Ensure this year’s apple crop to be the best ever.
Our fruit trees are beginning to show off their fruit. We can now clearly see the shape of our crop, and this year has been quite a good year for most of my fruit trees, there were very few late frosts and the fruit set well. The crops are not especially heavy, but with home grown fruit it is the quality that counts. I would like to write about a few problems I have recently been asked about concerning apple trees, as I am sure the answers will be of benefit to all my readers.
My tree is loosing all its fruit !
Apple trees are notorious for loosing loads of their fruits during June, I always get a call from a despairing person asking me if I can save their apple trees, as all their apples seem to be falling off the tree onto the ground. I have to assure them that this is a natural phenomenon known as ‘June drop’. It is the way the tree gets rid of the excess fruitlets to ensure that the tree will have enough strength to grow the rest of the fruit to their fullest. It is still sometimes necessary to give nature a helping hand and if their are still clusters of more than 3 fruits I would remove the fourth one, making sure to remove the weakest, misshapen or damaged ones!
My tree is falling !
A friend called me in desperation a couple of weeks ago to have a look at his apple tree. When I arrived I found it in a sorry state it was totally horizontal, with half the roots already out of the ground. When another friend called me last week to the apple tree in the picture, I knew that action had to be taken quickly or another old apple tree would end up on the bonfire. The reason is due to the fruit weighing down the tree to one side -imagine hanging ten boxes of apples from a branch of a tree it will soon bend the tree! I advised him to give the tree support (the yellow drum), till after it has fruited and then to reduce all the branches on that side and stake the tree towards the other way pruning annually to ensure an equally weighted tree on either side.
My tree is growing cotton wool!
Another question I am often asked is “Why are the branches of my apple tree full of cotton wool”. They are always surprised with my answer, – it isn’t cotton wool it is the barrier that the wooly aphid builds around itself, besides being unsightly it first weakens the tree and with time it will weaken the fruit. The advised treatment is to rub off all the visible “wool”, and then to spray with an insecticide. A systematic fungicide is always longer lasting and might only need one spray per season, if this is done at this time of the year, even if the tree looks clear it is advisable to spray once again in the spring before the flower buds open.
My apples are full of spots!
The spots are a form of the disease called scab. Most gardening books portray pictures of scab with large corky areas, but spots like these are also from the same scabby family. It is a fungal disease and some varieties are more susceptible than others. At this time of the year it is too late for any treatment. Although the fruits look unsightly, after peeling the fruit will usually taste as good as any other. To avoid scab next year, spraying with a fungicide when the fruit is cherry sized usually helps the problem. If the scab has already caused cracks in the fruit it is not worth keeping them on the tree as most of the subsequent fruit will not be edible. Remove those fruits so that the tree can concentrate its energy on the firm and unblemished fruit.
The birds are eating all my fruit!
Birds are as fussy as we are about eating ripe apples, and they will always wait for them to ‘ripen at home’ before pecking at the tree. If the birds are attacking your apples it is a signal for you that your apples are ready for picking – and make sure you get there first. If the birds are pecking at this time of the year it is usually only a damaged apple which has already been wounded in some way because during the summer months there is enough food around for the birds and they aren’t so desperate to peck at unripe apples (which will upset their stomach!). During winter the amount of food available to them is much less and you will find them eating many foods that they would otherwise not touch, just to avoid starvation.
The best question I had this year was from a lady who had quite a good crop of apples growing on her tree, but some were spotted with scab and misshapen. She asked me “why do some of my apples look so unsightly – the ones in the shops never look like that? “ I assured her that the tree that the apples in the shops come from also have some with spots like yours – they just don’t send those to the shops – they make apple juice from them instead. It might not be fully true, because after the strict spraying programme of the orchard growers, I would be surprised if they have any blemished fruits, – but at least I felt I had done a good deed for the day, by bringing back the love and harmony in the relationship between the lady and her apple tree.
Next Week: Soft fruit picking
Have an enjoyable gardening week!