Gardening: When to plant fruit trees

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ANY TIME between October and April is the ideal time of year to plant out fruit trees. Of course if the ground is frozen solid, covered in snow or thoroughly waterlogged it is best to wait for conditions to improve.

But find yourself a dry afternoon then there is nothing better than getting out into the low winter sunshine and digging a hole to keep warm.

We are developing our fruit garden at the Botanics at the moment. It’s been a long process, starting with planning, then the hard landscaping; paths, fences, fruit cages and plant supports and so on. Last winter saw the first of the plants going in. Our latest efforts have involved planting our step over apple and pear trees.

One of our main aims in planting up the fruit garden is to show our visitors how best to grow fruit in a small space. Many of us want to get involved with growing our own food but, of course, few of us have large swathes of land available for an orchard. A great way to get around this is by learning how to train fruit trees into restricted forms, controlling the size and final shape of the plant whilst encouraging a healthy supply of fruit production. There are many trained forms; espalier, cordon, fan and so on, all suited to different kinds of fruit.

We’ve been planting out step overs, also known as horizontal cordons. A step over is just as it sounds, a one-year-old tree with very few branches is bent over and trained along a low fence and can literally be stepped over. There are some special requirements. The method is appropriate for spur fruiting trees grafted onto a dwarfing root stock.

The low fence with the apple and pear trees running alongside looks great and would make a wonderful addition to any garden. The feature makes a much more interesting boundary than a fence or hedge, and it has the bonus of being productive. Low trained trees make picking the fruits much easier too! Step overs can be a little harder to master than some of the other forms. The key to success with all of them is good formative pruning when the tree is one or two years old and regular maintenance pruning in subsequent years. This requires a certain level of knowledge and it is worth investing in a fruit growing manual or course. Alternatively pop along to one of our drop-in sessions to ask for advice.

The Edible Gardening Project is based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and teaches people the skills and knowledge they need to grow their own food. Funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery the project is for those who are keen to grow their own but don’t know where to begin. For more details please go to www.rbge.org.uk/ediblegardening. Follow our blog ediblegardeningproject.wordpress.com.