There is really only one reason why we do not have orchards of peaches, nectarines and apricots in this country and that is the climate.
Bush peaches are hardy in southern England; the protection of a south or south-west wall is needed further north. Nectarines invariably are grown on walls. Both fruits need abundant sunshine and crop to perfection under glass. A well-drained, deep, medium loam soil gives the best results. Soils with a high lime con-tent are disliked; but acid soils should be dressed with mortar rubble. An applica-tion of lb per square yard of coarse bonemeal should be given at planting time and an annual summer feed of a balanced fertiliser at the rate of 4 ounces per square yard should be applied. Give the trees a spring mulch of decayed dung if the material is available. Plant one to three-year-old trees between mid-October and mid-March, preferably in October or November. Trim any damaged roots, cover them with no more than 4-6 inches of soil, tread firm and ensure that the graft union is above ground. Keep the trunks of wall trees 4 inches away from the walls. Fan trees should be tied temporarily until the soil has settled, bush trees should be staked, putting the stake in the planting hole before the tree. Planting distances are: for fan trees 15 feet apart, and for bush trees 15-20 feet. Mulch either with compost or strawy manure in March, and rub off the first season’s blossom buds.
Frosty sites are unsuitable as the trees flower in February or early March, and wall trees should be protected with hessian or tiffany at night, though this should be removed by day to allow pollinating insects access to the flowers. Although both fruits are self-fertile, hand pollination ensures a full set. Fan trees, however, often set an excessive crop, and the fruitlets should be thinned progressively so as to leave peaches at one per square foot and nectarines at one per 9-inch square. Give copious waterings while the fruits are swelling. Leave the crop to ripen fully on the tree, and check daily for ripe fruits by palming off—finger pressure causes bruises. They should be used promptly, for dessert, bottling, canning or jam making.
These stone fruits can be grown as large bushes or as trained trees in the open.
However they are grown, pruning is done either in spring or late summer. The pruning of bush trees is very similar to that given to plums.
Maidens are pruned at 2 feet from soil level and 3-5 branches are selected to form the basic shape of the bush and the surplus removed completely. Any further pruning need consist only of removing dead tips and dead and overcrowding branches. This pruning can be done in August or September. Half-standard trees on 3 ½ – 4 foot stems are pruned in a similar fashion. If too much summer growth is made, cut out surplus shoots leaving the remainder 6 inches apart. These fruits are also commonly fan-trained.
When pruning it should be remembered that peaches and nectarines fruit on the previous season’s shoots, so prune them hard enough to induce plenty of new growth, at least 12 inches in length annually. However, do not go to the otl;ter extreme as excessive pruning induces lush growth and diminished cropping. Cut out any dead wood, crossing branches and a third of the old growth of bush trees in May, cutting always at a strong side-shoot. Disbud the fruiting shoots of fan-trained trees during April, May and June, retaining one new shoot at the base, tip and middle. Pinch out the growing tips of the last two at five leaves, but allow the basal shoots to grow to their full length. Cut out the fruited shoots after harvest and tie in the replacements in fan formation at 3 inches apart. Over-vigorous trees should be root pruned.
Peach leaf curl
This very common fungus disease (Taphrina deformans) makes its appearance nearly every spring on peaches, nectarines and almonds, mainly on trees grown out of doors rather than those under glass. It appears soon after the young leaves unfurl and is seen first as greenish-yellow patches on the leaves, soon turning to a crimson flush, later covered with a white bloom. The leaves eventually thicken, curl and crumple and drop off thus weakening the trees, and in severe cases they may be completely defoliated. The disease sometimes affects young shoots, flowers and fruit. Badly affected trees will often produce new foliage later in the summer.
The trees are infected by spores which pass the winter in the bud scales or on the bark. Affected leaves and shoots should be removed and burnt as soon as they are seen. As a precautionary measure the trees should be sprayed with Bordeaux mixture or a copper-based fungicide in late February or early March just before the buds begin to swell.
Fruit under glass
Any hardy fruits can be grown under glass but those generally considered the most rewarding are peaches and nectarines, figs and grapes.
Where space is at a premium, fruit trees may also be grown under glass in pots. This restricts root action so that the trees remain small. Pot-grown specimens of apples, cherries, figs, peaches and nectarines, pears, plums and gages may be obtained for this purpose from specialist nurseries.
Peaches and nectarines
Both these fruits are treated in the same way, the latter simply being a smooth-skinned form of peach. They are usually grown as fans and are most easily accommodated against the back wall of a lean-to house, but they may also be trained on wires fixed 2 feet away from the glass or on a trellis arranged across the house.
Although plenty of water will be required in the growing season, drainage must be impeccable. If necessary, there-fore, the border should be excavated to a depth of about 3 feet and either field drain pipes laid or a foot depth of rubble put in. A layer of turves, laid grass-side down, will prevent the soil above from clogging the drainage. The peach tree will need a depth of 18 to 24 inches for its roots but this soil should not be too rich or excessive growth will be encouraged in the early years at the expense of fruiting.
For a path, wooden duck-boarding is preferable to concrete so that moisture can penetrate and the roots be free to extend.
Trees should be planted in the usual way and the young growths tied to canes which in their turn, are tied to wires. Training and pruning follow similar lines as for outdoor trees but remember that in the greenhouse the trees will receive only the water you give them. The border will need to be flooded in January to start growth and frequent watering will be necessary when growth becomes active. Syringeing is also necessary, once or twice daily, from bud break until the fruit begins to colour. This syringeing may be quite forceful, to discourage pests. While the flowers are open, the syringeing should be reduced to once a day, around midday, to encourage pollination.
In January the house ventilators should be closed early in the afternoon to trap the sun’s warmth, the temperature being maintained as near to 40°F (4°C) as manipulation of the ventilators can secure. In February the temperature may be allowed to rise to around 50°F (10°C) but, should very cold weather prevail during the blossom period and immediately after, some heating will be necessary to keep the temperature at least above freezing point.
Pollination is the difficulty with fruits under glass because the insects which usually perform the service for us are not present. A hive of bees may be stood in the greenhouse but for most gardeners this is impossible and resort should be made to hand-fertilisation of the blossom, transferring the pollen about midday with a rabbit’s tail (if you can get one), a camel’s hair brush or a small piece of cotton wool tied to the end of a stick. Do this before syringeing as an additional aid.
In March the temperature may rise to 55-60°F (13-16°C), but when outside tem-peratures begin to exceed this try to keep the atmosphere in the house buoyant by adequate damping down and ample ventila-tion. From May on some light shading should be provided—with blinds or strips of plastic netting shading material or by spraying or painting the roof glass with a proprietary shading preparation.
Thinning of the fruit should be carried out, as with the outdoor crop, in easy stages. If large fruits are wanted, the final allowance of space should be a square foot per peach and 9 inches square for each nectarine, but for average size, thinning may be less drastic, allowing from 9 to 6 inches square per fruit.
As ripening begins, all syringeing must stop and more air should be given. Foliage which shades the fruit should be tied back temporarily.
Once the Peach crop has been gathered, spray as forcefully as you can and ventilate as freely as possible to assist the ripening of the new wood. Continue to water the border regularly. Ventilators should be left open, night and day, until January when growth is to be restarted. Untying and pruning may be done early in the autumn.
If spraying with tar-oil is considered necessary to control aphis and scale insects, this may be done as soon as it is certain that the tree concerned is quite dormant.
Feeding is seldom necessary in the first year or two as it may result in growth rather than fruit. Some food, however, will be needed once heavy crops are being carried. A mixture of 2 parts of sulphate of ammonia, 2 parts of superphosphate and 1 part of sulphate of potash, all parts by weight, should be scattered over the border at the rate of 5 oz per 2 square yards, and lightly raked in and then watered. In March put down a mulch of rotted stable manure or garden compost. If the burden of fruit bearing appears to be too great and fresh growth is being made only slowly, an extra fillip can be given after stoning, in the form of liquid manure or dried blood applied at the rate of 4 oz per square yard of border.
Peaches under glass are liable to the same pests and diseases as those in the open, although peach leaf curl is usually less troublesome and red spider mite very much more so. The following varieties, given in order of ripening, are suitable for green-house culture, those marked with an asterisk being the most reliable:
Peaches: ‘Duke of York’, Waterloo’, Teregrine*’, ‘Royal George’, `Dymond*’, `Bellegrade’.
Nectarines: ‘Early Rivers’, ‘Lord Napier*’, ‘Pineapple’.
Nectarines are grown in exactly the same way as peaches. Apricots are a little easier to grow outdoors than the other two. They all flower in late February and March and so they must have a frostfree, sunny site.
- Bush trees can be grown only in south-west and south-east England; elsewhere, as fan-trained trees on walls facing east, south, or south-west, or in greenhouses.
- Apricots prefer a moisture retentive, friable and well-drained soil: they object to stiff clay and heavy loam. A pH of 6.5 —tending to alkalinity—is desirable.
- Bush trees are spreading in habit. The leaves are broad and heart shaped, the flowers white or pale pink, borne singly or in pairs. Apricots are selffertile and may be planted singly.
- Forced apricots are ripe from mid-July, outdoor fruits to the end of September. Use them for dessert, bottling, preserving and jam making.
- Propagation is by budding on to plum root-stocks —Brompton or Common Mus-sel (medium to large trees), St Julien (small to medium trees)— or on seedling peach or apricot.
Plant preferably between late September and November, particularly under glass, or up to mid-March, at 15 feet apart. Sprinkle two handfuls of bone-meal in the planting hole, give a spring mulch of 1 hundredweight of well-rotted manure per 10 square yards, plus 1 ounce of sulphate of potash per square yard. Give 5 ounces per square yard of basic slag every third year. Water the trees regularly the first season and subsequently in dry spells—mature trees may wilt badly. Saturate greenhouse soils in February and mulch with spent hops or peat.
- Force with gentle heat in February to a maximum temperature of 55°F (13°C), rising to 65°F (18°C) in summer with free ventilation. Syringe the foliage with water daily. Give full ventilation at leaf fall to induce complete dormancy.
- Protect outdoor blossom from frost by draping hessian over the trees at night, removing this by day to allow pollinating insects to work. Assist pollination under glass by hand. Remove the blossom the first season.
- Fruit forms both on young wood and old spurs. Maintain a proportion of each. Shorten the leaders by half to two-thirds after planting, laterals to a few inches. Subsequently, shorten the leaders an-nually by one-third. Tie in one healthy shoot per 10 inches of main branch, remove ill-placed and upright growing shoots and pinch back the rest to four leaves from mid-June onwards.
- Thin the crop when the set is heavy, first at pea size to one fruitlet per cluster then again after stoning, and when the natural drop is over, to 3-5 inches apart. Test for stoning by pressing a pin into a few fruitlets.
- Defer picking until the apricots are well coloured, ripe and part readily from the spurs without tearing.
- Apricots are subject to silver leaf, bacterial canker and brown rot diseases, but are unaffected by peach leaf curl. Aphids, wasps and flies are the main pests.
The following are the best varieties:
- ‘New Large Early’ early July
- ‘Early Moor Park’ early August
- `Hemskerk’ August
- ‘Breda’ mid-August
- ‘Moor Park’ August-September
As frost is a very real hazard with several of these fruits perhaps a word or two about frost protection will not come amiss.
Frost is a very real hazard to the gardener, causing wide-spread damage, sometimes to the point of fatality. The injury becomes apparent, not when the water within the plant freezes, but when it thaws, and a quick thaw is more harmful than a slow one; the action can be likened to domestic water pipes bursting. Another important source of frost injury is desiccation, most marked when the water between the soil particles freezes and is not available to the plant. Should frosts, particularly long ones such as were recorded during the winter of 1962-63, be accompanied by sunshine, severe damage is done to evergreens, the loss of water in the process of transpiration, accompanied by a frozen soil, can render the plant quite dehydrated.
Frost-lifting can also lead to similar damage as well as snapped roots, the soil particles are pushed apart by the expanding ice and the plant rises out of the ground.
The simplest methods of protecting plants from frost, especially spring night frosts when the sappy young growth of beans and tomatoes are so often caught, is to cover the plants in the evening with newspaper, if nothing else is available. Polythene sheeting can also be used or cloches can be put over smaller plants.
A frame is the most permanent form of protection; boxes and pots of young plants can be covered day and night during hard frosts, and jute hessian sheets, or mats, sacks or even wattle panels can be put over the frames at night and removed during daylight hours. Sacking and hessian sheeting can be wrapped around the frame in addition to covering it.
Stakes can be driven in around them and a polythene bag of ample proportions put right over and left during much of the winter. `Layflat’ polythene tubing can be purchased for this purpose. Hessian screens can be built round them and indeed round any tender shrub or specimen shrub to protect it from searing winds as well as low temperatures. Reinforced glass substitute can be used for the same purpose, particularly for protecting wall shrubs. A ‘wigwam’ of polythene erected over quite large shrubs can be left in position most of the winter, as can muslin or polythene sheets draped over wall shrubs.
Other simple methods of protecting small shrubs against walls or in the open, include lengths of wire-netting between which are sandwiched bracken fronds, and hessian or sacking tacked to stakes and placed round the plant but a foot or so away from it, the space between the protective material and the plant being filled loosely with dry leaves or bracken fronds. Such filling should be removed as soon as the danger of frost is over. In less exposed situations it may be sufficient to erect a protective sheet of hessian etc., in the form of a three-sided wall, on the wind-ward side of the plant or plants. This method of hanging muslin or tiffany in front of wall shrubs is also used as protection against spring frost damage to blossom and buds of, say, peaches or nectarines grown against a wall.