It’s getting even colder! Frost, rainfall and winds are increasingly common, sunshine hours are much reduced and it can be bitter with a risk of snow. You may not want to be working outside at this time of year, but luckily there's not a lot to do!
If you haven’t already it's time to think about winter pruning bush or standard apples and pear trees. Pruning should be carried out when the tree is dormant, between leaf fall and bud burst (usually between November and early March). Before pruning apple trees, it is essential to identify fruit buds and the cropping habit of the tree. Apple cultivars fall into three groups:
- Spur-bearersproduce fruit buds on two-year-old wood, and as spurs (short, branched shoots) on the older wood. This habit gives spur bearers a tidy and compact appearance. Spur bearers are the largest group and include cultivars such as 'Cox’s Orange Pippin’, 'Sunset', 'James Grieve', 'Earl, Victoria' ‘Greensleeves', and 'Lanes Prince Albert'
- Tip-bearersproduce very few spurs. They are relatively uncommon. Fruit buds are found at the tips of long shoots produced the previous year. The overall appearance of the tree is more untidy than spur bearer and the branches look sparse without spurs. Examples of tip bearers include 'lrish Peach’ and 'Cornish Gilliflower'. Any form of pruning that involves shortening shoot tips will reduce the yield of tip-bearing apples and is therefore best avoided.
- Some cultivars arepartial tip-bearers, producing fruit on the tips of the previous year's shoots and also on some spur. Cultivars include 'Bramley's Seedling’ and 'Discovery'.
How to Prune Spur-bearing varieties:
Always use a sharp pair of secateurs, loppers and a pruning saw.
Start by removing crossing, rubbing, weak, dead, and diseased, damaged and dying branches.
Keep the centre of the tree open by removing larger branches with a sharp pruning saw. If several large branches need to be removed, spread the work over two or three winters as very hard pruning encourages even more vigorous growth.
Reduce the height and spread of any branches that have grown too large by cutting them back to a vigorous lower branch (making sure this lower branch is at least one-third of the diameter of the branch being removed).
Shorten the previous year’s growth on each main branch by about one third to a bud facing in the required direction to encourage the development of new branches and spurs.
Cut back any young laterals (side shoots) growing from the main framework to five or six buds if there is not enough space to allow them to grow as secondary branches.
Remove any badly-placed shoots.
On older trees, remove any spur systems that have become overcrowded.
While looking closely at branches and twigs it is a good time to check the health of your trees. Apple canker is worth knowing how to identify and treat if necessary. Infestation by woolly aphid can also lead to knobbly swellings that should be removed if possible at pruning time.
Other Jobs to do in December:
- Protect pots and taps from frost by wrapping insulation around them. Bubble wrap is ideal and probably in plentiful supply if you are ordering Christmas presents over the internet!
- If you have a greenhouse, make sure the heater works. Clean and insulate greenhouses (that bubble wrap again!) and ensure heaters are working properly. Even a little insulation will make a huge difference to your heating bill.
- Clean and repair your garden tools and book the lawn mower in for a service. New tools are always a welcome present, as are new gardening gloves especially good quality ones.
- Take care not to let leaves accumulate around Alpine’s, they will die if left damp. Cover bare patches around clumps with alpine grit to encourage regrowth.
Finally, whatever you are planning for your garden next season, Paul and I are always available to offer advice, and we look forward to meeting all of your gardening needs in 2015. Have a merry Christmas.
Rachel Sobiechowski BSc (Hons) P&R Garden Supplies, Fengate Drove, Brandon 01842 814800 www.p-rgardensupplies.co.uk