Many people wonder about the variety of apple, pear, peach, plum or other fruit they should grow. Choice of varieties is very much a personal matter, but guidance must be sought from many sources—catalogues, books, experienced friends or neighbours and horticultural shows. The selection today, though not as great as in past years, is quite wide enough. Some old faithfuls have disappeared, but new names have taken their places. For economic reasons the nursery-man grows only those varieties which are in popular demand, mainly by the commercial grower.
In the garden there is, however, the opportunity to have a greater selection than in the orchard or plantation.
Dwarfing rootstocks and trained trees with more than one variety on each give scope for a fair selection – even out of the ordinary.
While there are advantages in having a very few varieties of particular fruits in the garden, there is evidence that there can be better and more regular yields if there is a fair selection, especially of tree fruits. Some varieties are known to yield good crops as lone trees. These are selffertile or self-compatible and flowers on the plants will set fruits with their own pollen. Others will not and need the help of pollen from other varieties of the same kind of fruit.
Scientific investigation of many varieties has confirmed the findings of many gardeners and fruit growers that to grow one variety only is unwise. By following certain fertility rules, much disappointment can be avoided. The following` tables should be used as a guide, in conjunction with personal taste and preference.
In general fruit plants can be divided into three groups: (a) Self-compatible varieties are those which will set a full crop with their own pollen.
(b) Partially self-compatible varieties do not set a full crop with their own pollen.
(c) Self-incompatible varieties fail to set a crop with their own pollen.
Ideally, only self-compatible varieties would be planted, but since there are those not so favoured which have other-wise excellent qualities, some provision should be made to include them.
The self-compatible varieties are in this case, planted as pollinators. With the help of many insects, especially honey bees, pollen is transferred from variety to variety when the fruit plants are in full flower. This is termed cross-pollination. Provided the plants are fairly near to each other and the weather is favourable to insect movement all should do well. During cold, dull wet weather results may be less good, and even self-compatible varieties may not crop too well. Cross-pollination is beneficial to the cropping of all varieties.
When selecting varieties for pollination choose those which are known to flower about the same time. With certain fruit plants —plums and cherries —even this is not good enough. To help with the selection reference should be made to the specially prepared tables below for further information.
Whichever variety is chosen as a pollinator it should be regular in flowering each year and overlap the flowering periods of other varieties by several days.
Fruit trees and bushes
The final choice may have to be made from those which experience and observation show to grow and crop best. It is not always understood or known that varieties of fruits differ in their suitability. Within the same area of a village or parish it is possible to have plants of the same variety of a fruit poles apart in growth and crop-ping.
Soils and situations
Ideally the soil should be a deep and well-drained loam that has grown good vegetable crops for some years and so has a reserve of plant food. Shelter from wind will prevent most of the damage to the plants which, as a result, should grow stronger and better. The possibility of damage from frost can-not be overlooked so a gentle slope helps the cold heavier air to drain away and not persist over the plants. All plants do best in a position in full sun; shade from trees, hedges or buildings may result in poor growth.
The first feature to look for is the depth of the soil—the amount of usable ground overlying the parent material or rock underneath. Soils are generally deeper in valleys than on slopes or hill tops. Even on flat land the depth varies quite considerably. Man himself has also taken a hand by moving quite large amounts of soil for his own purposes.
Often the under soil or subsoil is pulled up and exposed to light and air for the first time. Such a soil will need careful handling and feeding to give even moderate results. Clay soils which are wet and sticky in winter but dry hard in summer can, if drained and well supplied with organic matter, give good yields. The use of mulches in summer in the area of the fruit plants will help winter drainage and keep them reasonably moist in a dry summer.
At the other extreme are gravel soils and those which contain much coarse sand. These are usually so poor that in summer they are very dry and fruit plants will flag for lack of water when they need it most.
In wet winters they are rarely water-logged and artificial drainage is un-necessary. Plenty of organic matter put into these soils will help in summer, aided by mulches in spring and summer to stop loss through evaporation. These and chalk soils are hungry for plant foods. Water should be handy for use in summer when rainfall is seldom enough for plant needs.
Soils with a high organic peat content can be most difficult for fruit plants except strawberries. They hold a great deal of water in most winters, but if there is a succession of dry years plants will look distressed – and peat needs a lot of water to re-wet it.
Depth of true soil is as important as type of soil. All fruit plants can make more roots for anchorage and feeding than we imagine. The deeper the soil the better the plants will thrive. This does not mean they will make lush growth and crop indifferently.
When soil depth is less than 18 inches care will be needed as the plants become established; additional feeding and watering will be necessary. Strawberries, though deep rooting, are seldom in the same piece of ground for more than three years and sometimes less. For these soils 12-18 inches deep should be satisfactory. There are, of course, various ways of deepening some soils. The subsoil can be broken up by cultivation but left in its proper place, underneath the topsoil. In this way, total depth is increased and plant foods added to the surface and water are stored there while air, essential for good growth, gets in.
Preparation of the ground before planting should not be hurried. Plants will suffer and die very quickly if planted in freshly cultivated ground which may also be cold and wet. Soil which has grown a good crop of vegetables can be in excellent physical condition for fruit. If organic manures and fertilisers have been added generously for the vegetables, sufficient food is available to keep the plants growing nicely for a year or two. Where strawberries are concerned no more feeding may be needed or desirable. It should not be necessary to cultivate the ground after the vegetable crops, other than to remove weeds and plant debris. At this pre-planting stage the physical condition of the soil and its adequate depth are of first importance; feeding and water can be seen to later. The month of September should be the dead-line for soil preparation.
When the trees are to be planted in an existing grass area, part of this should be dug over early to allow the soil to settle.
Fruit grown to be enjoyed should look good as well as taste good. The appearance and quality of fruit can be marred by certain insect pests and diseases. Steps must be taken to keep these enemies under control and this does not always mean using sprays and dusts.
Even if the plants put into the ground are basically healthy, troubles from out-side are bound to appear. It is when the plants are growing and making new shoots, leaves, flowers and fruits, that most of the pests and diseases appear. Among insect pests the two biggest culprits are the aphids or greenfly, which in the many forms and colours suck sap from the plants, as do various caterpillars also. Warm dry weather suits this pest very well and it requires constant vigilance to spot the beginnings of an attack.
Many amateurs are puzzled about pruning. But it is not a magic art, understood and practised by a few green-fingered experts. The principles are simple and, when considered sensibly, amount very much to commonsense. Pruning is the technique of dealing with the way the branches of a fruit plant can be arranged round the main stem or trunk so that each has a fair share of space.
In an un-pruned tree only those shoots on the outside get enough light for the leaves which, with the roots, feed the whole tree. If the leaves are poor in size and colour, the buds and fruits which they feed will also be poor. Extra soil feeding will simply make matters worse.
The solution is at least some pruning to let in light. Many gardeners get the impression that pruning is essential for good fruiting. This is not so. The less a tree or plant is cut about, the more fruitful it will be. To some extent nature itself may take hand as winds and storms may remove a number of branches. However, this unselected removal of shoots may not be completely beneficial, particularly since the main branches may be broken at the crotch where they meet the main stem. Sometimes, too, a temporary attack by a pest or disease reduces growth, but this also may be of uncertain value. Pruning is man’s way of improving on nature to get earlier and more regular yields.
All fruit plants are perennial and if kept healthy will crop for many years. Even strawberries will grow and crop longer than their normal garden span of 3-4 years. Soft fruits will come into good cropping a year or two after planting but tree fruits take longer. By using dwarfing rootstocks this interval can be shortened, while vigorous root stocks delay cropping though yields per tree are greater. Some tree fruits, e.g. sweet cherries may not give worth-while crops until ten years after planting.