomes quite mild, and it is then an excellent eating apple. This variety is also renowned for its juicy flesh which is ideal for juicing. It is an excellent pollinator for many other apple varieties and is partially self-fertile but is best grown with another variety to ensure good pollination.
The ideal position for an apple tree is a sunny, sheltered site, well away from frostpockets. Avoid poorly drained or shallow soils. Once established, apples require very little care throughout the year. Water newly planted apple trees during dry spells and from when the fruit starts to swell, particularly if they are newly planted or in containers. In early Spring, sprinkle a balanced fertiliser (such as Growmore) around the base of the plant, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Apples should be pruned every year to get the best crop. Timing and method depends on the type of apple you are growing and the rootstock that they are growing on. As with most fruits, the best method of testing if an apple is ready for picking is to taste it. The fruit should have swelled up to a good size and started to colour up. To pick an apple, cup it in your hand, lift gently and give it a slight twist; it should come off easily with the stalk intact. If it doesn’t then it’s not ready for picking.
Pear ‘Concorde’ – is a fairly new variety, it is a cross between ‘Conference’ from where it inherits reliability, cropping and excellent suitability for the British climate; and ‘Doyenne de Comice’, a French variety from which it inherits top quality flavour. Pear Concorde produces a heavy crop of pale green, large pears with firm flesh and excellent flavour, even on a young tree. The fruits are ready for harvest from September to November and will store until January. Pick them slightly under-ripe, store them in a cool place and bring them indoors to ripen slowly. It is a partially self-fertile variety but makes an ideal pollinating partner for other varieties to aid pollination and increase yield. Pear trees like the same conditions and care as apple trees.
Cherry ‘Sunburst’ – is a self-fertile variety and therefore does not require a pollination companion although a pollinating partner would help produce heavier crops. It makes an attractive tree both when in flower and when laden with fruit. From mid July this dessert variety produces large, red, almost black cherries of the sweetest flavour. The high quality fruits store well for a short period after picking.
Sweet cherries produce delicious fruit and usually grow as small open trees, or trained as fans against wall or fences. They can also be grown in large containers no less than 60cm (2ft) in diameter. Cherries flower early in the year, if frost is forecast, protect the blossom with horticultural fleece, removing it during the day to allow access to pollinating insects. Keep trees well watered during early stages of fruit development.
Mulch cherries with well-rotted organic matter, in late February. Feed with a general fertiliser like Growmore at 100g per sq m (4oz per sq yd) from February to March. If fruiting is poor, apply Sulphate of potash at 15g per sq m(1/2oz per sq yd). Sweet cherries fruit on one-year–old and older wood: pruning creates a balance between older fruiting wood and younger replacement branches. Formative pruning takes place as the buds begin to open, established trees are pruned from late July to the end of August. Pick fruits during dry weather, doing so by the stalks, not the body of the fruit, which brusies easily. Cherries prefer deep, fertile and well-drained soil with pH 6.5 – 6.7. They dislike shallow, sandy or badly drained soils.
Plum ‘Victoria’ – is a reliable and versatile plum variety, well-known for it’s heavy crops. It is an excellent culinary plum and makes very good jam or fillings for pies and crumbles. If the plums are left to ripen until they are dark red rather than an orange flushed colour, they will be fully ripe and delicious to eat straight from the tree. Victoria plums are self-fertile and pollinate a number of other varieties; they are ready to pick from late August.
Plum blossom generally needs the same protection from frost as cherries, but this variety is frost resistant therefore it can be grown successfully in the North of the UK. By early summer the fruit has ususally set and has started to swell. The fruit may need to be thinned out or the weight can snap the branches as it gets heavier. Thinning the fruit also ensures the remaining fruit grow larger. Because plums produce heavy crops they respond well to fertiliser, especially nitrogen.
On established trees apply a mulch of well-rotted farmyard manure in mid-spring to help soil moisture, keep down weeds, and provide nitrogen. This can be supplimented with a top dressing of dried poultry pellets or non-organic nitrogen fertiliser such as sulphate of ammonia. Add a top-dressing of sulphate of potash in late winter.
Pruning should be carried out in spring or summer. Avoid pruning in the dormant season or in mid to late autumn, as there is a risk of infection from silver leaf disease and bacterial canker.
Plums have quite high moisture demands, so they are best planted on good clay or loamy soils. But sites also need to be well drained as plums, and gages in particular, hate waterlogged soils. Add bulky organic matter to sandy or shallow chalky soils prior to planting. When growing in a container, make sure pots are large enough to prevent the potting compost drying out in the summer.
These stone fruits are some of the earliest crops to flower in the fruit garden. While the plants themselves are often extremely hardy, the flower can easily be killed by frosts so it’s essential to position trees out of frost pockets or windy sites; a sheltered, sunny spot will produce the best results.
Plums develop their best flavour is left to ripen on the tree. If they feel soft when gently squeezed, they are ripe. Trees will generally need picking over several times as all the fruit will not ripen at the same time.