If you’re lucky enough to have beautiful fruit-bearing trees in your garden, chances are you’ve already picked, prepared and polished off most of the lovely apples, plums and pears. Now the bounty of summer is over, your trees will start to stockpile their reserves in preparation for going ‘dormant’ in winter. This means dropping leaves so that the sugars from photosynthesis in the leaves can be redirected down into the roots.
As the leaves start to fall in autumn, it’s time to treat your trees to a bit of extra TLC to make sure they’re in the best possible condition for winter’s dormancy and good, healthy growth in the spring. Here are my top tips for autumn fruit tree care.
It might seem tempting at this time of year to treat your fruit trees like roses and other plants – and give them a good old haircut.
However, please don’t reach for the shears just yet. Pruning can encourage the growth of tender new shoots, which would be killed off by a winter frost and leave an open wound vulnerable to disease.
The best time to prune your fruit trees is in early spring, when the tree is still dormant and the buds haven’t opened yet. You may wish to prune overgrowth in summer (more on that here), or give your trees a hearty winter prune to establish a good shape and healthy branches – but in autumn, it’s important to leave your tree as it is.
All fruit trees will experience some fruit drop, and that’s fine. You may wish to leave the fallen fruit to break down on the ground throughout summer, or to provide food for insects and birds. However come autumn, it’s important to give the ground a thorough clean up. Rake up and dispose of fallen fruit, and keep on top of raking up any fallen leaves as we get into autumn.
Mulch, mulch, mulch
Mulch is a wonderful word, and it’s a great practice to get into. Mulching acts as a way of improving the soil structure, conserve moisture and protect the ground from nutrient-stealing weeds and grass.
Organic mulch is drawn into the soil by earthworms, and might include well-rotted manure, leafmould and garden compost. Just fork your mulch around the base of the tree around 3-4 inches deep, making sure it covers the area of the rootball but maintains a good mulch-free gap around the trunk of the tree to avoid rot.
Mulching should be done annually for newer trees, in a supplement to a good fertiliser when the ground is nice and moist in late winter or early spring.
October is a great time to plant out new fruit trees if you are planning to. This is one of the really exciting final jobs in the orchard, when you can scope out how things might look next year. October is great because the ground is generally still relatively warm but also nice and moist, and there’s lots of worm activity but not so much soil bacteria. That good old autumn weather will also likely take care of much of the watering for you. Make sure that you choose the right fruit tree for your garden, by looking at the root stock and making sure that it won’t grow too big for your plot.
With these simple jobs undertaken in autumn, your fruit trees will be in great nick for good growth next spring. Happy growing!