This is Our Ultimate Fruit Garden Guide – Grow Your Own!
Over the past few years, demand for and interest in home-grown fruit has increased greatly. This may be due to concern over the use of chemicals and treatments by commercial growers; the awareness of the benefits and importance of fresh fruit in our diets; or simply the appeal and satisfaction of the improved flavour of freshly gathered fruit, including cultivars that may not be available in the shops.
A fruit garden can not only be productive, but attractive as well, with many plants producing striking blossom and eye-catching fruit. Fruit may be grown in any amount of space; whilst only large gardens might be able to accommodate an extensive orchard, even the smallest garden or patio could have room to grow a wall-trained apple or pear tree.
There is nothing better than fruit ripened naturally, hand picked and freshly eaten. In this section, we aim to help you to design and plan your own fruit garden, with tips on choosing the right fruit, step-by-step pruning and training guides and ideas on how to harvest, store and preserve the final product.
Planning Your Fruit Garden
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a large garden in order to grow fruit; there are many cultivars available that are ideal for the average garden. Whilst fruits may be grown on a small scale in containers or as single specimen trees, if you’re planning to grow a large number of plants, it is usually best to group them together into a specialised garden area. In this way, fruits with similar requirements may be grown together and it will also make it easier to protect the plants from damage caused by birds and frost.
Begin planning by determining the types of fruits you want to grow and the amount you want to harvest. Whilst the majority of fruits prefer a sunny position, there will always be species available that will thrive in your given conditions, so ensure that you select trees that are adapted to your climate. With careful planning and cultivar selection you can create a garden that will provide you with a steady, regular supply of fruit over many months.
Deciding Which Fruits to Grow
There is a huge range of fruit trees, bushes and canes available to grow in the garden; these may be grouped according to their fruit characteristics, the manner in which they grow and their frost-hardiness.
Fruit Types and Examples
Many of the fruits that can be grown in the UK (either under cover or outdoors) are listed below:
Contains a hard outer shell around an edible kernel.
- Pecan Nuts
- Sweet Chestnuts
2. Soft Fruits
Fruits grown on naturally shrubby, compact bushes.
Fruits produced on cane-like shoots, usually borne on the previous years growth.
- Herbaceous fruits
3. Tender Fruits
Fruits that need warm, sub-tropical temperatures.
- Avocado Pears
- Prickly Pears
- Tree Tomatoes
4. Tree Fruits
Fleshy fruits with seeds and a core.
Fruits that contain a central stone.
5. Vine Fruits
Fruits that grow on woody climbers.
- Kiwi Fruits
- Passion Fruits
The most important thing is to choose a fruit (or fruits) that you enjoy eating. If you like one particular fruit, think about selecting a variety that is not available or is difficult to find in the shops.
Planting Fruit Trees, Bushes & Vines
Bare-rooted plants should be planted out from late autumn to early spring whilst they are dormant. It is best to plant trees before new root growth starts (usually in early March) and certainly before spring growth begins. Container-grown plants may be planted at any time of year except during very dry weather or when the ground is water-logged or frozen.
After buying your trees, you should always endeavour to plant them in their permanent position as soon as possible. However, if you are unable to plant them immediately, for example because of frosty or very wet weather, you can keep them for a few days in a cold but frost-free shed or garage; preferably in their original packaging. If planting is delayed for more than four days, then you will need to heel them into a moist, frost-free temporary position in the garden. Our section on planting trees has more information on how to store trees.
Planting Tree Fruits
- Dig a hole that will accommodate the roots comfortably; this should be at least one third wider than the tree’s root system. Fruit trees that are to be planted against a wall or fence should be positioned 15-22 cm (6-9 in) away from the support to allow for future expansion of the trunk.
- Loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole with a spade or fork.
- Drive in a stake (or stakes) to a depth of 45 cm (18 in) about 7 cm (3 in) from the centre of the hole. Use a single 1.8 m (6 ft) stake for dwarf apple and pear trees being trained as dwarf pyramids or spindle bushes, and two short stakes for trees being trained as bush, half standard or standards. These stakes should come to a height of 60-90 cm (2-3 ft) above the ground, with the tree tied in between. Very-dwarfing rootstocks will need support throughout their lives, whilst other trees may have their support removed after 3 or 4 years.
- If the plant roots are very dry, cut the tips off and place the roots in water for two hours before planting. Prune back any roots that are excessively long.
- Slightly mound the soil at the base of the hole and place the tree in the centre, making sure that it is at the same depth as it was before being lifted. Check this using a cane to make sure that the soil mark on the stem is level with the soil surface; the mark should be fairly easy to see, and should be no more than 5 cm (2 in) above the highest roots.
- Make sure that the union between the rootstock and scion is above soil level, otherwise the scion may begin to root and you will lose the influence of the rootstock.
- Spread out the tree’s roots, then backfill the hole in stages, shaking the tree periodically to ensure that the soil settles in between the roots.
- Continue filling the hole, and then when finished, tread in well to ensure that the tree is well anchored and that there are no air pockets between the roots.
- Attach a buckle-and-spacer tie so that the cushion lies between the tree and stake to prevent chafing.
- Protect the tree from rabbits and other animals using a wire mesh fencing tied in a loose cylinder around the tree. Avoid using forestry type plastic tubes, as these are not suitable for fruit trees.
When planting a fruit tree, always make sure that the graft union between the rootstock and scion is above soil level. The union should be clearly visible as a kink in the stem 10-30 cm (4-12 in) above the soil mark.
Planting Soft Fruits
Plant cane and bush fruits such as blackberries, gooseberries, raspberries and blueberries in the same way as tree fruits, making sure that the soil mark is at ground level. Planting too deeply will inhibit the plants’ growth. Cane fruits should be supported using a system of horizontal wires attached to a wall, fence or series of sturdy posts.
Vine fruits such as grapes, kiwi fruits and passion fruits should be planted in a hole or trench that is wide enough to allow the roots to be fully extended. The vines will then need to be supported using a wire trellis or a series of horizontal wires.
- If you are planting more than one cordon, space them so that they are 75 cm (30 in) apart.
- Fix a series of horizontal wires either between sturdy posts or to a solid support such as a fence or wall. If fixing to a solid support, make sure that the wires are set 10-15 cm (4-6 in) away from the wall or fence to allow a good circulation of air.
- Plant the trees 15-22 cm (6-9 in) away from a solid support.
- Secure a cane at an angle of 45 to the horizontal wires.
- Tie each tree securely to a cane.
Fruit Garden Maintenance
To make sure that your fruit trees and bushes remain healthy and continue to provide you with regular plentiful and tasty crops, you must carry out a regular schedule of maintenance. Although the exact processes will depend on the specific requirements of the fruit species, all will need periodic thinning, watering and feeding.
Thinning Blossoms and Fruit
Many tree fruits, such as apples, pears and plums, need to have their fruit thinned. Not only will this improve fruit size, quality and flavour, but it will also prevent branches from breaking. In addition, producing very heavy crops can exhaust a young tree and may slow the growth of new buds. This leads to ‘biennial bearing’ in which the tree may bear a heavy crop one year, and little or no fruit the next.
Reduce the risk of biennial bearing by removing the majority of blossom clusters from affected trees. 90% of all the clusters should be pinched out, leaving the rosette of young leaves around each intact.
Thinning techniques tend to vary from fruit to fruit. However, in general, as the fruits begin to grow, you will need to remove any unhealthy or disfigured fruits, and then thin the remainder so that there is approximately 5-15 cm (2-6 in) gap between each one. The gap size will depend on the type of fruit; small fruit such as plums will need less of a gap than larger fruit such as apples.
Feeding & Mulching
The soil around all fruit trees and bushes needs to be kept well-watered and moist, especially during the summer, and should be fed with an appropriate fertilizer if nutrient deficiencies are evident.
In early spring, apply a bulky organic mulch to newly-planted trees or to those that do not appear to be flourishing. Well-rotted manure or compost may be used for tree fruits such as apples, pears, peaches or plums, whilst rotted farmyard manure should be used for soft fruits such as raspberries, strawberries or blackberries. If the plants are mature enough to flower, you should also apply a balanced fertilizer. However, you should take care not to overfeed, as this may produce soft, disease-prone growth at the expense of fruiting.
Some fruits need higher levels of some nutrients than most plants, and so a specific fertilizer should be used. For example, peaches and gooseberries need high levels of potassium for high-quality fruit, whilst plums and pears require high levels of nitrogen. The following table shows specific fertilizers to boost the three major soil nutrients:
Nutrient Deficiency – Fertilizer Needed
Nitrogen (N) – Ammonium nitrate
Phosphorus (P) – Superphosphate
Potassium (K) – Potassium sulphate
Fertilizers should be applied over the entire area underneath the branch canopy, or in the case of cane fruits, at least 60 cm (2 ft) either side of the row. If trees are planted in grass, mow regularly and leave the clippings to rot down and return their nutrients to the soil.
Chalky soils may lead to lime-induced chlorosis of plants such as pears, peaches and raspberries due to a deficiency of manganese and iron. Chelated iron and manganese may be sprinkled on the soil around the affected plant and watered in or sprayed directly on the foliage. Alternatively, a solution of Epsom salts may be sprayed the foliage after flowering to correct magnesium deficiency.
Pruning Fruit Trees
Pruning can be used to control growth, remove dead or diseased wood or stimulate the formation of flowers and buds of fruit trees. Young trees are primarily pruned to create a strong, balanced framework and attractive shape. However, the main objective for established trees is to obtain an abundant crop of fruit as opposed to a tree with a profusion of lush yet unproductive foliage.
The Risks of Under- and Over-Pruning
Under-pruned trees tend to produce large crops of small, worthless fruit, with much of the crop out of reach at the top of the tree. This can cause damage to the tree as the branches may break under weight of the fruit, and crop production may become biennial (that is, only bearing fruit every other year).
On the other hand, over-pruned trees tend to produce light crops of large, flavourless fruit that does not store well. Pruning is therefore carried out to achieve a good balance between leaf growth and fruiting spurs, with the leaf growth providing sufficient energy for the trees to crop satisfactorily.
Formative pruning of fruit trees such as apple (Malus domesticata), pear (Pyrus communis), quince (Cydonia oblonga) and medlar (Mespilis germanica) trees should be undertaken during the dormant period between November and March during the first four years of the tree’s life. This will enable the tree to develop a strong framework capable of bearing the weight of the crops that will be borne in later years. This regime initially involves hard pruning; however, in later years pruning will be lighter and carried out in order to encourage fruiting.
Young pome (stone) fruit trees such as cherries (Prunus avium), plums (Prunus domestica), peach (Prunus persica) and apricots (Prunus armeniaca) should not be pruned during the dormant months; any work should be delayed until spring.
Year 1 – The Maiden Tree
Immediately after planting, trim maiden whips (trees with no side shoots) to about 75 cm (30 in) high. Cut just above a healthy bud, ensuring that there are at least two more healthy buds below it. This pruning will encourage the production of primary branches during the first growing season.
Feathered maidens (trees with several side branches) should be trimmed back to three or four strong shoots at 75 cm (30 in) from the ground. Side shoots should be shortened by two thirds of their length to an upward or outward facing bud and any shoots on the lowest third of the tree should be removed flush with the stem.
Remove shoots from the lowest third of the tree and then prune between three and five of the best placed shoots by half to an upwards or outwards facing bud. These will become the tree’s main structural branches. Remove any inwards facing shoots.
Remove stems from the lowest third of the tree and then prune the leading shoots of branches selected to become the framework by half to a bud facing in the desired direction. Select four healthy, well-placed laterals to fill the framework and shorten these by a half. Prune any remaining laterals to four buds to form fruiting spurs.
By this time, the tree should have begun to fruit, and so only limited formative pruning should be required. Shorten leaders by one third and prune any laterals not required to extend the framework to four buds.
When the tree has been planted for more than four years, it is considered to be established and should be annually pruned. Most fruit trees should be pruned during winter; however, established pome fruit trees such as cherry, plum and peach should only be pruned in the summer.
Fruit trees may be divided into two main categories: tip bearing and spur bearing. It is important to distinguish between the two varieties before pruning so that the correct technique may be used. Spur bearing trees bear most of their fruit on older wood, whilst tip bearers bear their fruit not on spurs but at the tips of slender shoots grown the previous summer.
Tip bearers such as acid cherries (Prunus cerasus) produce their fruit on one year old wood; when pruning, remove approximately one third of the older wood and trim any long new shoots (more than 22 cm/9 in) lightly. Any shorter maiden shoots should be left untouched as they will have fruit buds at their tips.
As spur bearers tend to produce their fruit on wood that is two years old or more, it is important that many of the older shoots are retained. Cut back the leading shoots on each branch; strong shoots should be cut back by a quarter, whilst weaker ones may be halved. Cut back strong side shoots to six buds and weak shoots to four.
Overcrowded spurs should be thinned out to improve fruit quality. The weakest shoots should be removed from each spur; remove approximately one-third to create an open spur. The total number of spurs on a branch can be reduced by removing any weak ones.